On September 2, Babulal, a 60-year-old farmer in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh, died by suicide. He was found hanging from a eucalyptus tree on his agricultural land. He owned about 10 acres (one acre = 0.4 hectare) of farmland but was distressed as he had lost most of his soybean crop because of incessant rain, something that has happened to many soybean farmers in the State. His tragic death, stills of which soon went viral on social media, also underlined the grave issue of the large-scale destruction of soybean crop.
In Madhya Pradesh, which is the largest producer of soybean in the country, there have been frequent complaints this year about yellowing soybean leaves and drying plants. This has caused a dire financial crisis for millions of farmers who claim they are not likely to recover even the cost of seeds and sowing. The Soybean Processors Association of India (SOPA) has stated that approximately 12 per cent of the soybean harvest in the State is likely to be lost because of heavy rainfall. A survey SOPA conducted recently across Madhya Pradesh assessed Dewas, Indore, Ujjain, Dhar, Sehore, Harda, Shajapur, Mandsaur and Neemuch to be the worst hit districts. The crop that had been sown early was the most affected.
The SOPA said in a statement: “The damage is mostly caused by sudden very heavy rain and variation in temperature, creating a congenial environment for large-scale attack of dormant Rhizoctonia, Aerial Blight and anthracnose (pod blight). Some damage has also been caused by stem fly.” The Indian Institute of Soybean Research based in Indore reported similar findings. According to a survey the IISR undertook, crop damage in the State was assessed at 10-15 per cent.
Soybean farmers in the worst-hit districts complained of government apathy, which often forced them to sell their produce way below the minimum support price (MSP). Even though the Centre had fixed Rs.1,760 a quintal as the MSP for maize, farmers had to sell their produce for Rs.800-1,000 a quintal in the local mandis, or markets. In the case of urad (black gram) dhal, farmers said they had sold it at well below its MSP of Rs.6,000 a quintal.
On August 28, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced the release of crop insurance claims worth Rs.4,500 crore for 19 lakh farmers whose fields were damaged in heavy rains last year. He surveyed the Khategoan region in Dewas district, which has been severely hit by weeks-long heavy rainfall, and met farmers to assess the extent of damage, particularly to soybean crops. “If the farmers are worried, Shivraj Singh Chouhan cannot sit quietly. The reports of damage to crops have only started coming in since the last three to four days,” said the Chief Minister, who identifies himself as a “farmer’s son”.
However, there does not seem to be fair implementation of schemes announced to address farmers’ grievances. Rishiraj Patel, a farmer based in Narsinghpur district, said that he had not seen such a massive destruction of soybean crop in his 12 years of agricultural experience. He is upset that the Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime is doing little to ensure the MSP for soybean and other major crops. “The MSP for soybean is Rs.2,800-3,700 a quintal, but we are forced to sell it at Rs.2,500-3,000 a quintal as the government is not procuring the same. In my region, almost the entire soybean produce was lost this year,” Rishiraj Patel told this reporter over phone. He sold chickpeas at Rs.3,000 a quintal against its MSP of Rs.5,100.
Across Madhya Pradesh, farmers Frontline spoke to said that they had sold moong bean at Rs.4,000-5,000 a quintal as against an MSP of Rs.6,950 a quintal and chickpeas at Rs.3,000-3,500 a quintal, which was well below its MSP. When the farmers were asked what they thought of the Narendra Modi government’s assurances to the agri community that the new laws would not lead to the end of MSP, they asked why legislation to guarantee MSP for crops was not being passed. According to them, the government’s latest initiatives would not double farm income but would “definitely double the number of suicides by farmers”.
In the case of soybean, the poor yields this year have compounded the adverse effects of the lack of a remunerative price. Rishiraj Patel said that whereas he reaped three to four quintals of soybean an acre every year, this time the yields might not cover even a part of the harvesting cost. According to him, a team of farmers under the aegis of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh met Shivraj Singh Chouhan on September 24 and requested him to send crop insurance officials for loss assessment and speedy release of insurance grants.
He berated the Chief Minister for politicising their issues while Kamal Nath was in power between December 2018 and March 2020 but turning a deaf ear to their pleas now. “Last year, when 50 to 60 per cent of the soybean crop was lost, Shivraj Singh Chouhan demanded that a compensation of Rs.40,000 be paid to every farmer. Now that there are so many instances where farmers have lost their entire soybean crop, he has gone back on his own words.”
Rishiraj Patel was referring to Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s statement from August 2019, when he took on Kamal Nath over the destruction of the soybean crop, asserting if he had been the Chief Minister he would have given farmers relief without a survey. “Now today, I am not CM but I am still mama of farmers and children,” he had said, demanding that farmers should be compensated with an average sum of Rs.40,000 a hectare.
Ravidutt Singh, a farmer from Rewa district, said soybean cultivators were increasingly being forced to switch to crops such as wheat and paddy as it was difficult to secure remunerative prices for soybean, and successive crops had been hit either by rainfall or faulty seed distribution by government agencies. Ravidutt Singh said the Centre’s farm Bills were “death warrants for farmers” and pledged to put up a coordinated fight against what he saw as the government’s “assault on our minimum guarantees to please the corporates”. “The farm Bill introduced by the Narendra Modi government prevents us from approaching the court in case of a dispute. We will have to depend on the SDM [sub-divisional magistrate] or the Collector for redress of our grievances. Even the British did not stop any Indian from approaching the courts,” he said.
On September 26, against the backdrop of agitations over the three farm Bills passed by Parliament, Shivraj Singh Chouhan launched an ambitious scheme called Mukhyamantri Kisan Kalyan Yojna, which is designed along the lines of the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi”, or PM-Kisan scheme. The Chief Minister said a sum of Rs.4,000 would be transferred to the bank accounts of 1,75,000 farmers in Madhya Pradesh in two instalments every year under this flagship scheme. He dismissed the opposition’s protest over the Bills, saying that together with the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, his government’s scheme would ensure farmers a total payment of Rs.10,000 annually. On August 19, former Chief Minister Kamal Nath had written to Shivraj Singh Chouhan alleging that “in such difficult circumstances, your government has not provided any relief to the farmers, nor is any such effort from government visible”.
Farmers such as Trilok Gothi of Dewas, who grows urad, paddy and soybean, are not convinced. “The whole talk of releasing Rs.4,500 crore under the PM’s crop insurance scheme seems to be only on paper. I have heard of farmers who got Rs.75 or Rs.100 as insurance money,” Trilok Gothi told Frontline over phone from Dewas. He alleged that there was a corrupt nexus between the patwari, insurance company official and officials of the Farmer Welfare and Agriculture Development Department owing to which loss assessments were understated. “Corruption is so rampant that entire villages are excluded from the insurance benefits. In my village of Babai, I do not know of a farmer who got anything from the PM’s crop insurance scheme, though people in adjoining Kotra Gram got money.”
He described the destruction of his soybean crops. “I sowed the seeds between June 15 and 25; the saplings were destroyed by heavy rainfall. The same thing happened the next time; I incurred losses of up to Rs.15,000 a hectare. On my third attempt to sow the seeds, there was no rainfall for one month, which is why there was not adequate flowering. It rained heavily again, and there is general agreement that only 0.1 per cent of the expected produce could be achieved this time.” Trilok Gothi said that he was yet to get any relief from the government despite the Chief Minister’s tall claims.