Fadnavis Said Fewer Cows=More Farmer Suicide. Maharashtra Has 4th Highest No. Of Cows Yet Most Farmer Suicides In India


WEF India  

Amravati, Maharashtra: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis claimed in a speech last month that a “decrease” in the number of cows is one of the reasons behind farmer distress and suicides.

 

Livestock census data disprove this claim--the state has the fourth highest number of cows in India, yet accounts for the highest incidence of farmer suicide. Yavatmal and Amravati, the districts where most farmers committed suicide, have more than 30 cows per 1,000 people, higher than the state average of 28.

 

Source: Collected from Department of Revenue, Maharashtra

 

Among the 18 largest food producing states in India, Maharashtra has the lowest foodgrain productivity of 797 kg per hectare, despite having the fourth largest number of cows at 8.26 million.

 

FactChecker visited Amravati in the troubled Vidarbha region to hear first-hand what farmers and farming experts think of Fadnavis’ claim. The overriding consensus was that the emphasis on saving cows is misplaced. Instead, farmers want stable pricing and export-import policies, and improved irrigation.

 

Government interventions prove inadequate while rains remain unreliable

 

It was a muggy July day in the predominantly soya bean-producing village of Naya Savanga in Amravati district’s Chandur Railway taluka, and 59-year-old Prakashrao Belsare was worried about the rains.

  Soyabean

Soya bean crop grown in Naya Savanga village in Chandur Railway taluka, Amravati district, Maharashtra. Farmers said the crop should have at least grown 2 feet tall by now. But, due to less rain, it has grown just a few inches which would severely affect its overall yield this season.

 

Belsare had spent Rs 32,000 on seeds for his 10-acre farm this year, twice the amount he usually does because patchy rainfall had forced him to sow twice. “After sowing and re-sowing a total of twenty 30 kg bags of seeds, it is now that seeds from the last 4-5 have sprouted,” he told FactChecker.

 

If it did not rain well for the next eight days, the crops would dry away and die, he said.

 

None of the government’s policies–crop loans, crop insurance and the recently-announced loan waiver–have been of much help when faced with a failing monsoon, farmers such as Belsare told FactChecker all over Vidarbha.

 

Located in northeastern Maharashtra, Vidarbha saw dry spells in the first two monsoon months this year and, farmers say, they got no effective state support.

 

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, meanwhile, linked the farm crisis in the state to a “decrease” in the number of cows.

 

Addressing the Jain International Organisation’s Mega Business Conference on July 2, 2017, in Mumbai, Fadnavis said: “Villages which have seen the most number of farmer suicides are those where cow population is low.” He said a drop in the number of cows had led to decline in soil fertility and crop yields.

 

However, data available on cow population, annual crop yield and soil fertility indicate otherwise.

 

Maharashtra, Karnataka and (undivided) Andhra Pradesh are among nine states in the country which have the highest cow population of 8.26 million, 6.53 million and 5.6 million, respectively, according to the 2012 livestock census. Yet, these three states have seen the most number of suicides by farmers, collectively amounting to 77,779 from 2006 to 2015, as per data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

 

Source: National Crime Records Bureau

 

Reports from the NCRB as well as government and court-appointed committees have concluded that financial strain and the consequent cycle of loans and defaults are the primary reasons behind farmer suicide.

 

Experts in Vidarbha have reprehended the Maharashtra government’s failure to address the real issues that afflict farmers in suicide-prone regions. Data accessed from the joint registrar of cooperative societies, Amravati division, show that banks failed to disburse 79% of the kharif (summer sowing and harvesting season) crop loan target in the five suicide-prone districts of Vidarbha this year.

 

Source: Data collected from office of the Joint Registrar of Cooperative Societies, Amravati division, Department of Cooperation, Maharashtra, Agricultural census, 2010-11

 

The Pradhan Mantri Pik Vima Yojana (Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Scheme) has reached, according to agriculture department officials, only 50,000 non-loanee farmers in Amravati, which is 40% of the 126,561 non-loanee farmers who were insured in the 2016 kharif season. Loanee farmers under the Kisan Credit Card Scheme are compulsorily insured.

 

Districts with most suicides have highest cow population

 

Vidarbha’s Yavatmal and Amravati districts have seen the most number of suicides in Maharashtra in the past 10 years, according to data collated from the state revenue department.

 

Source: Livestock census state report, 2012

NOTE: *Includes calves & old cows; **Includes cows and bulls

 

These two districts are among the top 10 of 36 districts in Maharashtra in terms of cow population (including calves and old cows), according to this report of the 2012 livestock census. The census is carried out every five years and is currently underway for the year 2017.

 

Source: Livestock census state report, 2012

NOTE: *Includes calves & old cows

 

Source: Livestock census state report, 2012

 

Buldhana in the same region, which has witnessed the third highest number of suicides by farmers–1,865 since 2006--has the 15th highest cow population.

 

The three districts are also among the top 11 that have the largest number of cattle-owning households and household enterprises.

 

Beed, which has recorded the highest number of farmer suicides in Marathwada since 2006, is ranked sixth with 198,218 cattle-owning households and household enterprises.

 

In Yavatmal and Amravati, cow population has been increasing. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of cows (including calves and old cows) rose by 2% or 6,649 in Yavatmal and by 12% or 32,689 in Amravati.

 

Data from the rest of India also show that there is no easy correlation between the number of cattle and farm productivity and hence, farmer suicide. Rajasthan, with the second highest cow population in the country–over 10 million–has the third lowest yield of 1,393 kg per hectare, while Punjab and Haryana, which beget the highest yields–4,273 kg per hectare and 3,665 kg per hectare, respectively–are among the bottom 16 states in terms of cow population.

 

Amravati-based agriculture expert and farmer Subhash Palekar told FactChecker that cow ownership is a non-issue. “Almost every farm household in rural Maharashtra owns a cow,” he said, adding that the well-being of the farmer is a completely separate issue from saving cows from slaughter, a major thrust of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government.

 

It is the burgeoning businesses of dairying, manufacture of milk products and cow-based products such as organic soaps and other cosmetics, incense sticks, herbal drinks and so on that are a bigger threat to cows, Palekar said.

 

“These are large groups engaged in cow-based businesses, not cow-based farming, and it is they who have a direct interest in building the current narrative of saving the cow,” Palekar said. “It is this elite group that will benefit from the concept of gaushalas [cow shelters] too. Cows in gaushalas could be diverted to carry out these businesses.”

 

Soil health is deteriorating, but not for the reason Fadnavis claims

 

While Fadnavis also attributed declining levels of soil fertility to falling cow population, experts attributed them to a lack of effective techniques to maintain soil health.

 

Soil fertility has reduced across the state, including in the most suicide-prone districts, according to the soil fertility index of the state agriculture department. The data available from 1980 to 2010 show a steady decline in the key soil nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous.

 

Source: Department of Agriculture, Maharashtra

 

Yet, Sindhudurg in the Konkan region which has among the most fertile soils in Maharashtra has the lowest cow population, higher only than the urban districts of Mumbai city and Mumbai suburban.

 

Several expert groups in India have blamed the long-term consequences of the Green Revolution and the rampant use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for degenerating soil health.

 

“Manual inputs of fertilizers destroy the humus content in the soil which is made of straw or agricultural waste. It is humus that enriches the soil with nutrients and it is created near the plants’ roots, not outside of it,” Palekar, who won the Padma Shri in 2015 for his method of zero-budget natural farming, told FactChecker.

 

Palekar advocates the use of homemade fertilizers and pesticides which involve no input costs. “In this method, more moisture from the air and very less of groundwater is used,” he explained, adding that the government is creating false propaganda about cows.

 

Palekar also criticised the organic farming schemes launched under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture saying these schemes promoted vermicompost and other fertilizers imported from foreign soils that damaged local micro-organisms.

 

Yields have been shrinking since the 2014 drought

 

As noted before, of India’s 18 largest food producing states, Maharashtra has the lowest foodgrain productivity of 797 kg per hectare despite having the fourth largest cow population of 8.26 million.

 

District-wise annual crop yields in Maharashtra reveal a failure of drought-relief measures. While productivity of all crops recorded an overall increase between 2006 and 2013, yields fell sharply in the back-to-back drought years of 2014-15 and 2015-16 across all districts.

 

Source: Department of Agriculture, Maharashtra

 

Foodgrain and oilseed yields in the three most suicide-prone districts of Yavatmal, Amravati and Buldhana, although fluctuating in the eight years between 2006-07 and 2013-14, witnessed an overall growth. Yields of cotton, a favourite cash crop in the three districts, too recorded an overall increase during this period.

 

Farmers in the region expect low soya bean yields this year. “It is like a fourth drought year for us. Crops have failed continuously because of less or erratic rain or hailstorms,” Belsare said.

 

The three districts account for 24% of Maharashtra’s soya bean production.

 

According to the Indian Meteorology Department’s rainfall data, as many as 18 districts in the state have received deficient rainfall this year with a departure of 20-45% from the normal rainfall level.

 

No less than 81.4% of Maharashtra’s land is unirrigated. In Chandur Railway taluka, where Belsare lives, 91% of landholdings are without irrigation and depend on increasingly erratic rains.

 

“Two days of rain nourish crops more than 10 days of drip irrigation,” D Gaju, a 26-year-old farmer from Nandura village in Amravati taluka who grows soya bean and tuvar (pigeon peas), told FactChecker. “Because there has been such less rain in the major monsoon months of June and July, peak crop growth time has passed. We already know that yield would be 50% lower.”

 

Sudhakar Dhamankar, 36, said scanty rains have left water levels in local wells low. Of the two hand pumps in the village, one had run completely dry and the other is pumping out a trickle.

  Sudhakar

Sudhakar Dhamankar, 36, points to a plot in Naya Savanga village in Chandur Railway taluka, Amravati district, where a community pond was planned four years ago But, work is yet to begin.

 

Dhamankar points to a low-lying plot where a community pond was proposed to be built four years ago. “No work was ever started,” he said. “If the government had initiated any water conservation work in our village, the situation would have been better today.”

 

To supplement the income from his two-acre farm, Dhamankar used to rear 10 cows and sell their milk. But drinking water became scarce, and fodder became unaffordable. Now, he owns one cow. “My family, including my children, work as labourers. There is no other way,” he said.

 

Located near forest land, Naya Savanga farms also face frequent attacks by wild pigs, nilgai (Asian antelope) and deer. Farmers said they often stay awake through the night to guard their fields.

 

“There is a provision to carry out solar fencing around forest land,” Praveen Chavan, chief conservator of forests, Amravati, told FactChecker. “It has been carried out in Wardha. I will ask the deputy chief conservator of forests to study its feasibility in Amravati.”

 

Farmers say insurance scheme a flop

 

The Pradhan Mantri Pik Vima Yojana insures crop losses due to natural disasters and pests/diseases.

 

Farmers said crops should also be insured against damage from attacks by wild animals. “We gave a letter about the crop damage due to wild animal attacks to the taluka agriculture office last year, but not much came out of it,” Rahul Belsare, Prakashrao’s son, said.

  Farmers

Left to right: Rahul, Gajananrao and Vilasrao Belsare. They said that both crop loan and insurance schemes of the government were lacking on several grounds.

 

Some Naya Savanga villagers have not paid the crop insurance premium this year, citing bad experiences in the past, particularly what they call inaccurate parameters for determining losses.

 

“The insurance amount that is calculated is based on the crop output data of the entire revenue circle (a group of gram panchayats within a taluka). But, this belt of five to six villages where we live receives even less rainfall than the circle does,” Rahul said. Verifying this claim is difficult because rainfall data are available for revenue circles, and not village-wise.

 

Rahul said the insurance amount is negligible: “On account of less rain coupled with damage by wild animals, our yields are much lower. But, there is a fixed amount granted irrespective of the actual loss a farmer has faced.”

 

Anil Kharchan, district superintending agriculture officer of Amravati, said some 50,000 farmers had applied for the scheme this year, whereas 126,561 had submitted applications in the 2016 kharif season. There are 415,000 farmers in the district, and Kharchan said his department is working hard to create awareness about the scheme.

 

While those who have taken crop loans under the kisan credit card programme, which comes bundled with insurance coverage, would already be covered, many in the suicide-prone district would remain uninsured.

 

Though the government extended the premium payment period to August 5, 2017, it restricted the scheme’s reach by only allowing online applications through common service centres. Until July 31, 2017, applications could also be made offline at bank branches. Kharchan said his field staff were helping farmers complete online procedures.

 

In rabi (winter sowing and harvest season) 2016-17 too, a majority of farmers had opted out of the insurance scheme.

