Tuesday, 14 April 2015


Today is celebrated as the Tamil New Year (a.k.a. Chitrai Thirunal), Baisakhi (Punjab), Bihu (Assam) and Vishu (Kerala). It is also 124th birth anniversary of the “principal architect” of the Indian Constitution - Dr. B.R. Amedhkar a.k.a. ‘Babasahib’. Many reasons to celebrate, yet the celebration will be muted across many states of India due to the damages done by unseasonal rains in March-April 2015 to the Rabi crop (sown after the monsoons and harvested in April/May) harvest.
March 2015 has been the “Wettest March in 100 years in north, central India” according to the Indian Meteorological Department. It is estimated that the rains over the last few weeks have damaged anywhere in anywhere between 163 and 181 lakh hectares of land across 13 states as of the beginning of March. Andhra joined the affected states with rains over the past few days causing serious “agricultural and horticultural damage” in another 1 lakh acres (that is approximately 40,469 hectares, according to the state Agriculture Minister, “horticultural crops in about 1,600 hectares were damaged in Anantapur, Kadapa and Kurnool districts according to preliminary estimates.”)

Thus this spring almost 30 percent of the Rabi crop (if you consider that the total cultivable area in the current Rabi season is 600 lakh hectare) has been decimated by unseasonal cloudbursts, rain, hailstorm, and strong winds. Crops affected include wheat, mustard, jeera and coriander. Vegetables such as cauliflower, tomato have also been affected. With a disturbed mango flowering season in Gujarat and Maharashtra the royal fruit’s projected production has also been drastically reduced.
Add this to the list of triggers of farmer suicide and you have a very destructive season emerging. Despite compensations being announced, both in the centre and the state, it remains to be seen whether farmers across India can escape being trapped in further debt. 

After watching the India Matters episode “Fields of Despair” on NDTV to the plight of potato farmer in West Bengal and the agriculture sector seems scary and depressing as hell:
 Suicides as a result of debt in the face of poor prices for the bumper crops of potato is leading to the poorest of the farmers – sharecroppers who have almost no safeguards and only debt and risks circling like vultures – to commit suicide. The rate offered is lower than Rs. 2 per kilogram and as unsold, stockpiled potatoes languish potato farmers seem to be reeling under unimaginable burdens. Caste, politics, drinking, gambling, moneylenders and landlords, not to mention family struggle combine to brew a toxic miasma that leads many hopeless farmers to opt to consume pesticide and leave behind the debt and a dependent and devastated family.
What is hard to see in the two situations – one natural the other manmade - is the pattern of hopelessness. Is it right that when there is so much innovative thinking on offer – and such success in online retaining – can there not be a solution that saves the devastated. 

Middle men, landowners and moneylenders seem to be seeing all the profit. And there is a drastic change is prices from those offered to farmers and consumers. A lot of potatoes and other crops rot as farmers stockpile waiting for better prices. Is the grip of cartels so strong that outsider cooperatives can’t purchase the produce at better prices from the debt-ridden sharecroppers. Isn’t some refinancing and debt relief possible? Can a solution be worked out without it being trapped in the vicious circle of politics and caste?
Here’s hoping there is better seasons in store for India’s farmer both weather-wise and price-wise. In the meantime it is hoped that empowerment through education and community support can help the survivors get out of the debt traps. Babasahib’s initiatives have influenced various spheres of life and transformed the way India today looks at socio-economic policies, education and affirmative action through socio-economic and legal incentives. At a time when poor farmers are stuck in vicious debt traps at the mercy of the weather, addictions, and moneylenders it is to be hoped that there are success stories who have taken a leaf out of Babasahib’s teaching and embraced educations and implemented innovations through better information.

The continued success and support of farming and farmers is a backbone to food security and the fight against hunger. When people are poor, ill, or/and hungry they can rarely think beyond the immediate crisis and innovate to achieve progress. The nation can progress steadily only if the sector that employs the most is secure. Farmer security is proportional to future food security.

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