Adilabad : A tale of agrarian destruction
When I was writing this article in mid-June last year on farmers' suicides in Adilabad district, two more farmers committed suicide in the Sarangapur...
When I was writing this article in mid-June last year on farmers' suicides in Adilabad district, two more farmers committed suicide in the Sarangapur Mandal. Barla Shankar had borrowed Rs 5 lakh until then for cotton cultivation but the crop had failed due to erratic rainfall. His body was found only a week after the wild animals had dragged it into the forest. Bhimanna, the father of the deceased, consumed Thaimite, a pesticide, upon seeing the decomposed body of his son. He died on the way to the hospital. Both the son and the father were cremated on the fateful day.
Farmers' suicides in the district, in fact, have been reported for the last one decade. More than 2,000 farmers committed suicide during this period. Significantly, the intensity of suicides has certainly increased during the last two years. In 2011, 113 farmers committed suicide. It was 85 till December 2012, a majority of them in Nirmal division.
The spate of suicides is reflective of the morale of the farming community. In the district more than 10 lakh acres are sowed with Bt cotton seed. Notably there is perhaps no other district where cotton is cultivated so extensively.
Irrigation neglected The assured surface irrigation in the district extends not even to 3 lakh acres out of a total cultivated area of 15 lakh acres. Out of these 12 lakh acres of rain-fed land, last year 10 lakh acres were sown with cotton. Actually farmers gamble with the rain. Two good monsoon years during 2008-10 lured lakhs of them into cultivating cotton as the price also was quite favourable by reaching Rs 6,500 a quintal after hovering around Rs 3,600 for almost four years earlier. However, last year the price fell back to Rs 3,600 and erratic rain destroyed cotton in most villages.
Each farmer invested up to Rs 25,000 per acre. Some even leased in land at a hefty rent of Rs14, 000 which takes the cost of cultivation to Rs 39,000. When yields fell to 2- 4 quintals, they lost about Rs 20,000 per acre. Each season, either there is excess rainfall or none. It is a tragedy that the Godavari flows along the district and there are several tributaries to it. There is a tremendous scope to harvest water through medium and minor projects. But the stark neglect of irrigation is there for all to see.
The Gaddanna project on Suddavagu at Bhainsa is not supplying water even to one acre of land. Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy inaugurated the Komuram Bheem project which remains a non-starter till date. The Rally Vagu project with a targeted ayacut of 60,000 acres is irrigating no more than 60 acres. The Chellampet tank which has ayacut of 4,000 acres has become virtually defunct. They have built several projects, which only filled the pockets of contractors.
Adilabad has an average rainfall of 1132-1200 mm which is higher than the normal levels. However, all this rainfall comes only within two months and after that it is a dry spell. This is why the cotton crops gets inundated during August-September and gets dried up during the harvesting season in November. If only the excess water is properly stored, drained well and recycled, the region can see a real turnaround. The excess rainfall also causes excess weed growth which raises the cost of cultivation.
A drowning economy The cotton economy is a strange animal. There was a time when it looked lucrative to cultivate cotton. But slowly fertilizer subsidies were withdrawn. Cotton seed is supplied increasingly by private corporations. Farmers no longer preserve their own seed. Then came the bollworm as a major threat to the crop in the late 1990s. The Bt cotton seed has replaced the regular seed, which promised the cure to the ballworm syndrome.
Seed prices steadily increased along with fertilizer and pesticide prices. Investment kept on increasing steadily. Bank credit never reached even half the actual cost of cultivation. Thus there was an invariable dependence on commission agents for loans. There came a situation where, unless one grew cotton, there was no credit available to farmers. Thus the economy of cotton has finally become a high-risk venture, and unfortunately no other crop was introduced which matched the income that the cotton gave.
The fate of the tenant farmers is even worse. They do not get bank credit since rental contracts are oral. Tenants farmers, who are often the landless labourers and marginal farmers, are the ones who are taking disproportionate risk and becoming indebted. It is they, in fact, who commit suicides, rather than owner-cultivators. There is an urgent need to regulate rents and regulate the often unfair terms fixed by the ruthless market mechanism.
Tribals and nature are other victim
Now tribal cotton cultivators too are committing suicides. They have also lost food security by stopping the traditional practice of growing food crops. Ever since cotton arrived as a major cash crop in the district, there came a total imbalance between food and non-food crop diversity. The district once grew several coarse grains, such as jowar, millets, bajra and a range of pulses such as red gram, green gram, bengal gram, horse gram, etc. They used to provide diverse foods, on the one hand, and grass and nutrition to animals, on the other hand.
All this has become a thing of the past now. There are several other fallouts on human health, soil nutrition and environment. The cotton economy has really ruined the health of Adilabad and its farmers in every sense of the word.
(The writer is Convenor, Committee for Prevention of Farmers' Suicides)