Done in by cash crops

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

In Andhra Pradesh, farmers who switched to commercial crops on the government's advice face an uncertain future because of falling prices.

WHEN Kapu Vandrappa (35), a maize farmer of Yerraguntla village in Anantapur district, committed suicide on December 9, for the Andhra Pradesh government it was just another statistic - one more name for the list of farmers who have committed suicide. Vandrappa's widow and two daughters, according to government policy, were not entitled to any relief.

Vandrappa, and before him Kethavath Ratan of Lothur mandal and Sabavath Ramu of Kiarcherla village, both tribal people of Mahabubnagar district, committed suicide unable to withstand the pressure from moneylenders. The list of victims is growing - 228 this year - but their families have not received even a paisa in ex-gratia payment. The government firmly believes that payment of doles would only encourage more suicides. "We have to educate the farmers," is the government's refrain.

Going by the Centre's official figures, out of the 495 farmers who ended their lives during the last two years, 385 were from Andhra Pradesh. "This means three of every four farmers who committed suicide in India are from Andhra Pradesh," said Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

In a petition submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Rajasekhara Reddy demanded that it direct the government to pay Rs.1 lakh as compensation to the families of the dead farmers and declare that there was violation of human rights in the case of farmers on account of bad governance. The State government's own estimate of the suicides in the last five years is 1,000.

The situation reached such a stage that 26 farmers, mostly small farmers and tenants in Rentachintala village of Guntur district, sold their kidneys to pay off their debts at least partially, according to the Farmers' Commission of Experts on Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, headed by Justice P.A. Chowdary. This panel was sponsored by a dozen organisations of farmers and agricultural labourers, mainly those affiliated to the Left parties, when the government did not respond to their demand to appoint experts to study this alarming trend. In Nalgonda district, there was a spurt in the trafficking of young girls, many of whom returned to their villages with a little money and full-blown AIDS.

"So far climate has been considered as the most unpredictable variable affecting the agricultural sector. But, the influence of global market forces, whose behaviour is always not amenable to prediction and control, has become another factor affecting the progress and well-being of farmers," said Justice Chowdary.

ECHOING the view, Communist Party of India (Marxist) State Secretary B.V. Raghavulu, said the recurring drought in the State was a minor factor behind the distress of people dependent on agriculture compared with the havoc wrought by market forces.

The government encouraged farmers to shift from food crops to commercial crops such as tobacco, cotton, chillies and castor seed. Small farmers who did so found themselves ill-equipped to cope with the market, which was governed by the WTO regime. The huge investments made on commercial crops went down the drain, while the debt burden went up. "As the old debt is not repaid, the farmer cannot get a new loan. Left with no money, food or sympathy from his fellow villagers, he ends his life. Had he grown a food crop, he would at least have been left with something to eat," said Raghavulu.

The Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangham president, M.V. Narasimha Reddy, said that in the name of safeguarding the interests of farmers the State government took steps that compromised their interests. It signed a memorandum of understanding with 110 seed companies after the market was flooded with spurious seeds of cotton, maize and chillies. The companies were required to replace paddy seeds that were found to be of poor quality and pay a meagre compensation for commercial crops. "He can approach a consumer court only after this process is over and, as the old saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied," said Narasimha Reddy.

Contrary to popular belief, banks harassed farmers no less than private lenders by issuing notices for seizure of assets and sometimes even using the police.

B. Tulasidas, joint secretary of the Sangham, said that in drought-prone districts such as Anantapur and Mahabubnagar farmers went in for irrigated-dry crops such as groundnut and cotton on the government's advice, without any guarantee of returns on investment. They realised their mistake when the prices crashed in the market. A crying need, therefore, was the creation of a market stabilisation fund. It had not materialised in spite of the government's promise in 2000 to deposit Rs.100 crores.

Curiously, over the past few years the actual irrigated area under canals and big tanks in the state has shrunk. Between 1991-92 and 2000-01, the area under these two sources declined to 23.76 lakh hectares from 27.66 lakh hectares, as farmers sank more borewells and went in for well irrigation, according to the government's Economic Survey for 2001-02. Left parties attribute this alarming trend to the World Bank's diktat to the Chandrababu Naidu Government not to invest further in irrigation projects.

In its well-researched report, the Farmers' Commission, which included an agronomist, two scientists and an economics professor, suggested the setting up of a "farmers' distress fund" on the model of the natural calamity fund.

Surely, the distraught woman of Garladinne village of Anantapur district could have benefited from such a fund. Having failed in her search to get 500 grams of rice to feed her daughter, who was nursing her newborn child, she committed suicide without returning home, villagers told the Commission.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment