The BT cotton suicide belt – thousands of cotton farmers in India are killing themselves in their fields

Columbia City Paper, USA

Trevor Aaronson

http://columbiacitypaper.com/?p=1141

10.11.2009

VIDARBHA REGION, India –

The reminders are still here as Gokal wipes tears from his face. There’s the white headscarf with gold trim, next to a pair of cracked and worn sandals. The rope is here, too, snaking along the ground next to a large mango tree, a perfect noose tied at its end.

Five days ago, Gokal’s father hanged himself from the mango tree. His name was Motiram Baban Landkar, and Gokal and his two brothers don’t know how old he was when he died. In this part of rural India, birthdays go unnoticed and age matters little. The three sons can agree only that their father was about as old as the mango tree, and he took his life on May 31 to escape a debt of about $850.

He is one of nearly 200,000 Indian farmers, many of them cotton growers, to commit suicide since 1997. In fact, suicide among farmers in India has become so prevalent that officials in New Delhi keep a tally. Hanging and consumption of poison are the common methods of death, and most farmer suicides have occurred in India’s cotton belt, which extends from Hyderabad north to Nagpur, at the geographical center of India, and east to the state of Gujarat.

Many in India blame a combination of climate change, globalization and the U.S. corporation Monsanto for pushing to suicide thousands of subsistence farmers.

“Ten years ago,” Gokal says, “farming was easy.”

Now it’s deadly, and with the worst drought conditions India has seen in decades, this year’s December cotton harvest could be one of the deadliest.

* * *

Kishor Tiwari works from a small, two-room office in Yavatmal, the largest city in an area of the country that has witnessed more farmer suicides than any other. Tiwari, a fast-talking former engineer, is attempting to document as many of those deaths as he can. As founder of the Vidharbha People’s Agitation Committee, Tiwari has made a full- time job of raising awareness of cotton farmers’ plight.

Kishor Tiwari has dedicated his life to raising awareness of farmer suicides in India.

On an afternoon in June, with the annual monsoon rains already two weeks late in what scientists believe is a symptom of climate change, Tiwari motions to one of his assistants. “This is the suicide man,” he says. The man hands Tiwari a white ledger. Inside, on dog-eared pages, there’s a line for every suicide: name, date, place of death.

Tiwari then points to a map next his desk. “We are here,” he says, placing his right index finger on the map. He then draws a large circle with the finger. “This is the cotton area,” he says. Tiwari looks back, making sure everyone is watching. He draws another large circle away from the first one. “This is the non-cotton area.” He pauses, leveraging the silence for effect. “The suicides,” he finishes, “are mainly in the cotton-crop area.”

Dressed in black pants and a white button-down shirt, Tiwari walks barefoot into the next room. “Come, come,” he says. There, he has a floor-to-ceiling chart illustrating the numbers of suicides his organization has confirmed in this area of Vidarbha from 2001 to 2008. The years and numbers are in Sanskrit, and Tiwari begins to read each aloud. “In 2001, 52 suicides,” he says, then rattles off the numbers in machine-gun procession, each number representing the suicides of the following year: “104, 148, 447, 445, 1,448, 1,246, 1,267.”

Tiwari believes St. Louis, Missouri-based agribusiness giant Monsanto is the primary reason for the suicides, and to understand why he believes this, it’s instructive to appreciate first how drastically the cotton-seed business has changed in India.

Cotton seed has historically been among farmers’ lowest expenses. During the harvest, cotton growers would cultivate crop seeds and save them for the following season. As a general practice, they also would swap seeds with neighboring farmers, ensuring through natural selection that subsequent generations of cotton seed would be best suited for the region. Although local cotton did not provide the same potential yields as cotton seed from the Americas, it had adapted to India’s unique climate – an intense monsoon season followed by months of drought.

Monsanto helped to abolish this practice. At the turn of the century, the company introduced a genetically modified cotton plant that produces bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a commonly used pesticide against bollworm. When Bt cotton seed first came to market nationwide in 2002 under the trademark Bollgard, a box recommended for one acre of farmland was 1,400 rupees, about $35, a substantial amount for a farmer who in a good year will earn a few hundred dollars to support his family. Although government-regulated prices have been halved to 750 rupees per box – a predatory pricing lawsuit filed by the state of Andhra Pradesh forced Monsanto and the federal government to lower the prices – the input costs of Bt cotton are still more than the average farmer can afford to spend out of pocket.

What’s more, unlike with traditional seeds, farmers aren’t able replant seeds harvested from the crop. Doing so not only would violate a farmer’s legal agreement with the seed company but would be impractical as well. Because Bt sold in India is only available in hybrid seeds, replanting the next generation of seeds is a genetic crapshoot. Hybrids genetically segregate with every generation, with only one-third of seeds showing the same genetic traits of the parent. While hybrids can offer yield benefits for farmers, they primarily offer Monsanto greater control of intellectual property through this genetic segregation. As a result, farmers must buy new seeds year after year.

Despite the high costs of Bt cotton and the problems associated with the seed, advertising campaigns and government promotion of Monsanto’s technology initially helped persuade Indian farmers to take out loans and buy the genetically modified cotton seed.

On a macro level, Bt cotton has been a success in India. Since its introduction, national cotton production has doubled. But on a micro level, when examined from farm to farm, Monsanto’s technology has clearly offered mixed results.

Because the genetically modified Bt trait is only readily available in hybrid seeds, the crop requires more water than traditional Indian seeds. Affluent farmers with irrigated fields can fully exploit the technology and profit from increased yields, and these farmers are success stories for Monsanto.

But still 60 percent of India’s 90 million farmers own less than two and a half acres of land, and for them, the situation is vastly different. Subsistence farmers own rain-fed lands whose success depends entirely on the generosity of the monsoon. During this current period of unpredictable rains and increasing drought, these farmers have, like their more affluent counterparts, adopted drought- intolerant Bt cotton, which has resulted in reports throughout the region of crop failure and disappointing yield levels. Although boxes of Bt cotton have a warning label that instructs farmers to use the seed only in irrigated fields, the warning is in English, which few farmers can read.

Now, only a few years after the introduction of genetically modified seeds, Bt cotton has become so universal, and so much more profitable for the seed companies that license Monsanto’s technology, it’s the only type of seed available to farmers at stores. Consequently, every year as Indians await the monsoon rains, farmers line up to sign loan paperwork. In less than a decade, cotton seed in India went from a negligible cost to one requiring a bank loan.

