The plight of Vidarbha farmers seems never-ending with seven farmers committing suicides so far in the new year. Two cotton growers have killed themselves in the last 24 hours alone in the region.
According to reports, three farmers were from Washim, while one each were from Buldhana, Wardha, Yavatmal and Bhandara district.
With this, the toll has touched 1264 since June, 2005. As many as 112 farmers have committed suicide in the region last month while the figure was 107 in November.
The seven farmers who recently took their own lives were Ashok Bhoyar of Kawarjhari, Sukhdeo Chakranarayan, Deothana, Uddhav Gawli, Amani (all in Washim district), Asaram Sawarkar of Mundori (Bhandara), Rajendra Jadhav, Sukhli (Yavatmal), Sopan Darmose, Kadmapar (Buldhana) and Madhukar Baital of Ladki village of Wardha district.
Former Shetkari Sanghatana leader Vijay Jawandhia pointed out that the farmers, and particularly cotton growers, were in huge distress in view of the present agricultural scenario in the region.
One and a half months into the cotton sale season they find that the government support price is too low. "How can they survive when the costs of agriculture inputs are drastically increasing and they are not getting remunerative price," he asked, and said that more farmers are being pushed to the edge in the region.
Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti alleged that the government-sponsored cotton marketing federation had hardly purchased 13 lakh quintals of raw cotton from its 100-odd procurement centres, while the private traders have purchased 68 lakh quintals till December 31.
On the other hand, farmers in the region have produced over 220 lakh raw cotton this year. The private traders are offering at least Rs 100 less for every quintal than the support price announced by the government, he added.
Tiwari reiterated that the cotton growers be given at least Rs 500 per quintal as bonus so that they could cope up with the crisis. Moreover, total waving off of the farmers' debts could help in curbing the suicides.
The situation of cotton growers could be gauged from the fact that farmers at Koljhari village in Yavatmal district had recently vowed not to grow cotton any more. Koljhari village was selected for the high profile visit of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in June-July last year in the region.
N Arumugham, the managing director of Maharashtra State Cotton Marketing Federation, however, denied Tiwari's charges and claimed that it had already procured over 25 lakh raw cotton from farmers so far.
"We have set up 240 procurement centres all over the state and instructed officials to buy whatever raw cotton brings a farmer to sell at the centre," he informed.
On attracting private traders by the cotton growers, Arumugham said they often preferred private traders to sell their produces as federation deducts 50 per cent of the selling money for loan adjustment.
Noted agro-economist Professor Arvind Bondre felt that farmers have continued to commit suicide because the financial aid from the state and the central government did not benefit them, but it benefited district cooperative banks and societies.
For the past several years, the cotton crop has proved disastrous for the region's farmers, pushing them into a debt trap and forcing over a thousand among them to take their own lives.
This was largely because cotton had become a high-cost, high-risk crop plagued with frequent failures. The existence of the State Cotton Federation, which till recently had monopoly over the marketing of the entire produce, had made matters worse because it was perpetually in the red.
As such, it failed to ensure remunerative prices and make timely payments. This, therefore, was an ideal situation for traders and input suppliers to turn money lenders and exploit the poor farmers.