Kerala: Agriculture varsity fails to reap success

K. S. SUDHI

  • The entrance to the Kerala Agricultural University campus near Thrissur. Photo: K.K. Mustafah
    The HinduThe entrance to the Kerala Agricultural University campus near Thrissur. Photo: K.K. Mustafah
  • P. Rajendran, Vice Chancellor, Kerala Agricultural University. Photo: K.K. Mustafah
    The HinduP. Rajendran, Vice Chancellor, Kerala Agricultural University. Photo: K.K. Mustafah

Burgeoning debts, massive spending on salary and pension of staff and insufficient allocation from the exchequer pinning the university to the ground

The Kerala Agricultural University is struggling to survive the inclement weather in Kerala.

Questions are now being asked about the relevance of the university, established for providing “excellence in agricultural education, research and extension for sustainable agricultural development and livelihood security of farming community”, in a State where agriculture has ceased to be a profitable vocation.

The drastic reduction in agriculture holdings, reduced productivity and falling income are deterring youngsters from taking up agriculture. The ever increasing cost of labour and acute shortage of farm workers too dissuade even those interested in farming from the field.

Has the university succeeded in supporting the farmers and farming sector of the State or has it ended as another white elephant which serves only the ends of its employees? A cursory look at university’s functioning would tempt one to take the later view.

HUGE DUES

Burgeoning debts, massive spending on salary and pension of the staff and insufficient allocation from the exchequer are pinning the public sector institution to the ground.

The KAU is one of the biggest employers of the State with around 4,500 persons including over 2,500 farm workers and 1,800 ministerial staff in its pay rolls. After splitting the annual plan fund between pensions and salaries, precious little is left for the university for its projects, say those associated with the institution.

“The university has an outstanding liability of around Rs. 218 crore including the Rs. 62 crore retirement benefits of its former employees,” says P. Rajendran, Vice Chancellor of the university. The demand for funds for clearing the debts has not materialized.

The trifurcation of the KAU into Kerala University for Fisheries and Ocean Studies and the Kerala University for Veterinary Sciences was expected to shed the flab. However, it has only increased the burden of the KAU. Under the trifurcation package, it parted with some of its holdings and staffers. While 75 staffers opted for the Fisheries University, 160 went to the Veterinary University. However, the KAU continues to pay the pension and other retirement benefits to around 4,800 persons including those who served the fisheries and veterinary faculties of the undivided university.

FOOTPRINT IN FARM SECTOR

Despite its shortcomings, the university has left its footprint in the socio-economic and agriculture sectors of the State, claim those at the helm of affairs of the university.

Most rice varieties cultivated in the State including Uma, Jyothi and Prathyasha were developed by the university over the years. It has also developed 56 varieties of vegetables including bitter gourd and ladies finger. Six banana varieties, seven pepper and salinity-resistant rice varieties are the contributions of the university. Besides Kerala, a large number of farmers in the neighbouring States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are using varieties developed by the university, says Mr. Rajendran.

The vice chancellor also took pride in claiming that most of the officials of the State Agriculture department and related institutions were the alumni of the university. It has also been serving the State and its farmers through various extension activities. Small farm mechanisation, precision farming, improvement of productivity, value addition to agriculture produces and promoting agri-business will be the future thrust areas of the university, he says.

T.R Gopalakrishnan, Director of Research, KAU, believes that researches undertaken by the university are still relevant in Kerala. The university was now focused on addressing the issues raised by shortage of labourers and challenges of climate change in the agriculture sector, he said.

According to an earlier document, the institution provided economic benefits to the tune of Rs. 600 crore annually to the State in general and farmers in particular. The assessment was made after “taking into account the area under which the particular crop is cultivated and the increase in the production per variety,” it said.

But the critics of the university simply refuse to buy the arguments of the top honchos of the university.

Tony Thomas, president of One Earth One Life, an NGO, says the university has become a burden on the State as it failed the farmers and the farming sector.

Each year, around 10 persons obtain their doctorate in agriculture from the university. However, most of them would be of no benefit to the farmers. The agriculture scientists don’t have any on-farm experience.

Even while claiming that the paddy varieties developed by them are farmed extensively in Kerala, it should be seen how many farmers were using these seeds. A large number of farmers from Palakkad are procuring seeds from agricultural universities of Tamil Nadu, he says.