“Fifty percent of farmer expenses now come from the cost of the seed,” Tiwari, the activist, says.

Whereas previous generations of cotton farmers could recover from crop failure – they would face a year of hardship from reduced income but could find means to plant again the following year – India’s subsistence farmers today are playing a game of agrarian roulette. Here’s the familiar pattern: To purchase Bt cotton, the farmer must take out a seed loan from the State Bank of India. If the crop fails due to a poor monsoon – a noteworthy potential given Bt cotton’s design for use in irrigated fields – the farmer will not be able to pay back the loan and will be denied a second loan. The farmer then will turn to an unregulated private moneylender who charges usurious rates, sometimes as high as 100 percent. A second crop failure, or even an underperforming crop, can place the farmer in a hole so deep that many turn to suicide.

In fact, the number of farmer suicides in India spiked in 2006, and has remained steady since, following implementation of a government program to pay as much as 10,000 rupees in compensation to families affected by farmer suicide. Suddenly, indebted cotton growers were worth more as corpses than as patriarchs.

Gajanan Bhindarwa cradles cotton seeds containing Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt trait.

That’s what happened to Vithal Bhindarwa, whose six-acre cotton farm was near the two-lane highway that runs from Hyderabad to New Delhi. His crop failed in late 2008, and he owed 28,000 rupees to the State Bank of India and even more to a private moneylender. Bhindarwa’s wife and children did not know the debt existed, and one evening in December, the farmer stepped out of his two-room home and swallowed poison he had reserved for rats trolling in the soybean field. “We were told it would produce good results, the Bt cotton, so everybody took a loan,” says his son, 23-year-old Gajanan, now head of the family.

Today, according to one of Monsanto’s own studies, 95 percent of farmers in India have expenditures greater than income. These farmers are upside down on loans, but instead of walking away from farms as Americans have walked away from homes, thousands are hanging and poisoning themselves.

* * *

Sekhar Natarajan, Monsanto’s head of India operations, lives in Mumbai, about 425 miles west of the farmlands where these suicides are occurring, and oversees a business that generates more than $70 million in annual revenue from sales in the Indian heartland.

Sitting at a desk in his office, Natarajan bristles at the claims his company is somehow responsible for suicides among subsistence farmers.

“I like to start out by saying that, as an Indian, whenever I hear about the suicide of farmers, it pains me, because it’s a human life that we’re talking about,” Natarajan says. “Farmer suicide is a very painful subject, and it’s a subject that is important for India as a country to clearly understand. It’s not one single cause. A farmer commits suicide as a last resort, to keep up his honor and commitment which he’s unable to do.

“I would disagree with the fact that genetically modified seeds are the cause of suicide, because these suicides happen in non-cotton areas also,” he continues. “Cotton farmers are in fact benefiting from technology because we believe risk is reduced. A cotton farmer who does not use technology has a higher risk profile than a cotton farmer who uses technology, assuming the seeds are the same value. That being the case, we think we reduce risk. To that extent, we add positively to this whole debate about how much of a pressure is on farmers. This is a holistic subject, and I really think the statements directly linking us are unfounded in my opinion.”

Monsanto has funded three studies attempting to prove the company isn’t responsible for the suicides. Those studies linked farmer suicides to a variety of social ills, including alcoholism, gambling and the use of credit to finance weddings and dowries. One study, by the International Food Policy Research Institute, concluded farmer suicides had so many possible contributors in addition to Bt cotton that any conclusive links to a single contributor were impossible to form.

* * *

Despite the Monsanto-funded studies, it’s clear from the ground level that had India not moved its cotton industry to genetically modified seeds so quickly, and instead confined the technology to the larger, irrigated fields for which it was designed, the agrarian suicide crisis wouldn’t exist at the level it does today. Critics of Monsanto in India allege this imprudent agrarian policy is the result of government corruption and the U.S. company’s gaming of the system.

“If you can bribe someone in the regulatory agency, you get what you want,” says Suman Sahai, a geneticist in New Delhi and activist against seed patents.

“I’ve seen too many scientists start to speak against their mind and their conscience just for money from Monsanto,” says Vandana Shiva, a well-known environmental activist in India.

Sahai and Shiva can’t provide evidence to support their claims, and Monsanto officials are quick to brush off such charges, saying their business in India complies with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law that prohibits bribery of foreign officials.

Even so, Monsanto has demonstrated tremendous skill at influencing public officials in India. Among the best examples is C.D. Mayee, a New Delhi scientist who was co-chair of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee when Monsanto sought approval for Bt cotton in 2001.

Mayee granted that approval in 2002, and four years later, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, an organization whose major funders include Monsanto, appointed Mayee to its board of directors. Mayee saw no conflict of interest in being paid to promote the same technology he was charged with regulating. “ISAAA is engaged in a noble mission globally and this is the first time an Indian has had the honor of being on its board,” Mayee told The Times of India at the time of his appointment.

Mayee voluntarily stepped down as India’s regulator of genetically modified agriculture in May. However, as a member of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Mayee remains an influential government official in India and still serves on ISAA’s board.

During a June interview in his New Delhi office, when asked if he regrets having approved Bt cotton given that a rural credit crisis and a rise in farmer suicides followed introduction of the technology, Mayee remains emphatic in his support of Monsanto’s technology.

“Let me find you something,” he says, rooting through his briefcase. Mayee hands over two papers he recently submitted to academic journals. Both examine how India has benefitted from the genetically modified seed. “Cotton production in India has doubled as a result of Bt technology,” he says. “Therefore, how can Bt cotton be responsible for suicides?”

Asked why he believes his opinion should be viewed credible when he sits on the board of an organization funded by Monsanto, Mayee abruptly ends the interview without explanation.

* * *

It was a Sunday morning when Motiram Baban Landkar hanged himself in Vidarbha’s Akola District. His three sons had all left the village. Shivlal and Shantaram had gone to the market, and Gokal attended a wedding.

Motiram had tea with his wife in the early daylight hours and said nothing of

Motiram Baban Landkar never told his sons that the family was in debt due to seed loans.

what he’d planned. He walked five minutes from the village to his farm, crushing the parched earth with every step. He tied the rope, first around a sturdy branch of the mango tree and then around his neck.

About an hour later, a neighboring farmer found him hanging there and called police. They cut down the body and left behind the rope, scarf and sandals.

“Every day we come here, since it happened,” says Motiram’s middle son, Gokal.

A few days after the suicide, Gokal and his brothers learned of the debts – first from a private moneylender, then from a bank official. They’d known money was tight; they just didn’t realize the family owed money. Their father handled all finances for the combined family of 22 people.