 

Farmers said the loan waiver scheme called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana notified on June 28, 2017, too had not benefitted them. “Some of us went to the District Cooperative Central Bank this week, but were denied crop loan as we still have not been able to repay our past loans,” said Gajananrao Belsare, 49, another farmer from the village. “When we needed a loan at the crucial sowing time, it was not provided.”

 

To have loans waived, farmers have to fill out an online application, by themselves or through common service centres. Thereafter, applications are scrutinised and the default amounts credited into their bank accounts. Thus far, only guidelines for the application phase have been issued.

 

Meanwhile, to provide immediate relief while loan waivers are processed, on June 14 , 2017, the government announced it would provide defaulting farmers loans of up to Rs 10,000 to buy seeds and fertilizers.

 

Banks would create separate accounts for those seeking this loan and the loan amount would later be adjusted against the loan waiver once it comes through. However, loan disbursement under this scheme too has been poor.

 

Kishor Tiwari, chairperson of the government-appointed Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission, which administers relief in 14 suicide-prone districts, said the government had instructed banks to ensure a smooth flow of credit. Yet, farmers on the field had a different experience to report.

 

Gajananrao said the banking experience was generally harrowing and even humiliating for farmers. “One of the officials turned us away saying we came to the bank because we had no other work to do,” he said.

 

Farmers seek policy stability and predictability

 

Experts suggest that instead of loan waivers and subsidies, the government needs to ensure that prices of farm produce are stable and predictable.

 

Prices of tuvar reportedly fell as low as Rs 3,000 per quintal in some areas last year, far below the minimum support price of Rs 5,050. Prices of soya bean and blackgram too went down by Rs 5,000 per quintal, farmers said.

 

R.A. Deshmukh, who runs the Multipurpose Agricultural Services Cooperative Society of Agriculture Graduates in Amravati’s cotton market area, told FactChecker the government needed to plan its export-import policies better. “These agreements should rightly account for the produce by the country’s own farmers,” Deshmukh said, adding that local farmers must be given information regarding foreign trade in agricultural produce.

 

Deshmukh, whose organisation has been collaborating with agriculture department officials for extension (farmer education) activities since 2002, said the government’s push for cow-based farming is unrealistic.

 

“Hybrid seeds and chemical methods are a reality today and used by almost all farmers. Very few sow indigenous seeds. To pitch natural, cow-based farming as a solution to farmers’ distress is merely obfuscating the injustice of economic policies,” he said.

 

(Kulkarni is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist, who has worked with Haqdarshak–a social enterprise, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan–a non-party people’s political organisation and Hindustan Times–a newspaper.)

   
WEF India

Amravati, Maharashtra: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis claimed in a speech last month that a “decrease” in the number of cows is one of the reasons behind farmer distress and suicides.

Livestock census data disprove this claim--the state has the fourth highest number of cows in India, yet accounts for the highest incidence of farmer suicide. Yavatmal and Amravati, the districts where most farmers committed suicide, have more than 30 cows per 1,000 people, higher than the state average of 28.

Source: Collected from Department of Revenue, Maharashtra

Among the 18 largest food producing states in India, Maharashtra has the lowest foodgrain productivity of 797 kg per hectare, despite having the fourth largest number of cows at 8.26 million.

FactChecker visited Amravati in the troubled Vidarbha region to hear first-hand what farmers and farming experts think of Fadnavis’ claim. The overriding consensus was that the emphasis on saving cows is misplaced. Instead, farmers want stable pricing and export-import policies, and improved irrigation.

Government interventions prove inadequate while rains remain unreliable

It was a muggy July day in the predominantly soya bean-producing village of Naya Savanga in Amravati district’s Chandur Railway taluka, and 59-year-old Prakashrao Belsare was worried about the rains.

Soyabean

Soya bean crop grown in Naya Savanga village in Chandur Railway taluka, Amravati district, Maharashtra. Farmers said the crop should have at least grown 2 feet tall by now. But, due to less rain, it has grown just a few inches which would severely affect its overall yield this season.

Belsare had spent Rs 32,000 on seeds for his 10-acre farm this year, twice the amount he usually does because patchy rainfall had forced him to sow twice. “After sowing and re-sowing a total of twenty 30 kg bags of seeds, it is now that seeds from the last 4-5 have sprouted,” he told FactChecker.

If it did not rain well for the next eight days, the crops would dry away and die, he said.

None of the government’s policies–crop loans, crop insurance and the recently-announced loan waiver–have been of much help when faced with a failing monsoon, farmers such as Belsare told FactChecker all over Vidarbha.

