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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do you have empathy?

Maruti Dhumal had been named after the god of the strength but was at his weakest when I met him a few years back. He had borrowed Rs. 96,700/- in 1981 for buying a tractor for tilling his agricultural land of 5 acres but the heavy losses of crop in 3 consequent years, untimely rains and the government buying at much lower price than the production costs forced him to be a defaulter with the bank he had borrowed from. He could pay only Rs.1,50,000/- plus to the bank towards the principal amount and the interest. Moreover, the bank was charging interest rate much higher and also illegally in a compounding interest manner. He had received a notice from the bank either to pay Rs. 18,59,000/- or his house, land, tractor was to be auctioned.
Maruti Dhumal was 49 years old but looked like a 65 plus senior citizen, merely trying to survive against all odds in the small village Sheni in the Nanded district of Marathwada region of Maharashtra. Incidentally, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra also hails from the same district but he too had no will to look after the problems that the distressed Maruti was going through.
Almost all the marginal farmers are facing dire problems due to various government policies and also due to the complete passive approach of the leadership towards their genuine problems. For example, we all have been hearing words like “market based economy”, “market liberalization” for the last 2 decades. 64% of India’s population is directly dependent on the agriculture and this huge population is not allowed to decide the prices of their produces. They have been kept deprived of this basic right to decide the price of their agriculture production based on their production cost.
A farmer buys seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, electricity, fuel, pumps at the prices as decided by the respective manufacturers. So, all his input cost is decided by some-one else. Then he depends on the monsoon and if at all it is good enough, he succeeds in producing his crop. Then he has to take it to the nearest APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) for auction. For the transportation, he has to hire a truck for tractor for the full day. The traders at the APMCs form a ring among themselves for the maximum rate to be offered and bid. The farmer has to then sell it to the trader at whatever cost the trader has put his bid. Sometimes, it does not even cover the cost of transportation forget his production cost. And a farmer never calculates his and his family’s labor cost that he has put for hours together throughout the season.
So, for buying his input material like seeds/pesticides/fertilizers, he has to borrow from the local credit society. Now, though the government says that they will offer loans at 5% to the farmers; there is a huge and corrupt chain to actually handover the loan. The RBI gives to NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development) at say 5%, then NABARD gives it to the State Co-op Bank at say 7%, then it gives it to the District co-op Bank at say 9%, DCC gives to the rural Credit societies at 11% and then the credit society offers to the farmer at 14 to 18%. Here also, the farmer never gets 100% of the loan amount in his hand. The interest for the first year, 10% amount towards shares of the society, insurance premium are all deducted from the principal amount before handing over the loan to the farmer. Effectively he ends up in paying almost 24% interest and if he doesn’t get his input cost also for his produce then he finds himself in the debit trap.
The farmers were encouraged to opt for the cash crops since the green revolution begun. Loan schemes were offered for buying chemical seeds, chemical fertilizers and crop loans were also offered for the variety of cash crops. Obviously, the farmers were lured enough to adopt. They used to take two crops a year; a cash crop and a crop of food grains but since money was made readily available for the cash crops, they opted for the cash crops and subsequently lost their own food security. This was far more frustrating especially when the monsoon was not good enough or when the rates that they got were not meeting their production costs. The marginal farmers had lost their food security, their conventional knowledge & stock of developing seeds and also their traditional fertilizers & pesticides due to this new wave of cash crops. The big farmers always had an option of preserving a piece of land for ensuring their own food security but the marginal farmers lost it and had no options but to commit suicides in case of a death trap. Following statistics clearly shows that
Suicide & Farmers Details Small Farmers Medium Farmers Big farmers
Percentage of Suicides 64% 23% 14%
Farmers with alternate source of incomes 14% 60% 78%
Illiterate farmers percentage 40% 27% 0%
Suicides after harvesting 93% 40% 44%

During the phase of encouraging, a period came when the farmers were convinced to adopt the BT Cotton seeds in the cotton growing areas. They were told that BT will require them to use chemical fertilizers & pesticides in a very small quantity but it was not to happen so. Today India imports pesticides worth a whopping 820 million USD of which 50% is used only for cotton. In 1990-91, India was importing fertilizers worth 1766 Cr which has grown to 9159 Cr by 2006. The food grain imports were at 999 Cr in 1990-91 which have increased to 11,869 Cr in 2006. The mad rush behind the cash crops has forced the present pathetic situation.
The disparity in development is another issue of concern. After 50 years of the creation of the Maharashtra state, only 14% of its agricultural land is irrigated. Of this, 80% of the land in western Maharashtra is irrigated and only 10% land in Vidarbha is irrigated. North Maharashtra, Marathwada, Konkan are also at a very low percentage of irrigation. 64% of the total farmers are marginal farmers in Maharashtra and they are the biggest sufferers of these real issues of concern which never get addressed. The loan waiver is only a treatment on symptoms but the real decease is not looked at all. Only 9% of the total farmers cultivate sugar cane but they consume 69% of the available water and all the rest of the 91% farmers are left with only 31% water.
These billions of marginal farmers also have dreams, they too wish to live with respect, they too want their children to be educated but first they want their hunger to be satisfied and they have no gods to look up to but only us and the leaders to look up to. Will we ever try & understand their plight with empathy?

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