Where's techno fix for farmers


Bitter Harvest 4
Litres of pesticide did not save his crop, but a few gulps of the lethal chemical ended his life.
Vithal Krishnarao Kamble (26) committed suicide in May, unable to pay back the loans he had taken from the local moneylenders. He did not live to see his son, born a few weeks later.
“Even the money he got from selling his mandap decoration business was not enough to settle his debts,” says his father Krishnarao, who doesn’t even know the extent of his son’s borrowings. What he does know is that Vithal bought Rs 34,000 worth of pesticide from the local dealer to rid his 18 acre plot of every cotton farmer’s nightmare – the American bol worm.
Though Vithal sprayed his fields 15 times, even when he knew it was not advisable to spray more than four, his crop was ravaged. The pesticide was ineffective for two reasons. First, unseasonal rains increased humidity, which is favourable for widespread proliferation of the pest. Secondly, cotton monoculture has made the boll worm resistant to pesticides, even in the most concentrated dose. Moreover, pesticides are only effective during the early stages of the boll worm’s growth.
Vithal’s tragedy illustrates the ill-effects of intensive methods of farming and unscientific agricultural practices, which are beginning to rear their ugly heads. “The green revolution made agriculture more commercial. Farmers, who earlier used indigenous inputs, are not dependent on companies for expensive seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Never mind how high the costs or the ecological damage caused,” says Udayan Sharma from the Amravati Kisan Sabha.

Crop failure due to unseasonal rain, hail storms and the pest attack destroyed the harvest in Vidarbha causing 60 farmers to commit suicide. The government has announced compensation of Rs100,000 to 19 victims’ families.
Farmers sunk their money in pesticides that did not work. This points to the failure of the government’s agricultural extension services that are supposed to advise them on prudent farming techniques. The administration started publicizing advice about combating pest attacks only after much of the damage had already been done. With extension officers nowhere in sight, farmers were forced to seek advice from pesticide dealers. The same dealers who provide them credit.
Says owner of the Rathi Krushi Kendra, a farm products shop at Phalegaon in Yavatmal, “The farmers don’t know much. I explain techniques to them.” And how does he keep up with the latest farming practices? “Through the companies, of course, who come here with their pamphlets,” he says.
Aggressive and unregulated marketing by seed and fertilizer companies is pushing technologies that may be inappropriate. “In order to promote our research seeds, we cultivate a plot of land and invite farmers to see the results,” says a company salesman. Most of these seeds do not bear the government’s quality control label.
Many seeds promoted as super hybrid seeds fail to live up to the company’s claims. “I bought 100 grams of a Korean papaya hybrid for Rs 10,000. But it did not yield even half the expected crop,” says Suryapal Chavan, a farmer from Nandgaon in Amravati.
While companies go all out to market their products, the agricultural extension office remains far removed from ground realities. “Extension officials’ knowledge is outdated. In fact, it is the farmers who keep reading about new techniques,” adds Mr Chavan. Extension officials never reach the villages, but complete their quotas by conducting farm training session in each tehsil once a year. Moreover, training is conducted in only one crop after which they move on to the next tehsil to conduct training on another crop. Last year, even this was not conducted. “We shifted all our training sessions to Akola because the chief minister was keen on promoting the Israeli system of drip irrigation there,” says an agricultural officer in Wardha.
While the government is trying to promote drip irrigation, which is far too expensive for the ordinary farmers, it has failed to improve basic irrigation. Less than 10 per cent of Vidarbha is irrigated. Even the few irrigation projects are not efficiently utilized. For example, only 10 per cent of the irrigation potential created in Yavatmal district has been used.
This has resulted in excessive pumping of ground water, lowering the water table considerably, says Yavatmal district collector Rajeev Jalota. Heavy use of urea has also led to a soil imbalance.
Although Maharashtra accounts for nearly 20 per cent of Indian cotton production, its yield per hectare is one of the lowest in the country. In Maharashtra, the percentage of irrigated area under cotton is less than two as compared to Punjab (99 per cent), Rajasthan (94 per cent) or even Andhra Pradesh (12 per cent), according to a study by S. Mahendra Dev of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research.

