FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Russian Roulette in Vidharbha

It is a kind of rural Russian roulette. Only there is more than one bullet aimed at the player. Vidharbha’s farmers are involved in a deadly gamble that concerns the monsoon but goes far beyond it. No one is sowing till the last minute. Those who have purchased seed are holding back. Many are yet to buy their inputs for the season. Some have not even decided on what they will sow. As Vijay Jawandia, a farmers’ leader in Wardha, puts it: “Most do not know till the day before whether they are cotton growers or soybean farmers.”

The immediate gamble is on the rains. “Last year’s pre-monsoon showers caused a lot of confusion,” says Yavatmal Collector Harshdeep Kamble. “So they are being extra cautious this time. I am really worried about how the rains will work out.”

Many farmers in 2004 sowed not once but three times in this region. Like Namdeo Bonde in Kothuda village. “He sowed three times, you might even say four,” says his brother Pandurang. But the showers only misled him. “He got a little bit with the third sowing. But the costs were killing. By his third try, input dealers were charging 50 per cent to 80 per cent more. And then his crop failed.” Sunk in debt, Bonde took his life last November.

“No one has sown a seed so far in this village of Durga-Vaidya,” says Vinayak Gaikwad, a farmer in Buldhana. Gaikwad, a kisan sabha leader, says: “Even when the rains come, people might wait a bit longer to make sure.” That is Gamble 2.

“Equally,” says D.B. Naik farm activist in Bham in Yavatmal “if you buy and sow after the first showers and the rains stop, you’re finished.” That is what drove Laxman Wankhede of Ejani village to suicide last October.

Gamble 3: “Acting late gives you some flexibility,” says Gaikwad.

“You can decide at the last moment what you will sow. If the rains are bad, you choose what needs less water.” With three failed sowings himself last year, he should know. “Also, by waiting you can switch from `late’ to `early’ varieties of seed.” `Late’ varieties yield more but take much longer, up to six months. `Early’ types yield less but are out in under five months. When the rains are late, farmers switch to the `early’ type.

Gamble 4: “Buying inputs too early means your loan burden is higher,” says Ramesh Deshmukh in Talegaon village, Yavatmal. “What if the rains come in July? A farmer buying inputs in May pays interest for two extra months.”

This is a big problem where perhaps 90 per cent of crop loans are from moneylenders. Their interest rates vary from 60 per cent to 120 per cent per annum. Deshmukh’s brother Suresh ended his life last year, crushed by his debt burden. This `flexibility’, as many point out, can be a forced one. “I have no money to buy the inputs,” says Ranjana, widow of Suresh Deshmukh. “Who will offer us loans now?” Given her husband’s fate, lenders see the family as a high-risk client. “Also,” says Ramesh, “dealers first attend to cash-paying clients. Those needing credit come much later.”

Gamble 5: Those who have bought seeds are betting heavily on BT cotton. K.R. Zanzad, quality control inspector at the Agricultural Office, Yavatmal, says: “Last year, 7,000 bags of BT cotton varieties sold in this district. This year — so far — one lakh.”

At around Rs.1,600-Rs.1,800 a bag of 450 grams, BT cotton costs three times or more what non-BT cotton does. This raises cost per acre massively.

In Andhra Pradesh next door, BT cotton results have been disastrous. And approval has been cancelled for some varieties. Yet Vidharbha could see 70 per cent or more of farmers opting for BT in despair-driven hope. The risks are enormous.

Gamble 6: Buying inputs late could jack up prices as everyone scrambles for seeds and fertilizer at the last moment. Unless, of course, the monsoon fails and there is no demand. Just now, it seems prices will go up. There will also be a last minute rush for labour as all seek it at the same time. Many small farmers work on the fields of others as well.

But with a late start, all will be tied down to their own plots. That means a rise in cost of labour — and not getting it when you need it.

Moreover, the last minute rush for crop loans will push up already high interest rates. So while holding back saves a month of interest, last minute credit comes at higher rates. The banks play no role at all in this.

Gamble 7: Striking late deals could well force the farmer to sell his crop to the input dealer at way below the minimum support price (MSP).

Last year, suicide victim Suresh Deshmukh sold his cotton at Rs.1,600 a quintal. The MSP for his type was Rs. 2,300.

Gamble 8: “If it rains well today, the farmer just has to buy seeds,” says Sanjay Bhagat in Mahagaon tehsil, Yavatmal.

Bhagat, a veteran journalist, is also a director on the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) here. “Those pushing an artificial shortage can then sell at any price.”

This means many could end up buying spurious seeds. A fast emerging problem in the region. Fake seeds have been linked to several farm suicides across the country.

Gamble 9: Late sowing could also expose the crop to higher risks of disease and pest attack. That again feeds into higher costs.

The great gamble”The great gamble is farming itself,” says Vijay Jawandia. “This is what policy has done to the farmer. Be it on credit or support price.” Some are cracking under the tension. Like young Abhay Shamrao Chavan in Mulawa village, Yavatmal.
“The rains were just the last straw,” says his brother Vasantrao. “He was in real despair about credit. Yet if it had rained on June 12, he would have been here to tell you about it himself.”

P. SAINATH is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu and the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. He can be reached at:psainath@vsnl.com.

 

 

 

More articles by:

P Sainath is the founder and editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India. He has been a rural reporter for decades and is the author of ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought.’ You can contact the author here: @PSainath_org

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail