Soybean, the dream crop for farmers of Madhya Pradesh has now turned into a nightmare, with the crop now being held responsible for a spate of farmer suicides.
The plant had given farmers extremely good yields in rain-fed areas in the kharif season in the 1980s-90s, but its production over the past few years has plummeted.
Madhya Pradesh is the top producer of soybean in the country and accounts for 53% of its production, as per government statistics. The crop was introduced in the state from the USA in the 1980s, and very quickly caught the eye of farmers.
With production in the range of 15 quintals per hectare and the crop fetching about Rs 1,000 per quintal in the 1980s, it appeared to be a far more lucrative option compare to the less-remunerative kharif options.
“Soybean contributed to the mechanisation of agriculture in a big way in the 1980s. Many farmers bought tractors and other farm equipment from savings earned from soybean cultivation,” said Sikander Khan, a farmer of Gudawal village in Raisen district.
“Production started declining in the late 1990s and there is not a single farmer who can claim he had a good soybean crop in the past many years. However, farmers continue to sow soybean because they do not have any alternative,” he added.
“The price soybean used to command has reduced considerably. More importantly, there was no research in soybean to develop new seed varieties, and the plant attracted a number of diseases such as white mosaic and pests that farmers cannot control through pesticides. Weedicides have also failed to show desired results. The crop suffers almost every year and since the annual production is average, prices crash,” said GS Kaushal, former director, agriculture department.
At the beginning of the kharif season, the government had targeted a production of 90 lakh tonnes in an area close to 60 lakh hectares, suggesting that soybean production in the state would continue to be 1.5 tonnes per hectare. However, it seems to be having second thoughts now.
“The production this year has been hit by white mosaic and shortage of water,” said principal secretary, agriculture, Rajesh Rajora. “Farmers are moving away from soybean to other options such as paddy and lentils but soybean continues to be an important crop for the state,” he added.
However, the government’s claims on soybean production are at sharp variance with what farmers claim.
When informed about the government estimates on soybean sowing and production, Omprakash Nayak, a farmer from Bhopal district scoffed and said that if the government wanted to find out the truth behind soybean production, they should cross-check with combine-owners who come agricultural season from Punjab, for a more accurate picture.