The university representatives had vehemently opposed the farming practice at a meeting convened by the previous government for formulating an organic farming policy for the State.

The university also failed to protect the rich agro-biodiversity of Kerala, he says.

Revealed: the child victims of pesticide poisoning in India

Peter Caton and Beatriz Lopez

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1189820/revealed_the_child_victims_of_pesticide_poisoning_in_india.html

4th January, 2012

Endosulfan is the pesticide of choice for farmers in rural India trying to control insects threatening cashew nut and other crops – but the chemical can have devastating health impacts

A panorama of rolling hills distinguishes the landscape of Kasaragod, a northern district of the Indian state, Kerala. With fertile land and an abundance of water, the cashew industry once flourished amidst dense vegetation, red earth and coconut palms.

These forested valleys are home to rural communities still living off the land, such as Mamatha’s family who collect betel-nuts as their main source of income. The household of six adult siblings and their elderly father live in a small, overcrowded cottage, which they may have to sell to fund a series of operations that will remove the tumour distorting Mamatha’s face. Mamatha, her family claim, is an endosulfan poisoning victim.

Endosulfan, an organochlorine insecticide, acts as a contact poison for a wide variety of insects and mites and has been used extensively worldwide on food crops like tea, fruits, vegetables and grains. Famed for its capacity to increase agricultural productivity, endosulfan has been officially banned in the state of Kerala for 10 years. In the 25 years leading up to the state ban, indiscriminate aerial spraying of cashew plantations contaminated the soil, water sources, wildlife and the communities of the Kasaragod District.

Already banned in over 80 countries, 127 represented governments agreed on a worldwide ban at the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) in April 2011. The Indian Government delegation contested the otherwise unanimous consensus. Facing huge financial losses due to the national agricultural industry’s heavy reliance on endosulfan, an 11-year phase out period with financial support was negotiated, giving Government appointed scientists time to develop a cost effective, alternative pest control.

However, last May, the manufacturing and usage of endosulfan in India was forced to a complete halt. Indian Chief Justice Sarosh Homi Kapadia of the Supreme Court imposed an eight week national blanket ban on the pesticide until a conclusive study by an expert committee on whether toxicity levels of endosulfan was safe to humans and the environment had been submitted.

Controversially, the current national Union Agricultural Minister, Sharad Pawar, announced shortly after the ban that there was a lack of evidence to prove a negative impact on humans. He also denied anti-endosulfan protest from any state governments other than Kerala and neighbouring state Karnataka. Kerala and Karnataka were the only states where endosulfan was aerially sprayed, an approach not scientifically investigated at the time.

The pesticide victims in Kerala

In Kasaragod, the Keralan district worst hit by endosulfan poisonings, Leelakumari Amma, is employed as an agronomist by the Agricultural Department of her local Panchayatt. She has observed an abnormal amount of illnesses in the community, which triggered her suspicions about chemical poisoning.

‘People had to walk through these fields that had been sprayed as there was no transportation. Children walked through the fields. There were no butterflies; there were no birds; so it was concrete evidence for my suspicions.’

Dr Mohana Kumar, an activist and medical practitioner associated with Pesticide Action Network (PAN), says companies have violated human rights by not protecting water sources when aerially spraying the pesticide.

One former employee of a company using endosulfan, Achuthan Manniyeni, used to be responsible for preparing the pesticide for spraying in his area. He says the concrete mixing tub was located in a cashew field several metres from one of the district’s water basins, which was not covered properly during the aerial spraying.

It was also common practice to dump empty endosulfan cans in a nearby well. Gloves, soap and towels were not supplied to the employees according to Achuthan. Furthermore, he claims endosulfan was freely handed to local farmers after the ban was imposed on Kerala, and that one of his colleagues was contracted to bury containers on a nearby mountain in order to get rid of excessive stock.

The exact location is unknown as all of his five colleagues have since died from symptoms associated with endosulfan poisoning. Large quantities of the pesticide still remain undisposed of in Kerala, 10 years after it was banned in the state.

Local cashew farmer Ashraf disagrees that endosulfan is hazardous to human life, citing his own health as an example. He blames natural causes for the ailments people have been suffering.