Located in northeastern Maharashtra, Vidarbha saw dry spells in the first two monsoon months this year and, farmers say, they got no effective state support.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, meanwhile, linked the farm crisis in the state to a “decrease” in the number of cows.

Addressing the Jain International Organisation’s Mega Business Conference on July 2, 2017, in Mumbai, Fadnavis said: “Villages which have seen the most number of farmer suicides are those where cow population is low.” He said a drop in the number of cows had led to decline in soil fertility and crop yields.

However, data available on cow population, annual crop yield and soil fertility indicate otherwise.

Maharashtra, Karnataka and (undivided) Andhra Pradesh are among nine states in the country which have the highest cow population of 8.26 million, 6.53 million and 5.6 million, respectively, according to the 2012 livestock census. Yet, these three states have seen the most number of suicides by farmers, collectively amounting to 77,779 from 2006 to 2015, as per data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

Source: National Crime Records Bureau

Reports from the NCRB as well as government and court-appointed committees have concluded that financial strain and the consequent cycle of loans and defaults are the primary reasons behind farmer suicide.

Experts in Vidarbha have reprehended the Maharashtra government’s failure to address the real issues that afflict farmers in suicide-prone regions. Data accessed from the joint registrar of cooperative societies, Amravati division, show that banks failed to disburse 79% of the kharif (summer sowing and harvesting season) crop loan target in the five suicide-prone districts of Vidarbha this year.

Source: Data collected from office of the Joint Registrar of Cooperative Societies, Amravati division, Department of Cooperation, Maharashtra, Agricultural census, 2010-11

The Pradhan Mantri Pik Vima Yojana (Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Scheme) has reached, according to agriculture department officials, only 50,000 non-loanee farmers in Amravati, which is 40% of the 126,561 non-loanee farmers who were insured in the 2016 kharif season. Loanee farmers under the Kisan Credit Card Scheme are compulsorily insured.

Districts with most suicides have highest cow population

Vidarbha’s Yavatmal and Amravati districts have seen the most number of suicides in Maharashtra in the past 10 years, according to data collated from the state revenue department.

Source: Livestock census state report, 2012

NOTE: *Includes calves & old cows; **Includes cows and bulls

These two districts are among the top 10 of 36 districts in Maharashtra in terms of cow population (including calves and old cows), according to this report of the 2012 livestock census. The census is carried out every five years and is currently underway for the year 2017.

Source: Livestock census state report, 2012

NOTE: *Includes calves & old cows

 

Source: Livestock census state report, 2012

Buldhana in the same region, which has witnessed the third highest number of suicides by farmers–1,865 since 2006--has the 15th highest cow population.

The three districts are also among the top 11 that have the largest number of cattle-owning households and household enterprises.

Beed, which has recorded the highest number of farmer suicides in Marathwada since 2006, is ranked sixth with 198,218 cattle-owning households and household enterprises.

In Yavatmal and Amravati, cow population has been increasing. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of cows (including calves and old cows) rose by 2% or 6,649 in Yavatmal and by 12% or 32,689 in Amravati.

Data from the rest of India also show that there is no easy correlation between the number of cattle and farm productivity and hence, farmer suicide. Rajasthan, with the second highest cow population in the country–over 10 million–has the third lowest yield of 1,393 kg per hectare, while Punjab and Haryana, which beget the highest yields–4,273 kg per hectare and 3,665 kg per hectare, respectively–are among the bottom 16 states in terms of cow population.

Amravati-based agriculture expert and farmer Subhash Palekar told FactChecker that cow ownership is a non-issue. “Almost every farm household in rural Maharashtra owns a cow,” he said, adding that the well-being of the farmer is a completely separate issue from saving cows from slaughter, a major thrust of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government.

It is the burgeoning businesses of dairying, manufacture of milk products and cow-based products such as organic soaps and other cosmetics, incense sticks, herbal drinks and so on that are a bigger threat to cows, Palekar said.

“These are large groups engaged in cow-based businesses, not cow-based farming, and it is they who have a direct interest in building the current narrative of saving the cow,” Palekar said. “It is this elite group that will benefit from the concept of gaushalas [cow shelters] too. Cows in gaushalas could be diverted to carry out these businesses.”