“If we went and earned money somewhere, we would hand him the money and he would take care of all the food and vegetables for the family,” Gokal says. “We had no right to ask daddy where he got his other money from, so we didn’t know about the debts.”

Inside their small home in the village, Gokal says he blames the high cost of seed for pushing his father to suicide. Had he not taken out seeds loan, Gokal says, the debt would not have existed.

Sitting next to Gokal are his two brothers, and napping on his lap is his 3-year-old daughter Lakshmi. When asked what’s next for his family now that his father is dead, Gokal buries his face in his hands. Lakshmi looks up from his lap, half-asleep.

“We have to survive,” he says. “But living without him is impossible.”

When the monsoon rains finally arrive in early July, one month late, farmers in Vidarbha are disappointed. The news gets worse in the following weeks. The government says rain levels are 29 percent below average this year, and halfway through monsoon season, 177 farming districts are declared drought zones.

Indian cotton farmers are expecting a deadly harvest.

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Research for this story was supported in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism

Vidharba: The Rat Poison Brides

Rs 82,000 crore spent, yet Vidarbha is counting its 117th suicide this year. ROHINI MOHAN nails what’s wrong with the Prime Minister’s giant relief fund. Photographs by VIJAY PANDEY


THE STORY AT A GLANCE –
 Rs 82,000 crore spent, 80 percent farmers left out • Only 11 percent farmers use irrigation, rest depend on rain. Yet, 3/4ths of PMpackage geared for former • Waivers only valid for farmers with bank loans. But 75 percent borrow from moneylenders • Scheme ignores farmers with over 5 hectares, dying or not • Lethal fine print: if a farmer with a partially waived loan doesn’t repay outstandings by July 9, 2009, the waiver will be annulled • Multi-crore scam in PM’s cow subsidy • PM package sells soyabean seeds at Rs 3,500 per quintal, while it costs Rs 2,700 in MP. Worse, the state buys the farmers’ harvest at Rs 2,160, a rate lower than its own selling price

ONLY COWARDS commit suicide, they say. Only those who don’t have a fight in them; those who want to run away just when life gets tough. So what is the highest denominator of grief a man must choke back before he’s allowed to give up?

The temple courtyard in Wagdha village is filled with farmers, standing and squatting, looking at their feet in mournful silence. This is the 117th time this year that one of them has been driven to suicide. For the 117th time this year, a farmer lay flat on his back in his parched cotton field, looked skyward at the blinding sun and decided it wasn’t worth living. For the 117th time, a familiarly desperate life ended too soon.

The mourners tell the story of this 117th cotton farmer: Mangalchand Pratap. In the bone-dry Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, Mangalchand had endured more than any average 35-year-old could. The only legacy from his father to his three sons was an endless spiral of debt. Since he was 20, Mangalchand had struggled as the sole farmer in the family, while his brothers did manual labour in nearby cities. In 2008, a pest infection called ‘laal’ killed the entire crop on his five hectare field. He was left with nothing except the rising interest on the bank loan he had taken to buy cotton seeds. His wife, Surekha, recalls it as the year when the usually affable Mangalchand turned sour. “Each meal we fed our three children last year felt like a miracle,” says Surekha.

1. ASHA
LOST: Husband drank rat poison in 2005 
RELIEF:
 Disqualified for widow compensation

2. SUMAN
LOST: Husband drank pesticide in December 2005 
RELIEF:
 Received Rs 1 lakh widow compensation

3. SUNITA
LOST: Husband hung himself in June 2007 
RELIEF: 
Partial loan waiver and soyabean seed subsidy

4. ANUSUYA 
LOST: 
Husband drank pesticide in June 2005
RELIEF: Received Rs 1 lakh widow compensation

5. BADU ONKAR
LOST: Mother jumped in a well in May 2008 
RELIEF:
 Nil. Death wasn’t regarded farm-related

6. RUKMA 
LOST:
 Husband drank pesticide in November 2008
RELIEF: Nil. Application for PM package rejected

7. GAJANAND
LOST: Father hung himself in September 2006
RELIEF: Nil. No benefit from package

8. MEENA 
LOST: 
Husband hung himself in December 2006
RELIEF: Soyabean seed subsidy. Cow subsidy rejected

9. MANDABAI
LOST:
 Husband and son drank pesticide in 2002 and 2006
RELIEF: Nil. Full loan waiver of Rs 15,000

10. CHITRA 
LOST: 
Husband drank pesticide in November 2008 
RELIEF: 
Nil. Government took land for dam, has not paid yet

This year, with renewed hope and a prayer to the rain clouds, Mangalchand took a crop loan of Rs 30,000 to buy cotton seeds. On the morning of June 24, however, when he walked into his field, he saw the freshly sown cotton seeds ruined by “chota paani”or a small drizzle that drenches the seeds just enough to destroy them. That very evening, Mangalchand drank a bottle of pesticide. His brother Dhyaneswar saw Mangalchand crash to the ground, his mouth frothing and his hands clasping the dry black soil. Today, holding his brother’s eight-year-old daughter, Dhyaneswar says, “How much can a man struggle when he sees that his children are going hungry? My brother is just one of the many farmers that will commit suicide this year.”

Vicious cycle A fresh round of borrowing begins every year around May-June, when seed sowing starts

This ominous prophecy is, unfortunately, Vidarbha’s darkest truth. The cotton belt of Maharashtra has been infamous for farmer suicides since 2001 — activists and journalists have screamed themselves hoarse for the governments to respond. As more farmers committed suicide, the Congress-led UPA government announced a series of fire-fighting measures. The first of this came after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s two-day visit to Vidarbha in July 2006. In the face of a shocking 1,448 suicides that year, Singh announced a special relief package of Rs 3,750 crores for six drought-hit districts of Vidarbha. Later, in 2008, he offered a bigger bounty: Rs 71,860 crores by way of loan waiver for farmers across India. The waiver also served as a pre-poll sop that was critical in bringing the Congress back to power in 2009.

Till date, more than Rs 82,000 crores have been allotted to farmers through state and Central relief packages. Political gains have been reaped, and most of the money has been spent. Yet, every year, Vidarbha reports almost the same number of suicides, if not more (In 2001, 52 farmers committed suicide. In 2008, the number had risen to 1,267) So why have the packages failed to quell the suicides? Why is Vidarbha in an unending worst case scenario?