‘Endosulfan has been produced to protect the trees from bugs. An increase of insects can also be harmful to the people.’ His business partner Mohammad says, ‘They say endosulfan has harmed a lot of people, but when you look at the economic side it is a pathetic situation.’ He recalls that when the cashew crops were treated with endosulfan, farmers collected an average of 700 kilos per day. Untreated, they collect 15 kilos to 30 kilos per day. ‘People have lost a lot of income’.

Until recently, endosulfan manufactured in India constituted 70 per cent of the global market, with its total exports valued at about Rs 1.8 billion (£22,000,000). Since the Green Revolution in India, agriculture has become a big export with India ranking second worldwide in terms of farm output with almost 30 per cent of its booming economy coming from the sector.

The lack of a permanent nationwide ban in India has led to growing reports of smuggling across state borders, particularly from Orissa where the chemical is said to still be openly available in the state capital and in Madhya Pradesh where stock is being sold at a premium rate of Rs 500 instead of Rs 250 per litre.

Meanwhile, people neighbouring or living within the predominantly national government owned cashew plantations continue to suffer the consequences of what had became a highly profitable industry; satisfying the demand of western palates at supermarket prices.

The poisoned children

Medical data compiled by health officials in Kerala suggests as many as 4,270 people may have been poisoned by endosulfan, with over 500 deaths linked to the chemical. Campaigners and families blame endosulfan for causing neurological and congenital deformities in babies:

Abhilash Bhat, who is 10, rolls around with difficulty on a floor mat at home. His head weighs 20 kg, roughly four times the weight of an average adult head. Born with hydrocephalus, a rare medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, his head has swelled to enormous proportions. The cranial pressure has shrunk his brain, causing total mental retardation.

His mother, Sreedevi had already miscarried two previous pregnancies and claims her first child died within 10 days from hydrocephalus. Doctors believed Abhilash would not survive and his parents were warned that conceiving another child would only lead to the same heartache: ‘We want another child, but we are scared.’

The high-risk operation needed to save his life may well bankrupt the family, who already struggle to make ends meet. Over half of their wage, earned from the collection and selling of betel-nut, is spent on medical and travel expenses incurred from Abhilash needing hospital treatment every three days.

Both born blind, sisters Rahina and Rasna are six and nine years old. Their parents Rajan and Rohina say that the difficulty of supporting two blind children with their minimal income earned through labouring work has forced them to separate the children. Rasna is now living with her maternal grandmother, while Rahina is partly cared for by her paternal grandmother who lives in the family home. After Rahina was born, they gave up on the prospect of a larger family for fear of conceiving another child with the same genetic disorder.

Is God to blame?

People were ignorant about the toxicity of endosulfan, believing in curses and ‘the will of God’. Sumitra and her husband Ganeshrao thought they had been cursed by the Serpent God Jataadhari and spent over Rs 200,000 (£2000) on religious rituals performed at a Hindu temple: their 16-year old daughter Soumya and 14 year old son, Arunkumar, would frequently experience fevers that eventually left them mute and crippled.

As the children are partially blind and deaf, they rely on smell to identify people and make simple gestures to have their needs met. Soumya drags herself across the home’s concrete floor as she is unable to walk. Rarely leaving their home and with no social services or physiotherapy, they receive little stimulation to improve their condition.

Sujatha was struck down with a reoccurring fever at the age of four which left her hospitalised on several occasions. At 28-years of age, her body has not developed properly and she has limited mobility in her limbs. Unable to support herself on her weak, child-size legs, she lives her life bound to her home.

Frustrated by her speech impairment, she speaks of her ongoing struggle with depression. Sujatha has no opportunity to marry and live a normal life, as she is completely dependent on her mother. Her mother explains that her energy levels prevent her from staying awake extended periods of time and that an exhausting menstrual cycle (3 times per month) causes her low blood pressure.

A year ago, a local youth group arranged monthly visits of a physiotherapist who is also an ayurvedic doctor, but her improvement has been minimal and she is still experiencing ongoing pain in her legs. Medicine was also received from a local government hospital for four months, but the home delivery service was suddenly stopped without an explanation. When questioned, the hospital explained they had run out of medicine. Sujatha was never clear what the prescription was for.

Gulabi lives in a small shack with her husband, mother-in-law and 4 children. An apparant endosulfan victim, she experienced her first symptoms after the birth of her second child. Her medical records say she has a ‘loco-motor disability’. Gulabi’s low blood pressure and weakness in her legs led to a fall which shattered her right femur. An operation to replace the bone has failed to improve her walking ability, and a lack of finance has prevented her from receiving follow up physiotherapy. The family survives on the Rs 150 (£2.10) per day her husband earns as a seasonal forager.

