A surplus of problems

Print edition : January 15, 2010

Potatoes dumped in a field along the Hapur-Garh Mukteshwar Highway near Hapur in western Uttar Pradesh after the farmer failed to find a buyer.-RAJEEV BHATT

IN Hapur, a fertile agricultural belt in western Uttar Pradesh, a bumper harvest of sugarcane and potato has given much anguish to the farmers, for there are no returns.

One comes across harrowing tales of misery in this part of the State. Standing sugarcane crops on thousands of acres were burnt because there were no buyers and the field needed to be cleared for the next crop. Potato farmers are forced to throw their produce back into the field so that they could at least save the cost of manure.

Farmers in this region had shifted to sugarcane and potato because wheat and rice were not fetching remunerative prices. With the sugar mills lifting barely 40 per cent of the sugarcane crop, they are forced to sell their produce at dirt-cheap prices to jaggery-making crushers. We are forced to sell sugarcane to these crushers because even if the price is low at Rs 40-45 a quintal against Rs.75-95 paid by sugar mills, at least the crushers pay immediately and it takes care of our urgent needs, says Mahendra Singh Tyagi [a well-off farmer of Sikhera village].

The plight of marginal and small farmers is even worse. Manbeer Singh of Duhri village in Pilkhuwa laments that "farmers have been ruined. He has taken up odd jobs to make ends meet. In family after family, one hears stories of marriages getting postponed, ailing people going without medicine and childrens education suffering.

The area from Pilkhuwa to Garhmukteshwar in Hapur is known for its good potato crop. But now everywhere one comes across mounds of potatoes in the fields. Farmers are forced to sell the produce at Rs.100-150 a bag of 80 kg. They cannot afford to keep the crop in cold storage as it is expensive at Rs.70-75 a quintal.

The average yield a hectare grew from 6.58 tonnes in 1949 to 18.23 tonnes in 2000-01. Had the government thought of an export-oriented mechanism, the farmers would have been spared the problem of plenty. There exists a vast market for export because Indian potato is harvested in January-March when fresh potato is not available in most of the countries in the northern hemisphere.

The much-talked-about crop insurance remains only an idea in the villages. It comes into effect only in the event of crop failure. Faced with the unremunerative prices, certain farmers have shifted to medicinal plants such as Ashvagandha and safed musli, which are used in Ayurvedic medicines.

Not everyone can afford to shift to medicinal plants. Ashvagandha seeds, for example, cost Rs.350-400 a kg and its cultivation is expensive. The result is, farmers are shifting back to foodgrain cultivation.

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