In Kedapur village, people point us to the house of Chandrakala Misra. “Most widows hire farm hands or simply sell off the land after their husband’s death,” says a neighbour, “But Chandrakala is a fighter.” Three years ago, she had woken up to find her husband Gangaram Misra hanging from the ceiling. Since then, Chandrakala has learnt to plough the land herself, a job traditionally reserved for men because of the difficulty in herding the oxen. “If you’ve come to promise me some package, don’t think I’m a fool,” says Chandrakala. “Every government official, media person, or NGO I have met has sold me empty promises of help.” Today, Chandrakala trusts no one but herself. She works 12 hours through every day of the year, as farm labour for big landlords and as a housemaid in three houses. She sends her two daughters to school, admittedly on huge loans from the moneylender. She has not a moment to breathe, and not an iota of help.

WHAT FARMERS WANT

Loan waiver based on amount of outstanding loan, not acreage

Crop insurance in drought years to cushion harvest failure

Greater farm-related subsidies for non-irrigated farmers

Incentives to grow food crops, at least enough to feed family

Agricultural income tax to penalise those investing black money

Government must guarantee to buy produce at the right price

Chandrakala’s life today is proof of how crores may have been spent, but not much of that money has reached the neediest hands. She was rejected by the tehsildar for the Rs 1 lakh compensation given to widows of farm-related suicides. “Some government babus came and asked me if I wanted monetary compensation or education for my children,” says Chandrakala, “I asked for both. I got neither.”

An officer at Yavatmal’s district collectorate says Chandrakala’s husband must’ve killed himself “in a state of drunkenness” or because of a “domestic dispute” – the two most common official excuses for refusing compensation to bereaved families. As for the loan waiver, Chandrakala says, “That’s for people who were given bank loans in the first place. We were refused bank loans for at least 10 years and had to borrow from the sahukar (moneylender).” Today, Chandrakala is running the risk of losing her five hectare to the moneylender. “I now understand why my husband gave up,” she says.

In the blue Kishtabai’s husband drank rat poison last year. Her son Gajanand (in pic) dropped out of engineering college to do farming
Dispirited future Meera Kachru with her daughter in their village hut. Meera’s husband hung himself in 2005 due to harassment from a moneylender
On empty stomachs Surekha, whose husband committed suicide in 2009, says each meal the couple fed their children last year felt like a miracle
Spirit to struggle Chandrakala, a widow, works 12 hours every day as farm labour for big landlords and as a housemaid in three houses

People like Chandrakala are the reason relief packages were put together. But it is the Chandrakalas that they have ultimately looked right through. In 2008, Kedapur village’s Bhujanna Vittal was refused a full loan waiver because he had a landholding of five hectares (those with less than two hectares got a full waiver, and those with up to five hectares got a partial waiver). Of his Rs 50,000 bank loan, about Rs 20,000 was waived off in October last year. Two months later, Bhujanna went to the market to sell his much depleted cotton harvest. With the proceeds, he bought a kilo of rice, some tomatoes, and a bottle of rat poison. He was found on his cot the next morning, his face as blue as the walls of his house. “He had spent more money on growing the cotton than the harvest finally sold for,” says his widow Kishtabai, “I was not surprised when he committed suicide.” Her son, 20-year-old Gajanand, is less forgiving, “I was in engineering college on a full scholarship and have had to drop out to do farming. Without my father around, I’m expected to be the sole breadwinner.”

Worse, Gajanand and the close to six lakh farmers who received partial loan waivers in Vidarbha have now been informed by their banks of a lethal fine print: if they do not repay their outstanding loans by July 9, 2009, the waiver too would be annulled.

As the deadline looms, panic has spread through Vidarbha. Farmers in some villages have boldly declared that they will never repay their loans. Others quietly hope for another quick-fix package. This repayment clause was an unmentioned fine print in the much-touted loan waiver announced by then Finance Minister P Chidambaram. Since the average farm landholding in Vidarbha is five hectare, most farmers here got a partial waiver, unaware that they would have to repay the rest or forfeit the waiver. “We work on the fields from June to December, investing every borrowed paisa, and when it doesn’t rain and crops fail, we end up with no money to buy even food with,” says Hirasingh Chavan, a farmer in Washim district. “How am I supposed to repay my outstanding Rs 23,000? And if I can’t, why should I lose the waiver of Rs 20,000? What kind of package is this?”

A fresh round of borrowing begins every year around May-June, when seed sowing starts. At this point, Vidarbha’s farmer needs bulk cash — to buy cotton or soyabean seeds (around Rs 1,000 per acre), to plough the land (around Rs 1,000 per acre), and to purchase fertiliser and pesticide (around Rs 3,000 per acre). Years of below-average rain and crop has ensured that few farmers have any savings. Banks too refuse them loans because of their mounting previous debts. In 2006, the PM package had magnanimously directed banks to give crop loans even to defaulting farmers. Over 10 lakh farmers took loans that year, more than double the previous year’s numbers. But poor harvests for three straight years have meant that farmers are back to square zero. They’re unable to repay their loan and unable to borrow anymore.

‘If you’ve come to promise me a package, don’t think I’m a fool,’ says Chandrakala

MOST FARMERS haven’t repaid their loans for the past four years,” says RG Mahajan, manager of Bank of Maharashtra in Pahapal, Yavatmal district, “We’ve declared that 75 percent of farmers are not credit worthy.” A State Bank of India official in Amravati district says Vidarbha has always had the highest number of loan defaulters. “This year, we’re expecting the number of defaulters to rise further. Most of them are just hoping for another package to save the day.”

False promises, corruption and shameful indifference abound in the implementation of the PM relief package. An RTI petition filed by Yavatmal-based activist Vilas Wankhade in 2008 has revealed that the biggest beneficiaries of the PM package’s cow subsidy scheme (cows sold at a subsidy to bereaved families) were former politicians and sitting MLAs (see box). In 2007, a committee was formed to review the implementation of relief schemes in Vidarbha. Seven months later, economist Dr Narendra Jadhav, the head of the committee, spoke in a 102-page report of unmanageable corruption and supply of relief material at inflated costs. Soyabean seeds are sold under the PM package at Rs 3,500 per quintal while the seeds only cost Rs 2,700 per quintal in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. “On top of that, the state government buys the soya from us at Rs 2,160 — so much lower than what they sell the seeds for,” says Narayan Vibhutey, a young farmer in Washim.