Another Bhopal disaster?

In an attempt to calm growing pressure, a compensation package has been offered by one major company involved in spraying endosulfan. A comprehensive package is also being launched by the Keralan State Health Department to be available in the 11 worst affected Panchayatts. Benefit cards are being registered under three categories; Class A, the worst affected victims, expecting to receive Rs 2000 monthly pensions (£27); an amount barely enough to cover medical expenses, let alone supplement the potential income loss of carers.

‘My greatest difficulty is not being able to leave my daughter unattended,’ says Sreeja, a mother of two young daughters. Her six-year old daughter Chaithany suffers from a severe neurological disorder and is unable to control her limbs or communicate. Sreeja is a fulltime caretaker, bound to her single roomed home, while her husband keeps the family afloat with menial labour; earning only Rs 250 (£3.50) per day.

In December 2010, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission K. G. Balakrishnan went as far as comparing the endosulfan devastation to the Bhopal gas tragedy. Others like activist B. Ashraf from the Kerala-based NGO Thanal, call it a ‘government chemical warfare on its own people.’

Pesticide industry blames EU and NGOs 

Representatives of the pesticide industry dismiss the health concerns as a EU/Western ploy. The Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) has been reported as saying that the government was folding under pressure from environmental groups. ‘This is playing straight into the hands of vested interests such as the European Union, who have a direct business interest in the ban of endosulfan. The overall design of the EU stakeholders is to ban this popular low-cost, off-patent pesticide and replace it with expensive patented products.’

While Kerala suggested alternatives to endosulfan, all other 20 states have denied any knowledge of health problems associated with endosulfan; insisting it was the cheapest pesticide on the market and friendly towards pollinators. Suggestions were made that the ‘poisoning’ of humans, livestock and wildlife in Kasaragod was an isolated incident resulting from the aerial spraying of endosulfan in Kerala.

Pesticide manufacturers argued that possible causes for health problems within the region could be linked to inbreeding, iodine deficiency and radiation, and that all opposition to the use of endosulfan was politically motivated.

However, reports from Karanataka by consumer activists such as Sanjeev Arora tell a different story, ‘people are suffering from problems like congenital deformities, mental retardation and physical deformities. The impact is similar to those affected in Kerala’s Kasaragod village.’

According to official figures, 32,604 litres of Endosulfan was aerially sprayed between 1980 and 2000 on 850 hectares in Belthangady and Puttur Taluks in Dakshin Kannada, and a further 11,225 litres were sprayed manually in the region. Nearly 20 villages were affected. ‘Health conditions in these villages are scary,’ says Sanjeev.

Twenty-seven nations globally are said to still use endosulfan including several African countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Zimbabwe – making endosulfan is the third largest selling pesticide on the global market with a value of £191.5 million.

The danger now, say campaigners, is that, despite all the evidence against endosulfan, big business will be allowed to continue taking precedence over human health and the environment.

Six months after the interim ban was put in place on the production and sale of endosulfan, the Supreme Court is no nearer to reaching a verdict as to whether the ban should be made permanent, with no real solutions of how to appropriately dispose of stock either.

While the question of evidence remains – blocking an immediate, permanent national ban in India – Dr. Kumar puts conflicting scientific evidence into perspective: ‘You can argue anything because you cannot test on humans. You have to consider the circumstantial evidence.’

In the meantime, parents of victims like Carmina Costa, who has been promised a consolatory yet miniscule compensation, fear for future generations’ lives. ‘My prayer is that this should never happen again. So many children, so many mothers are suffering. This is my prayer to the government.’

All photographs supplied by Peter Caton. Words by Beatriz Lopez.

 

Kerala: Farmers readying to go back to ginger fields

KALPETTA: Wayanad farmers are once again getting ready to return to the ginger fields in Karnataka this year and try their hand at a game that has already cost the lives of many.

The fertile fields of Karnataka which turned out to be a graveyard of dreams for ginger farmers from Wayanad with many turning to suicide after not being able to recover even a portion of the money they invested in these lands, due to a sharp fall in ginger prices.

