Vidharbha farmers not victims of debt-trap alone

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | Nagpur | Updated: Nov 19 2007, 04:25am hrs
Multiple factors seem to be responsible for farmer suicides in Vidharbha region of Maharashtra. True, most of the farmers who committed suicide were facing a debt-trap, but this was the result of cumulative factors, like high input costs, comparatively lower returns on produce, crop failures, inclement weather, lack of irrigation.

Out of 1.5 lakh farmer suicides in the country in 1997-2000, Maharashtra alone accounted for 29,000. If the state government's data for 1995 and 1996 is taken into account, the figure jumps to 32,000.

Incidentally, farmers in Vidharbha predominantly grow cotton. Lately, some are switching over to soyabean cultivation, but no permanent solution to the crisis seems in sight yet. Suicides continue in the region, even after announcement of the PMs Rs 3,750-crore relief package in July 2006.

In Heveri, a village in Yavatmal district, this correspondent found that groundwater was accessible below but farmers were unable to use it for irrigation purposes due to power cuts. There is a 12-hour power cut in this region. A few months back, there were 16-hour cuts a day, said a farmer.

Subas Chand Vikram Chand Lohia in Heveri has been growing Bt cotton since 2006. This year, he planted Bt cotton with two-stacked genes on his four-acre plot. Last year, with single gene Bt cotton (NCH 145), I got a yield of 25 quintal at the end of the season. This year, in the first picking, I got a yield of 10 quintal, he said.

Some farmers said the number of pesticide sprays had declined on account of cultivation of Bt cotton with double-stacked genes. Rajju Shroff, CMD, United Phosphorous, said due to good rainfall this year the incidence of pests, like bollworm, is low, but weeds have increased. There is short supply of monoprotophos this season, he says.

Farmers in villages like Hevari, Chikili, Bhamraja also complained about delayed arrival of fertilisers, like urea and DAP. Despite these odds, farmers in the region have benefited due to cultivation of Bt cotton. In Maharashtra, the Bt cotton area rose by 81%, said Monsanto India senior manager, Christopher Samuel.

Availability of cheap credit is another problem. The Central District Cooperative Bank charges an interest rate of 8% p.a and the primary cooperatives levy an interest rate of 10% pa, said Dutta Baburao Mandalvar of Heveri.