‘I was not surprised when he committed suicide,’ says Kishtabai of her husband

STUNG BY allegations of corruption and poor performance, the Maharashtra government appointed a committee to investigate the multi-crore scam, which submitted its report and recommendations in early 2009. The report is not public yet. When contacted, a committee member, Dr Prafulla Kale, hinted at massive corruption involving influential persons. He also admitted that the investigation itself was fraught with “pressures from various sources”. “We have, however, remained fair and objective. Now, we’re seeing that the money spent is reallocated to the right people,” Kale said.

Officials within the government too admit that the loan waiver and PM package have been largely cosmetic. Sudhir Goyal, Amravati’s divisional commissioner in charge of implementing the relief packages, himself says, “What is the need for a package like this in Vidarbha? Suicides are a symptom of a deeper agrarian crisis. For rain-fed farmers like those in Vidarbha, the main worries are the monsoon and prices. After spending so much on cash crops, farmers find that their costs are higher than their returns. This factor is worse than ever, so how will suicides stop? What’s the point of putting money into schemes that do not address the core issues?” Maharashtra’s Agriculture Minister, Balasaheb Thorat too admits that the packages only provided a brief hiatus, “This year, too, rains have been delayed and I expect that the situation will worsen. We’re ready to tackle this.”

Under the cloud Badly designed, badly executed, the relief package is not reaching the people it is meant for
An RTI revealed that politicians and MLAs benefited most from the cow subsidy scheme

When the PM package was announced, voices from the Planning Commission, the Left parties and agricultural experts warned that it was blind to Vidarbha’s unique issues that have plagued it since the 1970s. The premonition was not off the mark. Wardha-based agriculturist Vijay Jawandia says, “Eighty percent of the farmers were left out of the various packages. Those eligible were short-changed. The schemes showed little understanding of rural India and conventional agricultural practises.” For instance, the loan waiver and several other packages were open only to farmers who own less than five hectares. But in most villages, agricultural land is owned by a whole family, with the title deed in the name of the eldest male member. So though land revenue records show that a farmer owns 15-20 hectares, his actual holding is 4-5 hectares. Yet, he was technically not eligible for any benefits. Similarly, Vidarbha has always practised rain-fed farming and only 11 percent of its farmers have irrigation. Nevertheless, three-quarters of the PM package was earmarked for farmers with existing irrigation projects. “With the three rivers in the area running dry, the rapidly depleting ground water, and scanty rainfall, irrigation is but wishful thinking,” says Kishor Tiwari, president of the Vidarbha Kisan Andolan Samiti.

Dr Prafulla Kale hints at massive corruption in the scheme involving influential people

Meera Kachru Chatale, a widow in Pahapal, narrates how government officials had brought a team to dig a well in her field. “They congratulated me saying my life would change, that my field will glisten with flowing water, that I will be a successful farmer.” Meera’s husband had hung himself in 2005 due to harassment from a moneylender. A local NGO submitted an application on her behalf when the PM package was announced in 2006 and she was found eligible. “They dug fast for two days, then got slower and slower,” says Meera, “In a week, they left, saying water has come.” Meera ran to the field and looked down the newlydug well. It was bone-dry. “There was not a drop of groundwater,” she says, “They were a bunch of liars.”

Over and over, the ill-conceived schemes ended up ignoring the genuinely deprived. A senior secretary in the Maharashtra agricultural department says, “Of the Rs 71,680 crore waiver, Maharashtra’s share was Rs 14,000 crores. The maximum benefit went to the more prosperous and wellirrigated western Maharashtra (Rs 7,000 crores). Vidarbha had to make do with just Rs 2,000 crores.” The very region whose farmer deaths had provoked the government into announcing the enormous packages was given leftovers.

A state survey finds that three in every four cotton growing families is in ‘acute crisis’

2009 is just beginning for Vidarbha’s farmers and already, they’re grappling with loan ultimatums and delayed rainfall. The state government’s own door-to-door survey finds that three in every four cotton farm families is in “acute crisis”. In the five days that TEHELKA travelled in the region, two suicides took place. It is but a gloomy news item for many, but every farmer who takes his own life leaves behind a lurking fear in Vidarbha. Packages may come and go, but as long as the suicides persist, so does the debilitating fear. While straightening the garland on his father’s picture, 20-year-old Gajanand morbidly challenges this reporter to return to Vidarbha a month later to check if he’s still alive. It’s not a threat, he says, but a cry for freedom from the fear.

WRITER’S EMAIL
rohinimohan@gmail.com

No relief for cotton farmers, PM puts off meeting with Mumbai CM

Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Wednesday had to call off hisvisit to Delhi to discuss the problems of cotton growing farmers because prime minister Manmohan Singh cancelled the appointment due to prior commitments.

The cotton growing farmers have sought Rs6,000 per quintal for the crop —a price the state wants to consult with the Centre before making any commitment.

Congress leaders from Vidarbha are up in arms arguing that if the state can bear the additional burden of Rs4,000 crore for increasing the price for sugarcane farmers, it cannot ignore cotton growing farmers.

The top leadership in the Congress is worried as delay in the decision regarding hike in cotton rates would go against them in the civic polls.

The cotton growing belt of Vidarbha, which is perceived as the Congress stronghold, is turning into a political battle turf after BJP and Shiv Sena decided to launch an agitation from November 19 and 21 respectively.

State BJP chief Sudhir Mungantiwar said: “We will not allow winter session to take place in Nagpur (Vidarbha) if cotton farmers are not paid Rs6,000 per quintal.”

MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre, who hails from Yavatmal in Vidarbha, has taken the lead to drive the farmers’ plight through closed door meetings with top leadership of state. He held discussions with the CM drawing attention to the problems of farmers in Vidarbha.

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Record 1065 vidarbha farmers suicides reported in first year of Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan: Hostile administration is Killing Innocent Farmers

Nagpur -11th November , 2011

When chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is celebrating his first year of holding office more 1065 vidarbha farm widows and her family members are struggling to get food for survival, mass genocide of cotton farmers triggered during last year due to wrong policies of Govt. which imposed restriction cotton export on cotton farmers then allowing seed, fertilizer and pesticide companies to increase their price without giving any consideration to minimum support price to Maharashtra main cash crop cotton forcing debt ridden cotton farmers to commit suicide since e assume office at rate of three farmers a day this is record number of farm suicides for CM who is so called most efficient and worked on PM vidarbha farmers relief package as MOS in PMO but farmers despair and distress trigger due it’sindecision attitude to handle crisis ,Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti informed in press note today.

