After making losses on their vegetable crops throughout the Covid period farmers in Madhya Pradesh are making big losses due to falling prices of cotton.
Vegetable crops have been destroyed for two years in a row due to Covid, because the market was closed. Prices had fallen so low that paying for wages and freight charges to the mandis was too expensive.
This year farmers expected to make some profits through cotton cultivation. However,, production is down to less than even six to seven quintals per acre. The maximum price for cotton in the market is Rs 6,500 per quintal, which does not pay even for preparing the land, sowing the crop, picking and transportation expenses. Farmers say they have to get at least Rs 12,000 a quintal to reduce their debt burden. In the current situation, there is no option but to commit suicide, they say.
The BJP government in the state, unmindful of the plight of farmers, is currently busy with by-elections for the Khandwa Lok Sabha and Raigaon, Jobat and Prithvipur assembly seats.. The farmer have been left to fend for themselves.
Umesh Singh, a farmer of Anjad tehsil in Barwani district of MP says that he has 18 acres of land. Maize has been planted in two acres and cotton is cultivated on the rest. The production should normally be around eight to ten quintals per acre, but the land is yielding only five to six quintals. According to him the main crop of farmers in Dhar, Khargone, Barwani, Khandwa, four districts which are part of the Nimar region in south-western part of Madhya Pradesh, is cotton cultivation and all these have been ruined.
In the year 2013, cotton was cultivated on 5.15 lakh hectares, but now it is grown on an area of 7.82 lakh hectares in MP. It is cultivated in both irrigated and unirrigated areas and involves millions of farmers cultivate cotton in the state. Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are the main states for cotton production in India. About 62 lakh tonnes of cotton is produced in the country every year, which is 38 to 45 percent of the cotton production in the world.
The cultivation of cotton used to bring light to the lives of the farmers of Nimar, but due to the price of diesel, the cost of plowing the fields, transportation of cotton, the cost of fuel for the petrol based pumps used for spraying medicines has turned all their calculations upside down. Due to increase in inflation, the cost price of cotton production has increased more than the procurement price.
The government was unable to get the vegetable crops market opened due to Covid. Now that the farmers have a little cotton to sell the government is unable to assure them a suitable price. Umesh Singh says that in two years, the debt of every farmer to banks and moneylenders has increased. If the government does not increase the prices of cotton further, the farmers will be left with no option but to commit suicide.
“The government does not understand the pain of the farmers who are facing the financial disaster on top of the Covid epidemic” says Bhagwan Rajput of Kasrawad tehsil of Khandwa district.
He says that initially he sold wet cotton at Rs 3800 per quintal. It was a compulsion, as his debts had become so much that he had to sell at a loss to pay back his creditors. The money was needed also for harvesting the second crop, which was still standing in the field.
“The government is paying a nominal price for cotton and by doing looting its own farmers” he says.
He remembers how when the first Covid wave came in early 2020 he was scared as there were many deaths in his area. And yet he had to farm and cultivate cotton to feed the family.
When the cotton crop arrived in September-October 2020, laborers were not available and the mandis were closed. No one was ready to buy. It became difficult to get the cotton from the farm to the house as money had to be paid to everyone from the laborer to the transporter.
Farmers, according to Rajput were ready to take up the challenge but there were uncertainties in the mandis. Ripe cotton had to be burnt in the fields. Those who paid the wages by taking loans and got the cotton plucked ended up in big losses.
“We went through so many difficulties but the government did not help with a single rupee” says Rahul Yadav, a young farmer and social worker of Barwani district, his voice breaking with emotion.
The only help some sections of farmers received were two instalments of two thousand rupees each in 2020 as part of the government’s Kisan Samman Nidhi. There has been no such support this year. The government is busy conducting by-elections and the farmers are worried as there are thousands of families involved, whose futures are at stake.
Rahul is associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan and is involved in the fight to get back the land forcibly taken from the Adivasis by the government and to demand compensation for the affected land. Due to his involvement in social programs he interacts with farmers of Dhar and Khandwa districts apart from traveling to the villages and towns of Barwani. According to him every farmer he meets is troubled due to debt.
The relatives of farmers from whom loans were taken are still quiet, but the banks and moneylenders are insisting that ‘now that Covid has gone, pay off the loan’. Farmers have been telling them that cotton crop has been a failure and to wait for some time, but the creditors call constantly and harass them. This has added to the social stigma faced by farmers.
“From my wife to every member of the family is disturbed. What can we do, where do we go, whom can we ask for help, I do not know” says Nagorao Kevar of Anjad. Nagorao says that for two years he had destroy his entire crop of watermelon as they could not sell it. They were depending on the cotton crop to get some income but the prices right now are too low.
Ashok Kapse is a journalist based in Bhopal