The Times of India, Mumbai, 6 July 1998

Vidarbha farmers fight crisis, try out low-cost techniques


Feb 22, 2007, 5:45 GMT

Bharsingi (Maharashtra), Feb 22 (IANS) Rather than give in to despondency, farmers in the Vidarbha region have resolved to overcome the daunting agricultural crisis by trying out a set of low-budget, high yield techniques.

As many as 3,500 farmers from six suicide-prone districts of Vidarbha attended a four-day workshop on natural farming in this progressive village near Nagpur and returned home with a pledge to end the sordid saga of suicides.

Most of those who took copious notes of the ‘zero-budget’ farm techniques in eight marathon sessions belonged to the families of debt-trapped farmers, hundreds of whom ended their lives during the last 20 months of acute farm distress.

Giving them lessons on farm operations – from sowing to harvesting – was a down-to-earth agricultural expert Subhash Palekar whose disciples have set up models of successful multi-crop farming at several places in Vidarbha and western Maharashtra.

‘The workshop has given me new strength and confidence to toil on my farm for abundant yield, henceforth using the natural farming techniques taught by Palekar guruji,’ said Pandurang Rathod of village Ambezari of Yavatmal district whose younger brother and sister-in-law had committed suicide in 2002.

‘I will persuade other farmers in my village to adopt the low-budget, high-yield technique and ensure that there are no more suicides,’ he added.

All the inputs that Palekar’s technique involves – such as cow dung and urine; dried leaves and twigs – are available on-farm and thus require little money. Even seeds are supposed to be raised by the farmer employing a treatment that makes them pest-resistant. Besides, it needs less than half the water that conventional farm practices require.

A former employee of the state agriculture department and a farmer in his own right, Palekar has conducted several workshops across the length and breadth of the country benefiting thousands of farmers. Many more visit the models that Palekar’s disciples have been running on their farms with amazing results in terms of both quality and quantity of yield and drastically reduced costs.

A simple treatment with a mixture of cow dung, urine and limewater (‘beejamrut’) makes seeds pest-resistant – they also germinate faster. A more or less similar mixture with a larger quantity of water (‘jeevamrut’) serves as manure. Covering the sown soil with a bed of dried leaves and twigs (‘aachhadan’) prevents loss of water through transpiration and helps maintain optimum soil temperature and humidity, claims Palekar.

A few farmers from Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan also attended the four-day workshop organised by former agriculture minister Ranjit Deshmukh under the aegis of Vidarbha Pragatisheel Shetkati Sanghatan and Arvindbabu Deshmukh.

One suicide every 8 hours

One suicide every 8 hours

Jaideep Hardikar

Vidarbha remains a grim statistic. One suicide in every eight hours. More than half of those who committed suicide were between 20 and 45, their most productive years.  The Maharashtra government says as many as 1920 farmers committed suicide between January 1, 2001 and August 19, 2006. Nearly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers are defaulters, reports Jaideep Hardikar

Suicide count

There are no authentic figures on the exact number of farm suicides in Vidarbha, but the Maharashtra government accepts a figure of 1920 from January 1, 2001 to August 19, 2006. The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a farmers’ movement, puts the toll at 782 from June 1, 2005 to August 26, 2006. And, in the last three months, there has been a suicide every eight hours.

Cost of cultivation

Across the country, the average cost of cultivation in cotton is a little more than Rs 16,000 per ha. With an average productivity of 460 kg per ha, it costs between Rs 35 to Rs 48 per kg to grow cotton. In Vidarbha, the cost of cultivation could go well beyond Rs 20,000 perha and if marketing cost is added, it crosses Rs 22,000. But the productivity is only 146 kg per ha. In other words, the cost per kg is almost double — well over Rs 70 per kg. In Maharashtra, the cost of growing cotton increased from Rs 17,234/ha in 2001-02 to Rs 20,859 in 2002-03.

Right age, wrong step

Among the farmers who committed suicide in the past year, more than 50% were between 20 and 45 years of age (their most productive years), according to a study by the Sakal Newspapers Limited of the two districts, Amravati and Yavatmal.