‘‘Massive corruption from top to bottom and very hostile and failure of administration is killing innocent cotton farmers, we have been demanding central Govt.intervention but noby is listing us our plea” tiwari urged. ASS

Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti has urged UPA convener Smt. Sonia Gandhiji to chage Maharashtra worst performing Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan as he is failed to protect cotton farmers of region having has ignored main demands of hike in Minimum Support Price-MSP of cotton, soybean and paddy and failed to resolve the issues ofthe procurement centers along with serious issue of power cut in rural vidarbha which is more than 18 hours and due to load-shedding, 50% cotton and paddy production of the region has suffered hence it was expected ,president Kishor Tiwari informed today.

“The recent announcement of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan yesterday that hiking the of Minimum Support Price-MSP of cotton will hit textile industry and lead to closing of mills has shocked the five million cotton farmers of Maharashtra as this is against the pending demand of congress and NCP party and It was expected that congress leaders of region will take up this serious issue of agrarian crisis with Maharashtra CM but nobody pushed the main demands and all were busy in welcoming him moreover. As Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavanhas given hostile administration to state and administrative corruption is at peaks there is no coordination of ministers with chief minister resulting complete failure of state coalition Govt. hence we are demanding his removal to save dying cotton farmers of Maharashtra” Tiwari said.

Bt cotton seeds promoted by the state have increased the economic pressure on farmers instead of resulting in higher yields of disease free crops. Already a low return and high risk livelihood, these policies that claim to reduce the risk have only increased the cost of farming. As a result, the cotton economy of the region has collapsed, resulting in mass suicide since 2001, he pointed out that when the rate of cotton lint gets a rate of $5.346 per kg in USA (around Rs 8,906 per quintal), the farmers of Vidarbha was getting a meager rate of Rs 4,000 per quintal.

VJAS that has been documenting the farmers’ suicide in the region, said that most of the cotton farmers were distressed because of meagre rate of raw cotton in the market this season.

“There is a need for state government’s intervention in this regard. The government should provide at least Rs 6,000 per quintal. The chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had promised that he would talk with the union government for better support price for the raw cotton.However, nothing has been done in this regard,”Tiwari alleged.

Looking at prevailing situation internationally wheren cotton prices are likely to soar to Rs 7,000 a quintal this year too riding on the global scarcity on account of poor crops in the US, China and Pakistan, Indian cotton farmers can hedge these prices only if central Govt. manages to raise the minimum support price to Rs 6,000 level but The government has not responded favorably disappointing cotton farmer hence we urge for urgent intervention to save dying cotton farmers, Tiwari said.

“As the reports from allover the are showing world shortage of cotton production , the Indian farmer gets advantage this time as cotton is now placed under open general license (OGL) for exports. But the OGL status should be continued. Last year, the Centre put unnecessary restrictions on exports denying farmers an opportunity to make it big. In the process they lost a market worth Rs 30,000 crore,” said Tiwari. Tiwari continued, “The government did not concede our demand of providing food security to desperate, distressed and marginal farmers even. The government needs to behave sensibly and responsibly to address farmers’ woes and prevent the prevailing spate of suicide in the killing fields of Vidarbha.” If the cotton growers do not get better price this season, the situation will assume drastic proportions, he cautioned.

VJAS has urged Govt. of India to send team of expert to assess the Bt. Cotton crop damage in maharashtra and west vidarbha in particular where cotton farmers are killing themselves .VJAS has been demanding hike in cotton MSP Rs.6000/- per quintal and relief package to dying cotton farmers of region, Tiwari added.

“At the national level Maharashtra is main state which is cultivating Bt.cotton in around 52 lakh hector which is around 40% of Indian cotton cultivation moreover agrarian economy of Maharashtra is completely based on cotton production and prices hence we demand urgent intervention from Govt.” Tiwari added

Sugarcane lobby triumphs, cotton farmers limp-DNA

 DNA / Yogesh Pawar / Sunday, November 13, 2011 8:00 IST

 While the Maharashtra government must be relieved that Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader and Kolhapur MP Raju Shetty ended his five-day fast in Baramati on Saturday, after it agreed to a sugarcane procurement price hike, many wonder why the same state ignores the plight of its cotton farmers.
In the same duration that Shetty sat on a fast 22 debt-ridden, Vidarbha cotton farmers committed suicide. One of these, Rajendra Lahiti of Dhamangaon, Amravati, breathed his last after consuming pesticide at the same time that Shetty was ending his fast with sugarcane juice on Friday.
Shetty’s fast saw a prompt response by top leaders in the state. While the MNS and Sena supported Shetty, Union agriculture minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar sent daughter Supriya Sule to soothe ruffled feathers while CM Prithiviraj Chavan himself kept a close on eye on negotiations with protestors.
Repeated attempts to get Maharashtra agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil to comment on the “double standards” for different farmers, drew a blank. When DNA spoke to Raju Shetty he said, “We want justice for all farmers. If someone raises the issue of cotton farmers we will support them.”
“If the government agrees procurement price should cover cost of production and give a bonus to farmers then this should apply to both sugar and cotton equally,” points out TISS agronomist, Dr Ram Kumar.
A thought echoed by Kishor Tiwari, of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. He points out how, last year the government was giving Rs 2,500 per quintal when international prices hovered at Rs 7,000 a quintal. “This year the government declared it will buy for Rs 3,300 per quintal. Farmers feel they’d prefer suicide to selling at such low prices,” says the activist.
Demanding a minimum of Rs 6,000 per quintal he asks, “Which fool will sell at Rs 3,300 when production costs are near Rs 4,500 per quintal?” Not surprising then that the cotton market yards are idle across the region.
In fact many say, the government’s July 2006, Rs. 3,750-crore Vidarbha relief package was a mockery. “Since then no bonus has been given in the procurement prices. Cumulatively since, this itself works out Rs 12,000 crores plus,” Tiwari points out and adds, “Though cotton is the largest cash crop in the state and the crisis severe, while the sugar lobby ensures its vote bank is well taken care of, cotton farmers die.” Tiwari also charges sugar barons across the political spectrum of using sugarcane prices to make money. “These barons use their sugar factories like milch cows. They get government relief when they complain they are in the red due to high procurement prices,” he says. Dr Ramkumar also agrees, “The factories are in the red due to mismanagement, corruption and political interference. This shouldn’t be linked to what farmers are paid.” In contrast, cotton farmers are caught in a bind while agro MNCs with a nod from the government are laughing their way to the bank. Authorities first encouraged farmers to opt for genetically modified Bt cotton, promising a huge yield. Despite initial resistance, aggressive campaigning by brand ambassadors like Nana Patekar saw many convert hoping to make a killing.
“With our native species, even if flowering failed due to excessive rain in the first half of the season, we would still manage at least some yield since the plants flower again. Bt cotton only flowers once and any failure means re-sowing the expensive Rs1,200-a-packet seeds,” says Ambadas Rathod a farmer from Kolejhair, Yavatmal who faced the runt of the heavy rains in October. The blitzkrieg on high yield hadn’t informed farmers of how high the cost of fertiliser would be or how pesticide-intensive this species is. “At Rs1,000 a kilo, I spent nearly Rs10,000 on fertiliser alone, and a further Rs12,000 per litre on 6-litre pesticide. After all that money and my hard work was washed away I was left with no option but borrowing money from the local money lender to re-sow,” says Rathod.