Farmers in large numbers from Wayanad have already taken land for lease in various places including Coorg, Shimoga, Mysore and other parts of the state. But they content that the huge amount of investment and the unfavourable conditions prevailing in Wayanad have left them with no option but to look to Karnataka.

“Despite suffering heavy losses this time around, the rise in labour charges and fertiliser rates have made it impossible to do agriculture in Wayanad and is prompting us to go to Karnataka again. We have no option other than to invest further in the ginger cultivation,” said Jose Nadankandathil, a farmer from Valad in the district, who has leased 6 acres of land at Chamalapura in Karnataka.

In the hope that ginger prices will rise this year, farmers have booked plots as early as in September itself by giving token advance for the land to be leased. The lease amount of the land ranges from `45,000 to `60,000 per acre.

But after the free fall in the prices of ginger, these farmers are now caught in a Catch-22 situation over pursuing agriculture in Karnataka. This has led some of the farmers to abandon the leased land along with the token advance, but most of the farmers have decided to go ahead with no other option left to them.

Those who have already been doing ginger cultivation in Karnataka for the past couple of years are now facing difficulty in finding money for investment as they have incurred huge losses in the last season. Though the normal time of harvest season starts from November, several farmers are yet to harvest, hoping for better market prices in the coming days.

“Now the price of ginger is around Rs 420 for a sack of 60 kilograms of ginger. To say the ginger cultivation is profitable, farmers should get at least Rs 1,000 per kilogram. At the present rate, we would not even get back the money we invested and our hope of investing this money for the next year’s cultivation seems bleak and have to find some other sources,” Jose Vellamalayil, a farmer who have leased land in Coorg said.

Kerala: Is govt paying incentive for suicide?

November 26, 2011 By K.P. Sethunath DC Kozhikode
Suicide is a major scourge facing the contemporary Kerala society with the average rate of suicide in the State staying three times higher than the national average.

Although social scientists started flagging the phenomena long ago, the issue entered the mainstream political lexicon in the state only six years ago with the debt-ridden farmers choosing to end their lives.

The epicenter of farmer’s suicide was mainly in Wayanad district in northern Kerala. The suicide of farmers in Wayanad has to be viewed in the background of the structural crisis facing the agricultural system in the district known for its cash crop economy dominated by coffee and pepper.

The ‘farmer’ tag to the suicide phenomena in the state was prompted by crash of coffee prices in early 2000.

The price of coffee hit a 32-year low in 2000-2001 all over the world, which hit the Wayanad farmers badly. Pepper, the other major crop in the district meanwhile faced a major problem in the form of diseases.

The main pepper growing areas in Wayanad such as Pullpally, Mullankolly and Poothadi were the worst affected forcing many farmers to look for alternative crops.

Ginger, banana and vegetables became the main attractions for the farmers facing a diminishing rate of return from coffee and pepper.

The modus operandi for ginger cultivation was based on taking land in lease mainly in the neighbouring state of Karanataka.

The going was good as long as the ginger price remained high. But, the price of the spice in this year crashed to Rs 500-600 rupees per bag of 60 kg from a high of Rs 2,000-3,500 last year.

According to South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements, it was the drastic economical pressures which have led them (farmers) to take such extreme measures.

Four out of the six farmers who ended their life in Wayanad four were landless or having negligible holdings, it said. Most farmers have loan liabilities ranging from Rs 120,000 to 400,000.

According to SICCFM major loans were from public sector banks, scheduled banks, grameen banks and cooperative banks. The Kudumbasree (self-help groups) also played a major role in advancing money.

In the case of self-help groups, loans were availed in different names and were pooled together for agriculture activity by one family.

The loans were also spent on essential purposes such as education of the children and medical emergencies, it was pointed out.

A contrarian view
Although most people sympathize with the farmers under stress a section of people were also critical about sensationalising the issue.

We need to address the issue in a holistic manner instead of reacting emotionally, said an agriculture officer in Wayanad.

“We need to address the issues why farmers are turning to short gestation crops taking loans from money lenders,” he pointed out.

The farmers engaged in raising short gestation crops are mainly on leased lands and they are not entitled for financial assistance from banks or other institutional agencies as they will not be able to provide the land as collateral.

The lease rate is also very high with most people charging nearly 100,000 rupees as lease rent per acre, he pointed out.

