Vidarbha is a dry region where most of farmers engage in rain-fed agriculture. In Yavatmal, the farmers lost their Toor-dal crop due to drought. There has been a spike in farmer-suicides. Due to low-productivity of farms, farmers are getting caught in a debt-trap. The prominent crops in the region are Soyabean, Oranges and cotton. The farmer’s union and labour unions are only engaged in fixing the Minimum support price for cotton. Any protest on this matter gets suppressed by the use of violence.
The yatra team had a discussion with Sateesh of Swaminathan Foundation and Sanjay of Sarvodaya mandal to deepen the understanding of reasons behind the high farmer-suicides in Yavatmal district. Farmers spend a significant portion of their incomes on alcohol. Another common problem is that farmers get caught in the debt-trap of money lenders. In the past they used to live as large families on larger tracts of land. They used to sell small portions of their land to meet unexpected expenses like marriage, health-related expenses but today the holding has become so small that they do not have enough land to sell and still retain enough land to produce enough for their families. The government’s support price for cotton is not enough to meet all the expenses of growing Cotton. For instance, it takes 8-10 visits to a cotton plant from sowing to harvesting. This translates into high labour costs.
The GM seeds were initially affordable as they were cheap but once most farmers switched to GM-cotton, the prices of seeds went sky high. The retailer of cotton seeds is also the purchaser of cotton bales in most cases. The seeds are sold on credit to the farmer under contract that the cotton will be sold to the retailer. So when the market price for cotton is low, the retailer compels the farmers to sell their produce to recover their loans. The government sets a minimum support price of cotton which is actually the highest price at which the farmer can sell cotton, in practice, the cotton is sold in an auction. Even after a price is fixed during auction, the farmer is forced to take a cut under the pretext of lower quality of the produce. The amount is paid as a credit. To be paid immediately, the farmer is required to offer an additional discount to the agent.
Besides issues in pricing, another issue is the cropping pattern of the farmers. In contemporary times, farmers do not engage in mixed cropping any more. They do not grow produce that can be consumed in their homes. Instead they grow produce that can be sold in the market. Traditionally farmers used to first produce for their family’s consumption and sell the surplus for meeting their other needs. Besides cotton, farmers cultivate soya bean which also is not part of the local diet. Grains like wheat, Jowar are not cultivated any more. There is also the problem of lack of irrigation facilities. It is interesting to observe that the government regulates the selling for farm produce instead of regulating the purchaser of farm produce or the seller of seeds. It was felt that an awareness-building campaign to educate farmers on the need to cultivate for consumption instead of cultivating for the market will be helpful. Youth camps in the area can also help in creating a favourable environment in the district. It was also interesting to learn that people from Yavatmal do not migrate to cities and this can also explain the reason for higher suicides.
In the evening the yatra met with the team from Shramik Elgar Sanghathan of Mool village. Ms. Rathiba Goswami, a senior leader of the organization gave a presentation of the issues in the district and the efforts of the organization in addressing these issues.
The organization started its work in Yavatmal, Gadchirowli, and Chandrapur in 1999. They work in 60 villages in Tadoba Ghati national park where the biggest problem is the destruction of crops by wild-life. There is no formula for Compensation to farmers due to destruction for crop by wild-life. Policy for this has not been implemented.
70% of the land in Chandrapur is forest land. Paper mills, coal mines and thermal power plants have acquired large area of forest lands. FRA is not being implemented properly. This district has 11% tribals. A large number of non-tribals have been cultivating forest land but the requirement for issuing them patta as per FRA is that they have to prove that they have been cultivating for 75 years whereas adivasis will need to provide documentary evidence that they are cultivating before 2005. Hence it is more difficult to issue individual pattas to non-adivasis. There is a fear that implementing FRA will create conflict between adivasis and non-adivasis. Alcohol and industrialization are destroying the life of poor people in the district. Prohibition is successful in Gadchirowly and needs to be extend to Chandrapur.
Shramik Elgar will participated in the October 2012 action both at the national level and carry out solidarity action at the district and block levels