Harvest of grief -Vidarbha farmers do not get solace even in death, as authorities fudge inquests to keep suicide numbers low

By Niranjan Takle
Story Dated: Friday, November 11, 2011 15:2 hrs IST

u Sarap Sunita’s husband, Rajendra, committed suicide taking pesticide. He had 12 acres and a loan
Subhash Kharode did the best he could do to convince the authorities of the nature of his death—he wrote his suicide note on a 050 stamp paper. “I am not getting the right price for my crop because of the inconsistent policy of the government. I am depressed and committing suicide. A similar note to the district collector has been kept in my pocket,” said the note by the farmer.

Kharode hanged himself on a tree in his farm at Akot in Akola district of Vidarbha in Maharashtra. But even the stamp paper failed to do the job, as the police, after the inquest, called it an “accidental death”.
“This is a new ploy of the state government and the police department,” said social activist Kishor Tiwari, “to claim cases of suicide have gone down.” Cruelly, in cases where they record the death as suicide, they leave some loopholes and make the family ineligible for the compensation of Rs:1 lakh,” he said.
Farmers die by the dozen in Vidarbha every week. Till September, there had been 654 suicides in the region this year. That is, every 13 hours a farmer commits suicide. “This is the official number. The deaths not recorded as suicides by the police would be another 250-300,” said Prakash Pohare, an activist-journalist in Akola. After Kharode’s suicide, Pohare led a rally to the police station protesting the fudged inquest, but to no avail.
Everybody knows why farmers commit suicide: debt trap due to crop loss or poor crop prices. So why can’t the government fix it? Faulty and skewed policies, in fact, are at the bottom of the farmers’ suicide story.
Sangita Panchalenwar’s husband, Nilesh, killed himself with pesticide on September 10 last year. He had a loan of Rs:40,000 from Central Bank and had suffered heavy losses because of excess rainfall. “It has been a year but I have not received any compensation. I don’t even know what they wrote in the inquest,” Sangita says. She has given her five acres to a farmer neighbour on contract and gets Rs:1,000 a month. She has to work as a contract labourer on other farms to feed her two children, and has no idea how to repay the loan without getting any compensation.
Sangita’s village, Hivara Barsa in Yavatmal district, has 150 houses, and most of them are in the debt trap. The village has seen three suicides in the past nine months and the people fear more will happen. “I have a loan of Rs:9 lakh on my 28-acre farm. This year  the excess rainfall has destroyed my cotton and soybean. We can’t even afford to educate our children,” said Prakash Bolenwar, a farmer. “I think many suicides will happen in the months to come.” Yavatmal, which is considered to have the most fertile land in the region, has seen the most suicides in Vidarbha in the last decade.
“The government is not showing any will to address the real reasons. The promotion of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and modified seeds has really been the reason of this tragic state of agriculture in Vidarbha,” said Pohare. Farmers’ input costs have shot up and the returns seldom match them. “The input or production costs in cotton farming with chemical fertilisers, pesticides and Bt cotton have increased 10 times in the last 10 years but the returns are dropping every year,” said Gopal Shelke, a cotton farmer in Kanheri in Akola. In fact, all the farmers cultivating Bt cotton in his village are in the debt trap. Shelke’s friend Rajendra Sarap committed suicide two years ago.
Though the worst affected by the debt trap and suicides, Vidarbha is the least benefited from the government’s loan waiver. The properties of the joint families in the region are often in the name of all the family members (unlike elsewhere in the state where the family-owned land is divided in the names of individual members and every individual has the status of an independent farmer) making them ineligible for the loan waiver which requires a farmer to hold not more than five acres.
Take the case of Sunita Sarap, whose husband, Rajendra, committed suicide by taking pesticide. He had 12 acres and a loan of Rs:1 lakh. Sunita had to sell seven acres to pay back the loan after his death and to meet the expenses of her daughter’s marriage. Though she has a well for irrigation, her crops suffer from the long hours of load shedding. “We don’t get electricity for 14 hours a day. We get it late in the night when we can’t go to the field because of snakes and wild boars. It is as good as not allowing us to cultivate,” she said. She did not get any loan waiver because her husband had owned more than five acres.
Even for many of the farmers who got the loan waiver, the benefit was restricted to Rs:25,000 and the balance amounts were just rescheduled, said Tiwari. Since 2001, as per official data, six of eleven districts of Vidarbha—Amaravati, Akola, Yavatmal, Buldhana, Washim and Wardha—had more than 8,000 farmer suicides but only 2,497 of them have been “eligible for the compensation of Rs:1 lakh”.
“Every year the percentage of ineligible farmers is increasing because of the wrong and faulty panchanamas done by the police and this happens at the behest of the government,” said Tiwari.
Zaabaji Ramachandra Kale of Ganeshpur in Yavatmal committed suicide on September 6, 2011. “We didn’t get any benefit of the loan waiver,” said his wife, Taanebai. Zaabaji had submitted all the documents to the tehsildar for division of land in his and his sons’ names. “The officer asked for a bribe of Rs:10,000, which we couldn’t pay,” said the wife.
Zaabaji, who had a loan of Rs:1.5 lakh, cultivated 7.5 acres of the 15 acres his family owned. The delayed monsoon this year destroyed his cotton and soybean crops. “We had suffered similar loss last year also. Though the government announced a Rs:1,000 crore relief package, we didn’t get a penny. The agriculture officers didn’t even turn up to see the loss,” said Sachin, Zaabaji’s son.
In June 2005, chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh announced a package of Rs:1,075 crore. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Vidarbha and announced a package of Rs:3,750 crore in July 2006. Of this, Rs:712 crore was for writing off the overdue interests, Rs:1,296 crore for rescheduling of the credit and the rest for irrigation projects. “It was all treatment of symptoms and not the disease. The irrigation projects take years to commence and many more years to complete. The core problems like rising production costs, falling prices, reducing productivity, food security and efficient crop insurance remain to be addressed,” said Pohare. Obviously the measures are not working, as more than 5,000 farmers have committed suicide since 2006.
As it received many complaints, the state government asked the Vasantarao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission to study the implementation of these packages. B.V. Gopal Reddy of the mission visited the sites, held hearings and submitted his findings. He noted large-scale misappropriation. “There were many instances of an MLA’s wife or zilla parishad office bearer taking the cows and buffaloes posing as farmers in distress,” said Tiwari. The government suspended 50 officers and initiated a departmental inquiry against 405.
A forced departure from the traditional way of cultivation is one reason the farmers end up in the debt trap. The cost of production has gone up with the usage of hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Green chilli hybrid seeds cost Rs:30,000 a kilo, brinjal seeds Rs:8,000 and tomato seeds Rs:65,000. If the rains are not on time, the farmers have to repeat sowing, at times more than once.
Hybrid seeds are highly susceptible to diseases, and the plants require a profuse use of expensive fertilisers and pesticides. “Traders always indulge in black-marketing and almost everything is sold at double the price,” said Pohare. “The government gives a subsidy of Rs:1.4 lakh crore to fertiliser companies every year. If it really wants to stop farmer suicides and increase productivity, it should stop giving crores of rupees to fertiliser companies and use it to encourage farmers to opt for organic farming.”
Pesticides are widely used by farmers of Vidarbha to kill themselves. “The government should ban pesticides. This is like a poison at hand for farmers,” said Aparna Malikar, whose husband, Sanjay, took pesticide. He had taken a loan of Rs:2 lakh from Pusad Urban Coop Bank for his cotton and soybean cultivation. But excess rainfall destroyed his crop. After her husband’s death, Aparna started tilling her farm to feed her daughters, who are in class two and in kindergarten.
In October, Aparna participated in the Kaun Banega Crorepati television show on Sony and won Rs:6.40 lakh. Moved by her plight, actor Amitabh Bachchan, who hosts the show, gave her another Rs:1.5 lakh. But she was inconsolable. “I lost my husband for the fear of repaying Rs:2 lakh. Today even if I have this money, I can’t get my Sanjay back,” she said.
Activists have some suggestions to end what Tiwari calls “farmers genocide”. Through his Vidarbha Janaandolan Samiti, Tiwari has been working on the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha for long. “The most feasible solution to this problem is to immediately opt for organic farming. It is the most cost-effective way of increasing productivity in terms of number as well as nutrition quality,” he said. He suspects a conspiracy behind the government promoting hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers which are harming farmers.
Pohare, who has been doing organic farming successfully on his 25-acre farm at Kanheri in Akola, uses cow dung and the waste generated in the field as vermi-compost fertilisers, and natural pesticides like neem seeds. “This keeps the input production cost negligible compared with the hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers. One acre of organic soybean farming costs only a few hundred rupees for me, while thousands of rupees are needed otherwise,” he said.
Pohare is also doing organic cotton farming successfully. “Indian cotton has always been better than European cotton and these foreign companies promoted Bt cotton to kill our quality and the traditional knowledge of cultivation,” he said. Pohare has been trying to spread awareness about organic farming among farmers in Vidarbha. “This awareness has to reach every farmer and this can’t happen without the government’s support. It has to think of the true welfare of the farmer,” he said.
The agrarian crisis in Vidarbha has been studied by the Vasantarao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research and Dr Narendra Jadhav, former vice-chancellor of Pune University. All these studies have pointed out that only 3 per cent of the total farmers get the benefits of irrigation and the rest still depend on the rain.
The reports say the minimum support price that the dry-land farmers of Vidarbha get is only 55-65 per cent of the production cost. They also criticise the fall in the government’s spending on agriculture—from 20 per cent in 1990 to 6 per cent in 2000—and highlight the need for local water conservation projects rather than big irrigation projects.
About 90 per cent of the farmers in Vidarbha do not have access to institutional loans and go to private moneylenders, who charge 48 per cent to 60 per cent interest. “The home minister talks about acting against private moneylenders, but the state couldn’t make the institutional finance efficient and proactive,” said Tiwari. The state government, he said, was once even fined by the Supreme Court for the chief minister’s office stopping the police from acting against a politically powerful moneylender.
If the government is serious about helping the farmers of Vidarbha, experts say, it should get rid of the administrative negligence and take appropriate measures to plug the gaps in the system. It should proactively and empathetically look at their problems. Until then the number of widows in Vidarbha will keep rising.

