Thursday, June 14, 2007

Farmers are dying in Gujarat too

प्रिय पाठक
देश के सबसे प्रगतिशील राज्य में भी हालात वही है क्या अब भी आंख खुलेगी ? भास्कर गोस्वामी को ये रिपोर्ट भेजने के लिए शुक्रिया !
उत्कर्ष सिन्हा

Farmers are dying in Gujarat too

Published in The Frontline magazine

But Chief Minister Narendra Modi would have the world believe that they are driving around in Maruti cars.

" Gujarat 's farmers are not like those in other States. Our farmers drive Maruti cars," Chief Minister Narendra Modi declares in his speeches at public meetings. However, the widows of farmers have a different story to tell.

Prabhaben Pungalpara was at her sister's house when her husband Ramesh hanged himself. His relatives rushed him to a hospital in Rajkot but it was too late. Says Prabhaben, who is from Sarapdar village: "I have two daughters and a son. I sold off our two buffaloes after he [Ramesh] died. My son has gone to Surat to work in a diamond-polishing workshop. Ramesh's brothers take care of us," says Prabhaben.

The brothers own a 20-acre (2.5 acres is 1 hectare) farm in which Ramesh too had a share. "Our cotton and jeera crops failed for two years, so he was very tense," says his brother Amarsibhai. But the police report says he killed himself because of a family dispute. "The first information report [FIR] said that he died because his crop failed, but later the police changed the story," says Prabhaben. "They told me `you have such a big house, there must be some other reason for the suicide. If we provide compensation in one case, people will start killing themselves and their families will start claiming compensation' . The police just want to suppress the case."

"If the government can help widows in Maharashtra , why can't it help women in Gujarat ?" asks Prabhaben. Across Gujarat , farmers' suicides are either unreported or wrongly reported. Ironically, the people protesting against this are from the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the farmers' wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

"The State is hiding the truth about the rising number of farmers' suicides," Praful Sanjelia, Gujarat president of the BKS said at a press conference recently. "While the government declared that there were 148 farmers' suicides last year, our estimate of the figure is around 300," he said and alleged that the police were concealing the suicides. "The police are not registering FIRs, so many cases go unreported. If they do file a case, they attribute the reasons for the suicide to social tension and domestic disputes. Actually, it is a farmer's financial crisis that could cause other problems such as fights in the family."

"There are several police reports that say the person was ill and by mistake swallowed pesticide instead of medicine. Those are the ridiculous things they do to disguise the actual number of farmers suicides," says Vinubhai Dudheet, a BKS leader in Amreli. "We are angry with the BJP government and have launched several campaigns against its policies. It has done nothing for farmers and now it wants to give away our land to industrialists for special economic zones."

But why is the BKS going against its own government? The BKS first rebelled against the Modi government when it doubled power tariffs. The BKS founder and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak Laljibhai Patel, went on a hunger strike on the banks of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. Since then, the BKS has been at loggerheads with the Chief Minister.

"Most BKS activists used to benefit from being aligned with the ruling party. They had clout with the local administration and used to get contracts and so on. Now, it is not so easy. So they too have an axe to grind with Modi," said a local journalist.

The BKS cadre is from the core constituency of the Sangh Parivar, comprising traders and big landlords, whose business interests range from sand mining and stone crushing to hotels. But to gain local political support and clout they realise it is crucial to raise issues relating to farmers. That is why they are doing their best to bring farmers' concerns into focus and embarrass the government.

Whatever the political motives of the BKS, there is no doubt that small farmers in Gujarat are in distress. Besides the police, families too have not reported suicides of their loved ones. Many widows are scared of going to the police. "Though his suicide was reported in the newspaper, I didn't report it to the police. I didn't want to be harassed. They demand money and I didn't have any," said Vajuben Dhakhada, 30, from Vadli village whose husband Pahubhai, 35, died in July 2006. "In the past two years, our crops failed. We had a debt of Rs.50,000 and he kept worrying about looking after our three small children with no money and no crop." Now, Vajuben is dependent totally on her relatives. She is a darbar (Rajput) widow and is not allowed to leave the confines of her home, not even to fetch water from the well. Her children help her with the work outside their home.

In the same village (Vadli), Prassanben has a similar story to tell. Her husband Anakbhai Dhakada, 32, killed himself in April 2007. She is in purdah and cannot leave the house. Luckily, she lives in a joint family. Like Vajuben, she too did not want to have anything to do with the police.

