Distress sale of grapes @₹10 a Kilo highlights farmers’ plight  

Travelling through states with farmers in the Kisan Mukti Yatra is a learning experience. What do farmers do when prices remain unchanged while costs spiral upwards?

NH Photo by Prabhat Singh
NH Photo by Prabhat Singh

Prabhat Singh

MS Swaminathan Commission had recommended that agricultural produce be priced at one and a half times their cost of production. A fairly reasonable proposal because consumers certainly pay a lot more to buy industrial or manufactured products.

But of-course if the Government buys agriculture produce from farmers at one and a half times of their cost-price, the market price in the wholesale and retail markets will proportionately increase. The urban consumers, who get wild when prices of onion or tomatoes increase, will become very unhappy and that is something that no elected Government can afford, it would seem.

The UPA Government also kept dragging its feet on the Swaminathan Committee report that was submitted way back in 2006. But the bureaucrats and the politicians could not find a way of supporting farmers and keep the urban middle class happy at the same time.

Before the 2014 general election, Narendra Modi made it a point to raise the issue at his political and election rallies and promised to implement the recommendation if he became the Prime Minister. But three years after he took over the reins of the Government, the proposal continues to be in the back burner. The Kisan Mukti Yatra, which began from Mandsaur (Madhya Pradesh) and which has already passed through Maharashtra, Gujarat and has reached Rajasthan, has revived the issue and asking questions.

Travelling with farmers and their leaders makes it clear that whatever be the differences in the nature of problems they face or the demands they raise in different parts of the country, on the question of remunerative prices they are one.

While passing through Maharashtra, farmers spoke of the shortage of water they face, the inadequate irrigation facilities that exist or the burden of bank loans that weigh them down. The spectre of money lenders clearly haunt many.

In central Maharashtra farmers bitterly complained of a crash in the price of grapes, which they had to sell at ₹35 a Kilo, half the price they received last year. Paradoxically more grapes were exported this year than last year though farmers said that even export prices took a hit because of growing competition and countries like Chile also beginning to export grapes to the European market. While 84,384 tonnes of grapes were exported last year, the figure jumped to 1.13 lakh tonnes this year, they said. Onions also were similarly hit. Bumper produce of both compounded the problem with supply outstripping demand.

NH Photo by Prabhat Singh
NH Photo by Prabhat Singh
Kasilash Mewal of Nasik said the price of grapes has remained almost the same in last few yeras while the cost of producing it has increased

At Nasik, Kailash Mawal explains how prices of grapes remained by and large stagnant over the last 15 years or so. But during this period prices of pesticide went up by three times; labour charges also increased but this year he and other farmers sold grapes at ₹10 a Kilogram.

A gentleman from Khadegaon claimed that Modi ji had said in some rally in Uttar Pradesh that he would make grapes available at ₹10 per kg. so, in a way, he has fulfilled his promise, he smirked.

If there is a good spell of rain, then farmers have to sow cotton seeds two-three times in a season. If there is abundance of rains, it affects the crop of onions and if onions become costlier, political leaders feel threatened and so, they import onions from Pakistan or China.

But when onion production is good in the country, we end up dumping them in local markets. Onion and soyabean produce met a similar fate in Madhya Pradesh. Two years ago, soyabean was sold at the rate of ₹4-5000 per quintal but now this year the prices crashed to ₹ 2000-2200. Madhya Pradesh Government had promised that poppy farmers would get four times the cost of their produce if they destroyed the poppy stems. But this also remained a mere promise, farmers complained.

NH Photo by Prabhat Singh
NH Photo by Prabhat Singh
Lingaraj of West Odisha’s Krishak Sangathan Samanvay Samiti talked about difficulties in irrigation farmers face in almost all states

Whether it is Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana or Punjab, the plight of farmers remains the same while causes and nature of problems change. Different geographical conditions lead to different challenges. The indifference of governments only aggravates them.

Take sugar cane for example. Maharashtra has 190 cooperative sugar mills and UP has 23. The sugar mills in Maharashtra take the responsibility of cutting the canes and carrying it to the mill. When the sugar cane reaches a mill, the farmer gets one third of the price paid immediately, one third later and the last instalment of the payment comes after the mill’s account of profit-loss is settled.

In Uttar Pradesh, timely payment of sugar cane prices has been a major issue for sugar cane growers for years now. On the petition of Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, the Alahabad High Court ordered on March 9, 2014 that if the payment of sugar cane farmers is delayed then the sugar mills will have to pay interest on the outstanding amount. The government of the state came in support of sugar mills and decided to waive off the interest. The Sangathan has gone to higher courts against this decision. The final decision on this is still awaited. In Maharashtra, many sugar mills are paying farmers higher prices than mills in UP.

There is anger. There is frustration and there is helplessness. But is there a way out?

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Published: 15 Jul 2017, 3:30 PM