Soil health is deteriorating, but not for the reason Fadnavis claims

While Fadnavis also attributed declining levels of soil fertility to falling cow population, experts attributed them to a lack of effective techniques to maintain soil health.

Soil fertility has reduced across the state, including in the most suicide-prone districts, according to the soil fertility index of the state agriculture department. The data available from 1980 to 2010 show a steady decline in the key soil nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous.

Source: Department of Agriculture, Maharashtra

Yet, Sindhudurg in the Konkan region which has among the most fertile soils in Maharashtra has the lowest cow population, higher only than the urban districts of Mumbai city and Mumbai suburban.

Several expert groups in India have blamed the long-term consequences of the Green Revolution and the rampant use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for degenerating soil health.

“Manual inputs of fertilizers destroy the humus content in the soil which is made of straw or agricultural waste. It is humus that enriches the soil with nutrients and it is created near the plants’ roots, not outside of it,” Palekar, who won the Padma Shri in 2015 for his method of zero-budget natural farming, told FactChecker.

Palekar advocates the use of homemade fertilizers and pesticides which involve no input costs. “In this method, more moisture from the air and very less of groundwater is used,” he explained, adding that the government is creating false propaganda about cows.

Palekar also criticised the organic farming schemes launched under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture saying these schemes promoted vermicompost and other fertilizers imported from foreign soils that damaged local micro-organisms.

Yields have been shrinking since the 2014 drought

As noted before, of India’s 18 largest food producing states, Maharashtra has the lowest foodgrain productivity of 797 kg per hectare despite having the fourth largest cow population of 8.26 million.

District-wise annual crop yields in Maharashtra reveal a failure of drought-relief measures. While productivity of all crops recorded an overall increase between 2006 and 2013, yields fell sharply in the back-to-back drought years of 2014-15 and 2015-16 across all districts.

Source: Department of Agriculture, Maharashtra

Foodgrain and oilseed yields in the three most suicide-prone districts of Yavatmal, Amravati and Buldhana, although fluctuating in the eight years between 2006-07 and 2013-14, witnessed an overall growth. Yields of cotton, a favourite cash crop in the three districts, too recorded an overall increase during this period.

Farmers in the region expect low soya bean yields this year. “It is like a fourth drought year for us. Crops have failed continuously because of less or erratic rain or hailstorms,” Belsare said.

The three districts account for 24% of Maharashtra’s soya bean production.

According to the Indian Meteorology Department’s rainfall data, as many as 18 districts in the state have received deficient rainfall this year with a departure of 20-45% from the normal rainfall level.

No less than 81.4% of Maharashtra’s land is unirrigated. In Chandur Railway taluka, where Belsare lives, 91% of landholdings are without irrigation and depend on increasingly erratic rains.

“Two days of rain nourish crops more than 10 days of drip irrigation,” D Gaju, a 26-year-old farmer from Nandura village in Amravati taluka who grows soya bean and tuvar (pigeon peas), told FactChecker. “Because there has been such less rain in the major monsoon months of June and July, peak crop growth time has passed. We already know that yield would be 50% lower.”

Sudhakar Dhamankar, 36, said scanty rains have left water levels in local wells low. Of the two hand pumps in the village, one had run completely dry and the other is pumping out a trickle.

Sudhakar

Sudhakar Dhamankar, 36, points to a plot in Naya Savanga village in Chandur Railway taluka, Amravati district, where a community pond was planned four years ago But, work is yet to begin.

Dhamankar points to a low-lying plot where a community pond was proposed to be built four years ago. “No work was ever started,” he said. “If the government had initiated any water conservation work in our village, the situation would have been better today.”

To supplement the income from his two-acre farm, Dhamankar used to rear 10 cows and sell their milk. But drinking water became scarce, and fodder became unaffordable. Now, he owns one cow. “My family, including my children, work as labourers. There is no other way,” he said.

Located near forest land, Naya Savanga farms also face frequent attacks by wild pigs, nilgai (Asian antelope) and deer. Farmers said they often stay awake through the night to guard their fields.

“There is a provision to carry out solar fencing around forest land,” Praveen Chavan, chief conservator of forests, Amravati, told FactChecker. “It has been carried out in Wardha. I will ask the deputy chief conservator of forests to study its feasibility in Amravati.”

Farmers say insurance scheme a flop

The Pradhan Mantri Pik Vima Yojana insures crop losses due to natural disasters and pests/diseases.