When contacted by Frontline, Agriculture Minister Bhupendra Singh Chudasama said: "Not a single farmer in Gujarat has committed suicide." This contradicts his government's figure of 148 farmer suicides in 2006. "The reasons for those suicides are family problems, people have many marriages in their families... . It is not the government's responsibility, " he said.

Often, farmers who are heavily in debt worry about marriage expenses of their daughters. Agriculture is no longer profitable - the price at which they sell their produce is invariably far below the production cost. Hence, farmers' loans and interest burden increase every year, until finally debt consumes them.

In November 2006, the elders of the Kakane family - Vallabh, 80, his son Mansukh, 40, and their wives - drowned themselves in the sea near Somnath. Now their house in Pania Dev village is locked and abandoned. Mansukh's three sons went off to Surat in search of work. "This tragedy happened because they could not pay off their huge debt," said Nilesh, their nephew. "They borrowed Rs.1.5 lakh at an interest rate of 60 per cent to pay off their power bills. The moneylender demanded Rs.12 lakh, including interest. They offered him their land but he did not want it." They were under so much pressure that they couldn't even eat properly. They would sit in my parents' house and ask them what to do," says Nilesh. "Almost half the village is in the grip of moneylenders. They give a loan and then they claim everything."

The most industrialised state, `Vibrant Gujarat', seems more feudal than modern. "The moneylender inflicts terror in the village," says Nilesh. "They took away a Dalit's home after he borrowed Rs.5,000, but no one will dare speak out. They will even pretend that the suicides in my family never happened. The moneylenders are thugs and they have the police on their side." "Not a single small farmer is doing well, we are all starving," says Kanubhai Ganniya, a farmer with five acres of land in Malak Nes village. "Many people are leaving the village or getting into other businesses. The cost of inputs such as seeds and pesticides is rising every year. But the price of cotton has not increased as much." Farmers estimate that they spend between Rs.7,000 and 16,000 an acre, but get around Rs.13,000-16, 000 for the crop harvested on one acre.

Gujarat was considered the rare cotton-growing State that was immune to farmers' suicides. Now inflation and the unsustainable commercial mode of cultivation have affected them too. "Earlier, farmers only had to pay for seeds. Now, they pay for everything - tractor, power, water and labour. Farming has become more cost-intensive and less viable," says Sudarshan Iyengar, Vice-Chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapith.

Cotton yield in Gujarat is higher than that in other States, For instance, it is three three times more than that of Maharashtra , where the suicide rate is the highest. Also 44 per cent of cotton farms in Gujarat are irrigated, compared with 4 per cent in Maharashtra and 18 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, where too many cases of suicide have been reported. Irrigation improves yield and reduces risks.

Besides, as in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra , almost all cotton farmers use genetically modified Bt seeds, which is resistant to the bollworm, a common pest. However, many farmers use illegal homebred versions of Bt seeds, which are cheaper than the Monsanto-MAHYCO Bollgard brand.

But the costs of water, which farmers buy from borewell owners, and power have gone up. "A pair of jeans that weighs around 500 grams sells for Rs.1,500-1,700 in the designer stores, but we get only Rs.13 for 500 grams of cotton. Those who are processing get all the profit, not those who produce," said Vinubhai.

At Malak Nes village, a group of farmers eagerly showed this correspondent their slippers. They threw them on the floor and said, "Our slippers have gaping holes and are broken. Can you please send them to Narendra Modi? And ask him which farmer in Gujarat has a Maruti? We can't even afford a new pair of slippers."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Agenda for Pro-farmer Green Uttar Pradesh

Agenda for Pro-farmer Green Uttar Pradesh

Utkarsh Kumar Sinha*

The survival of the human being as a species is totally dependent on our surroundings, which is actually a complex set of processes in dynamic equilibrium. Any activity that human beings do for development – from simple hand tilling to complex industrial activity – must be anchored on environmental and ecological guidelines with a social justice, and not just on economic output or increasing production. But if our actions are destructive, pollutive and exploitative, they will eventually destabilize the dynamic equilibrium of our surroundings and we will face a crisis, which will severely impact not just the environment, but overall progress. Uttar Pradesh is facing such a situation, where many of our present ways of development are becoming more and more socially and environmentally destabilizing. The worst of this crisis is now felt in the farming sector, where farmers, with huge economic debts are suffering from diseases – physical, mental and social – on an epidemic scale. Now they are taking drastic decisions like committing suicide. Ultimately, we are taking our land, its environment and its people to an imminent ecological, economic and social disaster.