Cotton area

The hybrid cotton covers about 73% of the cotton area in Vidarbha, whereas desi varieties cover about 27%. Most of these produce medium to medium-long fibre.

Area under Bt cotton has risen from a mere 0.4% in 2002-03 to 15% in 2005-06 in Vidarbha, according to the agriculture department statistics. Only 3% cotton land falls under assured irrigation. Cotton area has declined from 16.12 lakh ha in 2001 to 12.18 lakh ha in 2005-6. Only 3% of it is under irrigation. The shift is towards soybean.


The Planning Commission’s fact-finding mission members found out that nearly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers in Vidarbha are defaulters. Of every Rs 100 borrowed, approximately Rs 80 goes back in to servicing of old loans.

PM’s promise

The Prime Minister in his Rs 3750-crore package jacked up an additional credit flow of Rs 1200 crore taking it to Rs 2000 crore for 2006-07. But the ground situation shows a credit disbursal of less than a thousand crore.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Revive traditional crops. Pump money back into the rural economy, say experts

“In Vidharbha, it is too risky to adopt expensive technologies. Small farmers who take loans for cultivation have no capacity to meet the calamity of crop failure. Traditional crops like jowar should  again be revived. The funds allotted under the Prime Minister’s package for seed replacement should be used to promote jowar, pulses and legumes. Also, organic farming and crop-livestock integration should be promoted on both ecological and economic grounds. Vidharbha can be declared as the Organic Farming Zone of Maharashtra, so that its oranges, jowar, cotton and other crops become known as organic products and thereby gain in market value.” — MS Swaminathan Chairman, National Commission on Farmers

“It’s not true that suicides are taking place only in Vidarbha. They began in Andhra and spread to other parts of the country. But why did farmer suicides begin after 1994? The answer is we liberalised the economy and devalued our rupee. As a result, the cost of energy went up, the cost of agriculture rose and living costs soared. The 5th Pay Commission was a vindication of this. But the farmers remained in a low-cost economy. The promise that exports in a free market would bring profits to farmers was never kept. We imported 110 lakh bales from 1998 to 2004.” — Vijay Jawandhia Wardha farmers’ leader, social commentator

“The point is we need to understand that green revolution has  collapsed. Continuing suicides by farmers is a reflection of that. Suicides are more alarming in those areas where green revolution was pushed with force. But that doesn’t mean there is no agrarian crisis in other areas; it’s all over the country now. A few areas like Vidarbha are peculiar with socio-economic, agro-climatic and other factors. We borrowed a technology that did not fit into our socio-economic milieu. Tractor is today a symbol of suicides. Fertilizers and pesticides have destroyed our natural base. Farmers in Vidarbha and elsewhere are the victims of policies that have siphoned money from the rural economy.” — Devinder Sharma Former journalist, agriculture expert

It's suicidal not to address real problems of farmers




MUMBAI: The state government’s claim that farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha region are in decline has been called into question by the local NGOs and social activists. Though the figures for the past three months offer some solace, the slump in numbers hides the real agrarian crisis and the catastrophe could revisit Vidarbha in 2007 as well, they point out.
According to the government website that has been tracking the issue in six districts of Vidarbha, more than 1,450 farmers had ended their lives in 2006 alone. It claims that the number has come down in the recent months. “Farm suicides due to agrarian reasons have come down in past couple of months mainly because of government measures. There are non-agrarian reasons behind suicides like social problems, general rural distress, family issues, but they cannot be termed farm suicides,” said Sudhir Kumar Goyal, divisional commissioner, Amravati. This apparently is one of the six districts where the state as well as central government’s relief measures are being implemented, and Mr Goyal acts as the director of the government mission.
In December 2006, a little more than 100 suicides were reported from the six districts. This is alarming, but the previous months are no better which had reported between 115-125 suicides. In January, the number was down to 73, and 60 suicides have been reported till February 20.
Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, an NGO engaged in documenting suicide stories and extending relief to the widows of farmers who have killed themselves, thinks that the larger tragedy behind the statistics has not been addressed by the two relief packages worth more than Rs 5,000 crore announced by the Centre and the state government. “Number of suicides may have come down, but the root causes of the crisis have not been addressed so far.
Farmers in general, and cotton growers in particular, are not getting a good remunerative price which could make cotton farming a profitable venture. Very few farmers have access to institutionalised system of lending and the rate of interest on farm credit has not been slashed to 7% as promised. Finally, farmers are increasingly getting exposed to genetically modified seeds without being made aware about the technology and modern farm practices,” said Kishore Tiwari of the Samiti.
There are some who believe that even those suicides which the government claims have not taken place due to agrarian factors must be attributed to the socio-economic plight of farmers. “If a farmer does not have money to marry his daughter, is it not a reflection of his financial status? If there is low productivity, who is to blame for lack of irrigation,” asks Vijay Jawandhiya of Shetkari Sanghatana.
The decline in suicides could, however, be attributed to factors that are not entirely in the purview of the government relief. Measures like a moratorium on recovery of debt, rescheduling of loan repayment and the government’s initiative to marry off farmers’ daughters have helped, no doubt. But the fundamental issues could come back to haunt the region again when the next farming season begins post June 2007, those in the know say.