“What we needed is a comprehensive policy with a view to ensure food security as the primary concern,” said Jose Sebastian, a Wayanad-based social activist.

According to M.P. Veerendrakumar, former union minister and prominent political leader from the area, the issue needed to be addressed in a ‘wider perspective instead of focusing narrowly on the single issue of famer suicide’.

He said reducing the problem to giving relief to the families of the victims could also be ‘misinterpreted as an incentive to committing suicide’.

The impact of climate change in the overall agriculture system in the State in general and Wayanad in particular also needed to be taken in to account, he said.

A comprehensive survey of this change over the decades has led to decreased rainfall, hotter temperature, soil degradation, depletion of water bodies and lesser yields, he pointed out.

Yes, the agrarian crisis that has unfolded the State, particularly, Wayanad district needs urgent government attention. Any delay in solving the crisis will only result in further suicides.

Kerala: Govt policies making farming difficult

ALAPPUZHA: “The agriculture packages announced by both the Centre and the state are not a panacea for the crisis being faced by the farmers in the state,” said CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. He was speaking after inaugurating a convention of farmers organized by the Kerala Karshaka Sangham (KKS) at Mankom in Kuttanad.

“The centre and state governments should find a permanent solution that will ensure protection for farmers. The Centre has destroyed the public distribution system and the government does not have a proper mechanism for procuring crops. This situation is forcing farmers to commit suicide,” he said.

Vijayan blamed the government for the rising prices of food, fuel, fertilizer and electricity. This, he said, is only making the farmers life difficult. “Trade liberalisation and globalisation policies of the UPA “government is forcing traditional farmers to quit farming. This should be changed.”

He claimed that the previous LDF government had implemented many developmental activities aimed at the welfare of farmers. “We executed only farmer friendly programmes and had also constituted the Kerala State Farmers’ Debit Relief Commission. We wrote off the loans of farmers who had defaulted.

We also gave them handsome procurement prices for their crops which was a great relief for them. So there were no cases of suicide by the farmers during the LDF rule.” After the function, Vijayan also visited paddy fields in Kuttanad and interacted with farmers.

The KKS state president and MLA, E P Jayarajan, who presided over the function, said that the Kuttanad package should be for the benefit of the farmers and not for serving the vested interests of certain officials.

“The package should be executed in tune with the needs of the farmers and their participation is a must for the fruitful implementation of the package.”

Waynad Farmer’s Suicide- inquiry report

South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (SICCFM)
PRESS RELEASE
November 18th, 2011
Kalpetta, Wayanad, Kerala
Interim Report of the South Indian farmers’ inquiry committee into farmers’ suicides in Wayanad district, Kerala.
The committee recognizes the Kerala government’s initiative in inquiring into the deaths of farmers in Wayanad district. Against the backdrop of the wave of farmers’ suicides, a committee was formed, as defining the causes of these suicides is of critical importance. This committee members are S. Kannaiyan from the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (SICCFM); Mr Ravindranath president, and Mr Davidson State secretary of Kerala Coconut Farmers Association; B Manjunath and Pacce Nanjundaswamy from Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha and CK Janu, President of Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha. The committee spent time with four affected families in Wayanad. The homes of Ashokan of Palpally, Jose of Nallur Nadu, Sasidharan of Mallisserikkunnil and Raju Vargeesh of Meppady, Nathankunni were visited.
The reoccurring theme between these four families is ginger. Some had undertaken cultivation in Kerela, others in Karnataka. The cost of ginger production is very high, involving costs of chemical fertilizers, seeds and pesticides. In addition, one land-lease in Karnataka reached up to Rs 40, 000 per acre. The families explained that the current market price of ginger Rs. 500 / 60kg barely covers the labour-costs of ginger-harvesting, at the labour cost is RS 350 per day in Kerala.