The success of a development agenda that the government and its people want for the state will depend on whether we correct our past mistakes or not. The primary task of the new government would rediscover the natural environmental design of the state and agree upon its potentials and limitations. They have to take stock of approaches and plans which have gone wrong and reach a common consensus on the corrective priority actions. This would mean policies that take a broad look at our development paradigm (model) vis-à-vis environmental security and address the sectors of agriculture, health, education, social welfare, food, water and industrial development.

In this context that we wish to draw the attention of the new government to the following:

The first thing we must acknowledge is that only an ecologically sustainable Uttar Pradesh can be economically sustainable. The approach that has been followed, especially in the last three decades, is to bring in economic development at any cost. An analysis will reveal that it is this approach that has actually led to the present crisis. The very first step that the new government needs to initiate is to prepare a vision document for a sustainable green, and pro farmer Uttar Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh the success of the agriculture sector is directly linked to the ecological and social security. Such an attempt will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking. An ecological audit by the prominent and independent experts should be a step towards it. This will give us a status picture of the ecological condition of Uttar Pradesh. We must know the quality of land, water and air being consumed by each Uttar Pradeshi.

A comprehensive program may be started for ecological revival with the intention of providing natural manure, fuel wood, fodder and fruits for the overall benefit of soil, cattle and human beings. A time bound program for planting of trees, especially indigenous species is required. It should also be linked to the NREGP (National Rural Employment Guaranty Program). This will be one of the biggest investments for the overall development of the state.

Irrigation is a great problem in Uttar Pradesh, there is very little being done to protect the catchments areas of water bodies, Moreover, loss of forests will also have a serious impact on ground water recharge, and surface water availability. The protection of the catchments areas of the water bodies should be taken up on priority and should be linked to NREGP. These are investments that would improve the situation of water availability immensely.
The agriculture of Uttar Pradesh needs a fresh vision for its sustainability, as well as sustainability of its natural resources. Currently, agriculture has not only destroyed the household nutritional and food security of farmers but has also made them dependent on the market for daily needs. As eminent agriculture scientist and policy expert Dr. Devinder Sharma rightly says, “Emphasis on commodities approach during the Green Revolution has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged food trade in some commodities, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and for humans. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, thereby meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings. “
Such an approach will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking. To get this approach a post-mortem of the Green Revolution is absolutely necessary. Drawing a map of the soil health of Uttar Pradesh is also need an attention and in the future, If a crop (including cash crops) has the possibility of destroying the soil fertility and thereby accounting the ecological crisis, that cropping system should not be allowed. A biodiversity-based system of agriculture should be promoted, with support for indigenous varieties of cattle, other animals, and seeds. A farm-based approach should come rather than crop-based approach in agriculture planning and supports. Support to form framers’ collectives in production, farm management and marketing, and ensuring procurement by government agencies, to avoid price fluctuations should be in plan and policies. Changing the syllabus of Agriculture University to suit this approach could be another major step.

The role of technology, too, needs to be ascertained. Pesticides were promoted blindly on rice, for instance. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines now says that pesticides on rice were a waste of time and effort in Asia. But meanwhile, pesticides usage has already taken a huge toll, and pushed farmers in a debt trap.
Agricultural research must reorient itself to learn from the existing sustainable farming models. The focus of genetically modified crops must immediately stop as it is risky and expensive for the farmer.
Contract farming can compound the agrarian crisis. Contract farming provides companies to go in for still intensive farming systems thereby destroying the soil productivity. It has been observed that contract farming on average requires 20 per cent more application of chemical inputs and ten per cent more mining of ground water. Apart from these, the unjust contract is also leads to exploitation of poor farmers. But in case there is any such kind of thing is coming, it is important that all contract farming approvals be based on farm sustainability parameters. Contract must specify that the company will return the land back to the farmer (which it takes on lease) in the same fertility conditions that existed at the time of the contract.
Corporate agriculture must be discouraged. All over the world, agribusiness companies have displaced farmers. This cannot be allowed in India, which supports 65-crores of people on the farm. Exotic as well as hybrid seeds should be discouraged. These have been primarily responsible for making the lands sick. The thrust should be on traditional seeds.

But to move towards above mentioned approach the policy formulation process should be farmer-centric and must be with a bottom-up approach. Again this task can not be entrusted to Green Revolution mindset experts; it has be entrusted to individuals who want to see the new paradigm implemented.

*Author is a pro farmer activist and is Director of Center for Contemporary studies & Research