Cotton prices wrecking Indian Farmers



Special to The Japan Times

MADRAS, India — The western Indian state of Maharashtra, whose capital is the nation’s financial capital Bombay, has made great strides in lifting cotton production. Land dedicated to growing cotton increased from 92,000 hectares in 2003 to 480,000 hectares in 2004, according to government sources.

As more and more land continues to be planted in cotton, India has now joined the list of “biotech” mega-nations (those growing at least 50,000 hectares of biotech crop) — along with the United States, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China, Paraguay and South Africa.

Yet there is no sign of farmer suicides abating. In January alone, 62 farmers took their lives, and the state government says some 3,000 farmers have killed themselves in the past three years.

Maharashtra’s farmers underscore the most painful example of India’s agrarian crisis. Underlying this tragedy is an irony: India heads a group of more than 40 poor countries represented in the now stalled Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks, and New Delhi has been trying very hard to protect its farmers from foreign competition.

Studies conducted in India reveal that the plight of the cotton farmers has worsened because they have been forced into an unfair global trading system. Hoping that “modern” farming techniques would help them integrate better with globalization, farmers bought expensive “biotech” cotton seeds that were ill-suited for their small plots, traditionally irrigated with rainwater. Most farmers in Maharashtra have small holdings.

In a ripple effect, farmers thought they could sink deep wells and depend less on the monsoon for water. But when the price of diesel fuel to operating well pumps shot up, many farmers found themselves deep in the hole.

Added to this, farmers had taken out high-interest loans to sink the wells and buy the pumps and biotech seeds in the first place. They have struggled just to pay the interest on these loans.

More misery was to be found in the “global village” as the price of cotton fell. It has dropped by more than a third since 1994. Last year, the Maharashtra government cut the minimum support price for 100 kg of cotton from 2,000 to 1,750 rupees. World prices are falling because cotton is heavily subsidized by rich nations, especially the U.S.

According to the World Bank: “The Doha round aims to cut these handouts ambitiously and expeditiously. If they were cut completely, it might add about 13 percent to world prices. But the Doha round is unlikely to reach such an accord soon. A more likely scenario, in which cotton subsidies are cut by a third (and export subsidies eliminated), would add less than 5 percent to the price.”

India’s textile mills are happy with the decline in cotton prices. They are making hay amid the farmers’ misery. In fact, the prices of cotton garments and related goods have not come down at all.

At one time, British colonizers forced Indian cotton farmers to sell their produce at nonviable prices to feed the Lancashire cotton mills. This ruined the farmers as it did many weavers left without yarn to work with. Everything was being shipped to Britain.

In what seems like a stopgap measure to tackle the contemporary crisis, the Maharashtra government has delivered a relief package that includes 50 billion rupees (more than $ 1 billion) in direct aid. But this is chicken feed in light of the number farmers in debt: 1.2 million, along with their families, are considered in bad shape. Sadly, many see no choice but to hang themselves — this in what is still largely an agrarian country.