Farmers said crops should also be insured against damage from attacks by wild animals. “We gave a letter about the crop damage due to wild animal attacks to the taluka agriculture office last year, but not much came out of it,” Rahul Belsare, Prakashrao’s son, said.

Farmers

Left to right: Rahul, Gajananrao and Vilasrao Belsare. They said that both crop loan and insurance schemes of the government were lacking on several grounds.

Some Naya Savanga villagers have not paid the crop insurance premium this year, citing bad experiences in the past, particularly what they call inaccurate parameters for determining losses.

“The insurance amount that is calculated is based on the crop output data of the entire revenue circle (a group of gram panchayats within a taluka). But, this belt of five to six villages where we live receives even less rainfall than the circle does,” Rahul said. Verifying this claim is difficult because rainfall data are available for revenue circles, and not village-wise.

Rahul said the insurance amount is negligible: “On account of less rain coupled with damage by wild animals, our yields are much lower. But, there is a fixed amount granted irrespective of the actual loss a farmer has faced.”

Anil Kharchan, district superintending agriculture officer of Amravati, said some 50,000 farmers had applied for the scheme this year, whereas 126,561 had submitted applications in the 2016 kharif season. There are 415,000 farmers in the district, and Kharchan said his department is working hard to create awareness about the scheme.

While those who have taken crop loans under the kisan credit card programme, which comes bundled with insurance coverage, would already be covered, many in the suicide-prone district would remain uninsured.

Though the government extended the premium payment period to August 5, 2017, it restricted the scheme’s reach by only allowing online applications through common service centres. Until July 31, 2017, applications could also be made offline at bank branches. Kharchan said his field staff were helping farmers complete online procedures.

In rabi (winter sowing and harvest season) 2016-17 too, a majority of farmers had opted out of the insurance scheme.

Farmers said the loan waiver scheme called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana notified on June 28, 2017, too had not benefitted them. “Some of us went to the District Cooperative Central Bank this week, but were denied crop loan as we still have not been able to repay our past loans,” said Gajananrao Belsare, 49, another farmer from the village. “When we needed a loan at the crucial sowing time, it was not provided.”

To have loans waived, farmers have to fill out an online application, by themselves or through common service centres. Thereafter, applications are scrutinised and the default amounts credited into their bank accounts. Thus far, only guidelines for the application phase have been issued.

Meanwhile, to provide immediate relief while loan waivers are processed, on June 14, 2017, the government announced it would provide defaulting farmers loans of up to Rs 10,000 to buy seeds and fertilizers.

Banks would create separate accounts for those seeking this loan and the loan amount would later be adjusted against the loan waiver once it comes through. However, loan disbursement under this scheme too has been poor.

Kishor Tiwari, chairperson of the government-appointed Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission, which administers relief in 14 suicide-prone districts, said the government had instructed banks to ensure a smooth flow of credit. Yet, farmers on the field had a different experience to report.

Gajananrao said the banking experience was generally harrowing and even humiliating for farmers. “One of the officials turned us away saying we came to the bank because we had no other work to do,” he said.

Farmers seek policy stability and predictability

Experts suggest that instead of loan waivers and subsidies, the government needs to ensure that prices of farm produce are stable and predictable.

Prices of tuvar reportedly fell as low as Rs 3,000 per quintal in some areas last year, far below the minimum support price of Rs 5,050. Prices of soya bean and blackgram too went down by Rs 5,000 per quintal, farmers said.

RA Deshmukh, who runs the Multipurpose Agricultural Services Cooperative Society of Agriculture Graduates in Amravati’s cotton market area, told FactChecker the government needed to plan its export-import policies better. “These agreements should rightly account for the produce by the country’s own farmers,” Deshmukh said, adding that local farmers must be given information regarding foreign trade in agricultural produce.

Deshmukh, whose organisation has been collaborating with agriculture department officials for extension (farmer education) activities since 2002, said the government’s push for cow-based farming is unrealistic.

“Hybrid seeds and chemical methods are a reality today and used by almost all farmers. Very few sow indigenous seeds. To pitch natural, cow-based farming as a solution to farmers’ distress is merely obfuscating the injustice of economic policies,” he said.

(Kulkarni is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist, who has worked with Haqdarshak–a social enterprise, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan–a non-party people’s political organisation and Hindustan Times–a newspaper.)

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