http://week.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/theWeekContent.do?programId=1073754900&contentId=10418577

Maharashtra: 17 farmers commit suicides in five days

NAGPUR: With seven farmers in Vidarbha committing suicide in last two days, the crisis which had seen a lull in last few months has resurfaced. According to Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which spearheads cotton growers’ cause in the region and also keeps a tab on suicide committed by ryots, the farm suicide toll has reached an alarming 17 in last five days and 671 in the current year.

The farmers who took the desperate route in the last three days have been identified as Maroti Mate of Palasgoan and Jivan Raghtate of Rehaki village ( both from Wardha), Kachruba Meran of Balsamudra and Mahadev Pasode of Vadati in Buldhana, Kailas Solanki of Karanjkhed and Kisan Mahurle of Sonbardi in Yavatmal and Ratan Nagtode of Udapur in Chandrapur district. The other 10 victims in last five days have been identified as Parshuram Jambhulkar, Sukkhdev Pawar, Ashok Chintelwar and Ramesh Tekam of Yavatmal district, Gajanan Sawant, Ananta Bhilange and Vithoba Munde of Buldhana, Gajanan Kavate and Deorao Nimbolkar of Akola, Dadarao Nage of Amravati.

VJAS president Kishore Tiwari informed that when he visited Kisan Mohurale’s house at village Sonbardi in Yavatmal, his paralytic father and widow said the deceased farmer was under huge stress due to mounting debt, cotton crop failure and increasing medical expenses of his family. Most of Sonbardi farmers complained of heavy crop loss and that no one from the district administration had visited to asses the crop damage.

Situation of cotton growers in Western Vidarbha has worsened as the Bt cotton seeds promoted by the state have increased the economic pressure on farmers instead of resulting in higher yields of disease-free crop. Tiwari alleged. He demanded that the government should hike the minimum support price to Rs 6000 a quintal from the present Rs 3300 to save the farmers.