By Team Eklavya:
The Marathwada region consists of the eight districts of Aurangabad, Beed, Latur, Osmanabad, Parbhani, Jalna, Nanded, and Hingoli. This is a rain shadow region and receives an average rainfall of 700 mm, although the rainfall may be lower in some districts. In 2015, the rainfall deficit here was 52 percent. Apart from Godavari, only smaller rivers flow through the region, which do not carry much water in the summer months. While 1,130 farmers committed suicide in the eight districts alone in 2015, the number of farmer suicides was already reported to have reached 392 in May this year.
But when we – some ten people of Eklavya, a team from TISS, Tuljapur, – went on a Cycle Yatra to get a ground experience of Marathwada, we were not ready for what we saw. We saw villagers stocking water in their houses as if they were stocking up wealth. We realised how ignorant we were even after holding a bunch of degrees.
At one of the dhabas on the way, we found that a jug was chained. When we enquired about it, we were told – “Log muh, haath dhote hain, yehan paani bus peene ke liye hi hai” (People don’t really bathe here, there is water only for drinking).
Dadadaheb Bariram Rankhamb and Sanjay Sugriv Rankhamb of Toramba village, in Lohara block of Osmanabad district, mourn at the pathetic price of the produced. This, they could not help but contrast with company-made goods, where the company gets to fix their selling price for maximum profit. Another person, who graduated in Dairy and then took to farming, distressingly points out how a litre of Bisleri’s water costs Rs. 20, while a litre of milk is sold at Rs. 14 or 16.
Farmers also complained of the bad quality of seeds and expressed their frustration at the unfavourable variation in prices at the time of selling, the difference between the input costs (which have consistently risen) and the price of crops (which have remained stagnant).
Some people in Hipparga Syed described the cause of their plight in their own colloquial terms. They admitted that they have no control over their Aasmani problems, the ones arising out of nature, but were confounded that the Sultaani problems, the ones arising due to the failure of the government, persist.
Bharatbai says that the non-availability of loans in times of need and the reluctance of the government institutions in giving the same compels them to borrow from moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates.
Sukhawas curses the technology that had led to the exploitation of the underground water and triggered the water crisis. One could see his point in the fact that in a village of 300 households, there were around 1,000 bore-wells.
Satyajit says that in such conditions, where humans are facing a severe crunch of drinking water, keeping domestic animals adds to their hardship. This has led to a decrease in the number of domestic animals in the area. As these animals were a good source for organic fertiliser, he says that this has triggered a shift to inorganic fertilisers, which can pollute the ground-water. Even animal camps set by Government during summer offer no relief, as they are located at a distant place from their village.
The farmers acknowledged the receipt of compensation from the Government and the crop insurance amount, which has built the hope of something happening in the favour of the farmers at the policy level. But they say that the government has failed in responding to other issues, such as non-remunerative prices, rising cost of inputs, discouraging income, and the inadequate rains.
When inquired about their impression of their profession, a farmer of Hipparga exclaimed- “Daridragi, bebasi, lachari” (Poverty, helplessness, haplessness)! They are so disaffected by their profession that they do not want their children to follow the same. Some farmers have even been selling their land to fund the education of their children while others are migrating to cities.
The youth is particularly disaffected by agriculture. While Babloo Yadav, Saudagar Kamle, Govind Nanware, between 16 and 20 years of age, affirmed their interest in farming, said that they were looking for an alternate job, as agriculture does not provide them with enough remuneration.
Some other farmers have, however, challenged the existing problems, using the available resources and methods, with their sheer determination, careful planning, and regular monitoring.
Two brothers, Rankambh Dadasaheb Venkatrao and Rankhamb Babasaheb Venkatrao, have 6 acres of lands. They have a vineyard on 2 acres, grow vegetables on 1 acre, and they keep 3 acres for seasonal crops. They had been following this pattern since the last 6 years. Although they suffered losses in the first 5 years, the profits last year made up for the losses and they also saved some money.
Another success story of a young farmer gave respite to our then gloomy perception of agriculture in the region. Nitin Rasal (30), who holds an M.Sc. in Agriculture, left his job with an MNC to take up farming. He was, however, supported by his father in this endeavour.
He says he has been proudly practising this profession for 4 years on his 30 acres of land. After break-even for three years, he finally recorded a huge profit of 16 lakh. He had invested 17 lakh. He asserts that with careful implementation of scientific methods, due care, and monitoring, agriculture can be lucrative in this region as well.
Some farmers also admitted disorganisation among farmers and helplessly pointed towards the vicious cycle of loans and debts and individual socio-cultural obligations, which deter them from organising for their cause. They also admitted that they have been negligent and reckless in their handling of available resources. However, focus group discussions revealed that most farmers, with their pending loans for agriculture and socio-cultural obligations from institutional and non-institutional sources, are unable to take up an enterprise like Nitin Rasal.
As a whole, our annadaata still needs cushioning measures by the government against the unpredictability of nature and the introduction of suitable scientific approach and technical know-how. Advancing with a focus on meeting short-term requirements, long-term regeneration of resources too must receive attention. Synchronised financial inclusion efforts would go a long way in taking care of the credit needs of the farmers.
Our farmers have high expectation pinned to the production this year due to timely arrival of the monsoon. We thank the farmers for the years of hardship they have put in to feed us. We hope that agricultural policies are made in their favour so that their efforts may be rewarded.
Image source: Google