B. Gautam writes for a leading Indian newspaper.

The Japan Times

(C) All rights reserved

Desparate Indian Farmers Kill themselves in ‘Free’ Market Economy


Siliconeer, News Feature, Siliconeer Report, Posted: Feb 19, 2007

You watch “I Want My Father Back,” Suma Josson’s poignant documentary film on the misery of small-scale farmers in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, and it breaks your heart.
Academics may argue about economic statistics, ideologues can engage in polemical debates, but Suma Josson has actually been there, and documented the suffering first hand.
I Want My Father Back was screened recently in the Bay Area at the University of California at Berkeley, Fremont and Santa Clara in association with the India Relief and Education Fund (http://iref.homestead.com), a 12-year-old Bay Area organization, which works towards increasing awareness about social justice issues in India.
Whether it’s an inconsolable father sadly going over the modest belongings of his daughter who committed suicide, or a son crying his heart out as he reminisces about his father’s suicide while his grandfather’s creased face is immobile in stoic silence, you realize that the policies that can do this to ordinary, decent people is nothing short of criminal.
Step back and think about it for a moment, and your disquiet is even greater. There are many questions but no answers. Why is the Indian media AWOL on this issue? Where is the public outrage?
The statistics are staggering. From 1998 to 2006, over 100,000 farmers have committed suicides. In Vidarbha, 3,000 farmers have taken their lives in the 1999-2006 period. Since June 2005, 2-3 farmers have been committing suicides every day.
Yet you wouldn’t know that from the Indian media. Reports of farmer suicides and protests do appear in fits and spurts, but most of the media appears focused on the glitzy malls, the phoren fast-food chains, the luxury cars, the call centers and the hip lifestyles o the rich and famous.
So what’s going on here?
The farming crisis did not happen in a day, the film argues. It is the result of decades of wrong policies.
It all began with the Green Revolution in the 1960s, says environmental activist Vandana Shiva. “The Green Revolution is neither green nor a revolution,” she says in the film. “It was a means to open new markets for fertilizers.”
Fertilizers, pesticides and now genetically modified seeds have transformed Indian farming. In the traditional farming method, farmers used to plant multiple crops, food along with cash crops.
Now it’s different: it’s about capital intensive farming and monocrop, and buying seeds from pesticide sellers. The upshot of all this is that small-scale farmers are obliged to borrow heavily from moneylenders to grow cash crops.
If you think that’s bad, you don’t even know the half of it. The real fun begins when the farmer takes his crops to the market to sell it. Thanks to the arm-twisting of the U.S. dominated multilateral organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization — and if truth be told, the appalling spinelessness of the Indian political masters — Indian farmers are locked in a bizarre, unequal battle.
While subsidies for inputs and government procurement programs for the Indian farmer are jettisoned, he is pitted against the farmers of the affluent West who are formidably fortified by generous government support. Some free market, this.
Take cotton. The 25,000 cotton farmers in the U.S. get a subsidy $230 per acre. It should come as no surprise that in this kind of “free” market, from being a traditional exporter of cotton, India has become the world’s third largest importer of cotton.
What happens to the cotton farmer is shown in harrowing detail in the film. Up to their neck in debt, facing plummeting prices for their crops, they are committing suicide in droves.
According to UNICEF, one third of the world’s hungry children live in India. “Our leaders who talk about Shining India, Superpower India, they should be drowned in a palmful of water along with this figures,” fumes Shiva. “(We are a nation of) 70 percent farmers, (with) plenty of sun and water. The soil is good. In such a nation farmers are committing suicide. Children are dying of hunger. This is totally unacceptable.”
Kishor Bhoer, a farmer in Vidarbha, is more blunt: “It’s either suicide or the Naxalites (militant Leftists).”

Killer Policies


70 Farmer Suicides in Vidarbha in 2007. In the last three days, nine more farmers have committed suicide in Vidarbha. This brings the number of suicides in six districts of Vidarbha to 1000 – after the visit by the PM and an announcement of a special package of Rs 3750 Crores on July 1st, 2006. Even official data shows that the state of cotton growers in west Vidarbha has worsened with the wrong policies of the state, and free trade policies tied to economic liberalization. – www.thesouthasiam.org, 11 February 2007