Until last year the ginger price could reach up to Rs. 2000-3500/ 60 kg. The farmers took out loans ranging from RS 120 000 to close to 4 lakhs. The major loans were from Nationalised Banks, Scheduled Banks, Grameen Banks, and Cooperative Banks.  The Kudumba Shree (Self-Help-Group) also played a major role in advancing money.  From Self-Help-Groups, loans availed in different members’ names and were pooled together for agriculture activities in one family. Gold of the family members was mortgaged in different banks, including Muthoot Finance. As well as agricultural costs, the borrowings were also spent on essential purposes such as education of the children and medical emergencies.
Landless farmers or very small land holders (30 cents to 1.70 acres), all four men ended their lives by consuming pesticides. Speaking to the families of the deceased, none of these men were prone to depression: it is the drastic economical pressures which have led them to take such extreme measures. The agrarian crisis directly affects women, as the widows now bear the burden of these loans.
Demands:
1.   All the institutional loans including bank loans, self-help groups loans and gold loans, to be waived by the state and central governments. Private loans should be settled by the government of Kerala up to RS 2 lakh per affected family as debt relief support.
2.  Widow pension of RS 5000 per month should be provided.
3.  Kerala government to cover the costs of children’s education until higher education.
4.  As an immediate measure, state government should procure ginger crops and should announce Minimum Support Price for ginger and banana.
5.  In the case of landless farmers, government should provide at least 25 cents of cultivable land and a house.
6.  As a preventative measure, the implementation of a Helpline so that distressed farmers can call to share their concerns and grief.
7.  Provide disease free planting material through a systematic government program.
8.  Farmer specific crop insurance should be developed by the state and central governments to address crop losses.
9.  Kerala government should start a ginger processing factory to add value to the produce and to ensure price stability to ginger.
As far as banana is concerned, the price for consumers is always high and stable. The selling price for farmers fluctuates hugely, thus demonstrating the role of the middle-man. State governments should take immediate steps for direct marketing by farmers.
As the SICCFM, we appeal to farmers to diversify their crops rather than practicing mono cropping to reduce the risk over crop failure and price collapsing. We also request farmers to be weary of the dependence on costly chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Even though ginger and bananas are essential in the Indian diet, the sudden collapse of the price of the ginger to 500rupees/ 60kg, combined with the heavy monsoon and fungal disease, is darkening the lives of farmers.
We foresee a wave of suicides of ginger farmers if the Kerela government doesn’t take immediate action to address the root cause of the action.
Contact: S Kannaiyan 
09444989543

Kerala: HC issues notices to Union, state govts on farmers’ suicides

The Kerala high court has issued notices to the Central and state governments on a PIL seeking a direction to the Union Government to provide financial aid to debt-ridden farmers in the state. The notices were issued by a division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice PR Ramachandra Menon on a PIL by lawyer Basil Attipetty.

The petitioner said some farmers cultivating ginger and banana in Waynad district and other parts of the state had taken loans from various financial institutions and ended their lives following debt burden after their crops failed.

Maintaining that the Centre was “duty bound” to protect the lives of farmers, the petitioner said the union government should provide financial assistance to the state government to help the farmers.

The petitioner also sought a direction to state Farmers Debt Relief Commission to provide immediate relief to farmers in Wayanad district.

Report on farmer suicides to be submitted on 15th November, 2011

K Jayakumar
WAYANAD: A high level official team appointed by the government to inquire into the rising number of farmer suicides has said that the agrarian crisis in the district was severe. 

Additional chief secretary K Jayakumar, who heads the panel, said yesterday that the price fall of crops compounded the ordeal of farmers who are already reeling under the price hike of fertilisers. 

“We have found out that the issue is serious and requires urgent government intervention. A detailed picture of the looming crisis would be submitted to the government tomorrow for alerting them to take suitable steps,” said Jayakumar. 

In a short span of a few weeks, three farmers had committed suicide in the district reportedly due to mounting debt. 

The government has taken the situation seriously with the next cabinet meeting scheduled tomorrow is expected to come out with immediate steps asking the commercial banks to go slow on going ahead with recovery procedures against farmers and also provide some relief through a bailout package for the beleaguered farmers.

They live on borrowed time

KALPETTA: Amidst the arecanut and coconut garden sprawling over 1.37 acres of land in Thrikkeppatta lies the house of farmer P S Varghese who had committed suicide.

 At first sight one would wonder why a man who owned this much land and a beautifully-built house would end his life for having a financial debt of just over

Rs 3 lakh; perhaps, an amount of debt every Kerala family might have. An inquiry into this question would expose the other aspect of farmer suicides in Wayanad: the psychological, social and cultural factors and efforts to sustain the changing lifestyle.

