Bumper problem

With low market prices and little help from the government, Rajasthan’s farmers, especially garlic producers, are in a financial mess in a good crop year.

Published : Jun 21, 2017 12:30 IST

Garlic crop stacked up at a farmer’s house in Kota.

Garlic crop stacked up at a farmer’s house in Kota.

RUMBLINGS of discontent were palpable in Kishanpura Takia in Kota district, Rajasthan. The village, with a population of 5,000, was holding on to its harvested garlic crop, refusing to take it to the mandi. Eighty per cent of the households had cultivated garlic, and stacks of garlic bulbs were stored in every house. The farmers refused to accept the minimum intervention price of Rs.3,200 a quintal announced by the State government on June 14. They said they would not settle for anything less than Rs.4,000 a quintal. They argued that the government offered Rs.3,200 for the best-quality garlic and that not all of the produce would be bought at that rate. Last year, one quintal of garlic fetched Rs.8,000. One farmer, Suresh Chand, told Frontline that they would hold on to the produce until November, hoping to get a better rate. “After that, the crop will begin to sprout and it will be of no use for us or the consumer,” he said. The farmers said they were not keen on deploying labour to clean the garlic as that would mean an additional cost. They would hold on to the crop until the government declared a price that covered the cost of production.

Anger had been growing as the government refused to intervene when prices crashed owing to a glut in the market. The Agriculture Minister had reportedly taunted farmers by saying that he had not asked them to bring huge swathes of land under garlic cultivation. Incidentally, garlic farmers had taken their crop to the Pipliya Agricultural Produce Marketing Centre at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, the epicentre of farmers’ unrest in that State. The other markets they approached were Neemuch (also in Madhya Pradesh) and Kota. Last year, one kilogram of garlic fetched Rs.105 at the Neemuch Agricultural Marketing Centre. This year, the Neemuch market offered Rs.40 for 1 kg of the crop.

“If the government is interested in defusing the farmers’ anger, it must give a proper price for the garlic crop,” cultivators of Kota district, who were on an indefinite protest, said. They had gathered under the aegis of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, a broad coalition of farmer and peasant organisations. The banners at the venue of the agitation showed that it was not just loan waiver but issues such as crop price and forcible land acquisition that were agitating the farmers. The new notification on cattle trade was an additional sore point.

Spillover effect

The police firing on farmers in Mandsaur had its spillover effect in Rajasthan. The issues confronting farmers in Rajasthan were not dissimilar. So, the solidarity they expressed with their counterparts in Madhya Pradesh was not a contrived response. In fact, all farmers’ organisations in Rajasthan, cutting across political affiliations, declared their support to the agitating farmers in the neighbouring State. In Kota district, three organisations, broadly affiliated to three political streams, declared their intent to take on the State government.

“Ask for cost of production price, not minimum support price,” a bystander told the agitating farmers. “ Kisan ko Bhagat Singh banna padega, [the farmer will have to become like Bhagat Singh]. It’s a do or die situation,” observed Radheyshyam Paralia of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti.

Duli Chand Meena, AIKS State vice president, told Frontline that the situation was grim, more so because the governments in the State and at the Centre were in denial. For the past four years, the soya bean crop had not taken off as it was stricken by pestilence, fungal infections and climatic changes. Hailstorms in 2014 affected both kharif and rabi sowing. Meena said at least 60 farmer deaths in Hadothi (comprising the districts of Kota, Jhalawar, Bundi and Baran) could be attributed to crop failure and low remunerative prices. The government was yet to give any compensation in all these cases.

Global agri-tech meet

After Sri Ganganagar district, Kota has the second largest area under irrigation, coming as it does under the Chambal Command Area. Like soya bean, the coriander crop in this region, which accounts for 65 per cent of the country’s output, also succumbed to pests. Garlic, an export crop that is highly perishable, had been sown in nearly 1,38,000 hectares and farmers depended entirely on the market price for returns. The crop, farmers said, was neither superior in quality nor pest-resilient like the garlic imported from China. “There is no competition either in productivity or quantity. Despite the region being a garlic-producing area, no research and development of any kind, including seed development projects to boost quality and productivity, has been undertaken,” said Duli Chand. There were no storage facilities either. It was an irony that in May, the district played host to the global Rajasthan agri-tech meet to discuss best agricultural practices.

There is a huge potential for agro-processing in Kota. Duli Chand said the government could set up units to produce garlic paste and garlic powder for domestic and export markets. He said more than 60 per cent of the garlic produced was lying unsold with the producers. “The minimum intervention price of Rs.3,200 a quintal offered by the government was merely to assuage the farmers; the government was planning to procure only 10,000 tonnes of the 10 lakh tonnes produced, that is 1 per cent of the total produce,” he said. The bulk of the harvested garlic was of middle-level quality. High-quality garlic could not be produced as the seeds were not of high quality and there were no extension services.

Distress selling

It was not only the garlic crop that was causing angst among farmers. The minimum support price (MSP) for wheat was Rs.1,625 a quintal but commission agents gave farmers only Rs.1,400 a quintal. The price offered for coriander was Rs.3,000 a quintal compared with Rs.7,000 a quintal in 2016; fenugreek (methi), which fetched Rs.7,000 a quintal last year, was sold at Rs.2,200 this year; chana dal, which was purchased at Rs.10,000 a quintal last year, fetched only Rs.4,000. Amra Ram, president of the AIKS, said mustard and groundnut, too, were purchased at much below the MSP despite the Minister of State for Finance, Arjun Meghwal, announcing that the government would buy groundnut at MSP rates. “When Uttar Pradesh could announce loan waiver, why not the other States?” asked Amra Ram. He said all the 25 Members of Parliament from Rajasthan belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but not one of them had spoken in favour of farmers.

Harish Chandra, a cultivator, told Frontline that his onion crop matured in May, but he opted for distress sale as the price offered was low. He threw away a substantial quantity of the unsold crop. “In 2015, I got Rs.60 a kg; this year, it was Rs.3 a kg. Traders have storage facilities so urban consumers like you pay three times what we get for our crop,” he said. The government does not offer storage facilities for onions.

“Farmers should decide the price of their produce, not politicians,” a farmer protesting in Kota said. There were complaints that farmers had been compelled to buy fertilizers from private agencies owing to the unavailability of fertilizer supplies with cooperative societies. Implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers chaired by Dr M.S. Swaminathan, relating to a pricing and procurement policy [that the MSP should be 50 per cent more than the weighted cost of production], has become a common demand in every farmer homestead. “The Pay Commission revises the pay scales of government employees regularly. Why does the recommendation of the only commission set up for farmers get ignored?” a farmer asked. Farmers say agriculture is an “udyog” (industry) and they ought to be given social security benefit like pensions.

MSP required, not loan waiver

Farmers have huge debts and not all their loans are from cooperative banks. The loan limits are low in cooperative banks and not all banks extend loans to the maximum limit of Rs.1.5 lakh. The mismatch between the loan repayment period and the harvesting period is another reason for loan defaults. All loans have to be cleared by September and March while crops are sold in the markets in January and June. More importantly, farmers take loans from various sources, even from commission agents. “They take loans from fertilizer suppliers, pesticide suppliers, commission agents, and cooperative banks. The majority of the loan goes for pesticides,” said Duli Chand. The figures of indebtedness covered only the banks and cooperative societies, not the other sources from where loans were sourced. The demand for loan waivers, while important, comes from a limited area. Guaranteeing an MSP is more important than loan waivers for most farmers.

The crisis is not over yet. Farmers are expecting a bumper pulse crop this year and are apprehensive that another round of distress selling will follow.

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