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Gujarat election: Poor rain, falling prices leave cotton farmers in Saurashtra desperate

Across Saurashtra, it is evident that Gujarat’s stellar agriculture growth story, clocking over 10% from 2002 to 2012, is on the decline.

assembly elections Updated: Nov 25, 2017 07:35 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Rajkot/Morbi
Gujarat,Saurashtra,Cotton
Across Saurashtra, it is evident that Gujarat’s stellar agriculture growth story — clocking over 10% from 2002 to 2012 — is declining.(HT File Photo)

It will take another three months for Bharat Gadhiya, a farmer in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, to sell his 10 quintals of groundnut at the government’s procurement centre for the promised minimum support price (MSP) of Rs4,500 per quintal.

Every day, the centre collects groundnuts from only 25 to 30 farmers, forcing hundreds such as Gadhiya to either hold on to the produce or sell it in the open market. In the open market, groundnuts fetch Rs3,250 a quintal, barely enough to cover input and livelihood costs. “It’s not just development that has gone mad, agriculture arithmetic has also stopped making sense. Input costs from fertilisers and labour are increasing, while market prices for produce have come down. Our net income is just enough for us to survive and often not enough to invest in next year’s tilling,” said Gadhiya, a Patidar farmer from Pithadiya village in Rajkot, referring to a viral social media campaign against the BJP, Vikas Gando Thayo Che (Development has gone mad). “The government talks a lot and does little. BJP toh idhar nahi ayegi iss saal (BJP will not come to power from here) 100%,” he added.

He is not alone. Falling market prices of cash crops such as cotton and groundnut, the mainstay of Saurashtra’s farmers, on the back of two consecutive years of failed rains has left farmers angry and desperate. Favourable global conditions saw a jump in cotton prices from Rs2,200 a quintal to Rs5,000 between 2002-03 and 2013-14.

Since then, the MSP has averaged around Rs4,000 a quintal with the market prices even lower. In an election year, the government has announced a bonus over the MSP with cotton now fetching Rs4,500 a quintal.

In the same period, input prices of fertilisers, pesticides and labour have at least doubled. For instance, daily labour costs have increased from Rs150 a person to Rs300 now.

“When Narendrabhai (Prime Minister Modi) was in Gujarat, he would say cotton is white gold and the Centre should guarantee a price of Rs1,500 for every 20 kgs of cotton and Rs1,200 for every 20 kgs of groundnut. We have been waiting for such promises to be delivered for three years now . But no development has come our way,’’ said 80-year-old Bhiku bhai Gathiya, Gadhiya’s neighbour who is another backward class (OBC) farmer.

Ahead of the assembly polls next month, farmers’ discontent is widespread and may threaten the BJP, which is aiming to stretch its 22-year-long rule over the western state.

Besides falling market prices, there are complaints about inconsistent power supply, non delivery of crop insurance for cotton, insufficient irrigation facilities, water polluted by industries and an overall apathy from the government.

Across Saurashtra, it is evident that Gujarat’s stellar agriculture growth story — clocking over 10% from 2002 to 2012 — is declining. In the last two years, agricultural gross state domestic product has shrunk, according to state government data.

“This year, 50% of my BT cotton sown on seven bigha (2.5 acres) of land is lost due to pink bollworm attack. What remains on field is threatened by attacks by wild boars but I don’t quality for the fencing subsidy offered by the government. And I am not expecting any crop insurance because I haven’t got a penny from last year,’’ said Kishore Patel, a Patidar farmer from Pithadia. His brother Janak is clear his vote will not go to BJP. “We will vote for any party but not BJP .’’

Pithadia falls in Jetpur assembly constituency that has been with the BJP since 2002 (except for one year between 2012 and 2013). It is in BJP’s bastions like these that the party now faces a tough contest. Saurashtra sends 48 legislators to the 182-member Gujarat assembly.

“Since I started voting, I have voted for BJP. But I have to accept that not enough work has been done for the farmers,’’ said Ashok Gadhaliya, a farmer from Derdi village and a BJP worker. In Mahendranagar village in neighbouring Morbi district, also a BJP bastion, there are similar complaints of government apathy. Ramji Mohanji, a big farmer owning 50 acres of land points to a trajectory of lower yield with initial BT cotton boom flattening out and increased likelihood of pest attacks. “We have been getting less yield per acre progressively over the years even as our input costs have soared. Unless there is an independent agriculture commission to work out pricing of crops and to give inputs on exports and imports to the centre, farming cannot be viable,’’ he said. He said earlier one acre of BT cotton could fetch a yield of 700kg, which had come down to 400kg.

“The agriculture growth story of Gujarat is embellishment. Our farmers are facing problems like not getting viable market rates or MSP for crops and adequate irrigation facilities…our land acquisition policies are stacked against farmers,” said Sagar Rabari, secretary of the Khedut Samaj (Farmers Organisation) that took out a rally across the state this week to raise farm demands.

First Published: Nov 25, 2017 07:35 IST