The house of Varghese had roofing with asbestos sheets but he had managed to make it appear like a terrace building from a distance, even from the courtyard. “Be it in farming or in other matters, he had maintained certain standards. He had always talked about giving quality education to children and conducting their marriages properly. Perhaps, all these concerns coupled with consecutive loss in farming might have… Anyway, we could have avoided that even by selling a portion of our property,’’ said Jessy, Varghese’s wife, who has been working as a medical representative for the last 11 years and has three daughters – Renju, Sinju and Basily.

The story of deceased farmer C P Sasidharan in Mothakkara is somewhat different as he had never told anybody about his borrowings from private sources, not even to his wife Yasoda.

‘’He did not like being enquired about those things. When someone comes,

he used to talk to them outside the house. We came to know about such debts amounting to Rs 3 lakh from the suicide note only,’’ said Yasoda.

Sasidharan had been an active CPM worker and had a cordial relationship with the locals. “A week before his death, Sasidharan mobilised a sum of Rs 5000 to help one Vellan of the tribal hamlet who was admitted to hospital. Such a man could not keep that enthusiasm about his own life,’’ said Sasi, the brother-in-law of Sasidharan.

Clinically, these suicides are related to adjustment disorders with emotional disturbances. These are egoistic suicides due to mental stress, family problems and alcoholism besides agrarian crisis, says psychiatrist and former director of Institute of Mental and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS), Kozhikode, Dr Suresh Kumar, who has done extensive research in suicide in Wayanad. Dr Suresh adds, “Majority of farmers is under stress as they could not cope with the changed lifestyle. During the 1970s and 80s, they earned well and had a good living. Now, due to repeated crop failure, they fail to maintain their lifestyle and in turn resort to pseudo finance planning like using bank loans and money borrowed for high interest to sustain high quality lifestyle instead of investing in agriculture. The ego gets shattered when there is financial crisis. They cannot accept even a slight insult to ego. They suffer a mental breakdown and commit suicides.’’

According to relatives, two among the three deceased farmers had been victims of alcoholism as well. ‘’Often, these are not well-thought attempts but impulsive. The thinking will be tubular and the majority will consume alcohol during the time, which gives a pseudo energy to remove all inhibitions leading to suicide,’’ he said.

Kerala: Farmers’ suicides: Kisan Sabha to stage fast

The All India Kisan Sabha will stage a 24-hour mass hunger strike from 3 p.m. on Wednesday, demanding urgent measures to end suicides by farmers in Kerala.

The sabha, a feeder organisation of the Communist Party if India, is demanding Rs.5 lakh as solatium to the families of the farmers who had committed suicide, extension of debt-relief measures, and grant of low-interest loans to poor farmers.

Satyan Mokeri, general secretary of its State unit, told presspersons here on Sunday that a delegation of the sabha had visited Wayanad district to assess the situation. Agrarian crisis had intensified in Wayanad and other districts owing to a drop in the prices of ginger and banana.

Mr. Mokeri said seven farmers committed suicide recently, including one each in Kottayam and Thrissur districts. The others were in Wayanad, the victims being poor marginal farmers who had leased land in the district and neighbouring Karnataka for ginger cultivation along with raising plantains.

While ginger used to fetch about Rs.2,500 a 60-kg bag, the prices had now dropped to less than Rs.500 owing to the arrival of the produce from Nepal. Banana fetched only Rs.8-12 a kg now. As banks would not advance them loans, the farmers borrowed from moneylenders and micro-finance institutions at interest rates as high as 24 per cent. While the investment for cultivation of one acre of land was about Rs.2.5 lakh, the harvest yielded less than Rs.1.5 lakh.

The farmers who committed suicide were those not eligible for protection from the Farmers’ Debt Relief Commission as they had availed themselves of loans after 2009. The Farmers’ Debt Relief Act should be amended to extend coverage, along with extending the last date for filing applications. Loans taken from cooperatives and other institutions too should be brought under the purview of the Act.

Mr. Mokeri said the government should ensure that the interest rates for farm loans, including those from microfinance institutions, would not exceed 4 per cent. Interest-free loans should be extended to poor farmers. Steps should be taken to extend loans among other benefits to farmers cultivating leased land.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had been adopting a negative attitude towards the issue of farmers’ suicide, he alleged. The sabha would submit a detailed representation to him. A solidarity meeting would be organised on Wednesday evening as part of the hunger strike. National president of the sabha C. K. Chandrappan would inaugurate the fast.