Farmers’ protest: Sugarcane hub western Maharashtra remains largely silent
When 60-year-old Mahavir Tamgave from Sangli’s Kavathe Piran village decided to sow soya bean and wheat last year in his partially irrigated 3-acre land, his family did not approve of his decision. He, however, went ahead with the move and got a good produce, which he sold in the open market to a trader. He received ₹4,000 per quintal on soya bean, a rate higher that other farmers from the neighbouring Satara district got.
“I was happy about my decision. The rain was good and so was the produce. The rate I got was equally good,” said Tamgave.
When asked if he participated in last year’s December 8 Bharat Bandh to extend support to the farmers protesting at Delhi borders against, the three farm laws, Tamgave answered in negative.
Western Maharashtra, mainly known for the sugarcane produce, has largely been silent against the farm laws. The few protests were largely driven by political outfits such as the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and its leader Raju Shetti.
On the eve of Republic Day, Shetti with his supporters took out a protest march on tractors from Sangli to Kolhapur.
One reason, the region has not seen much protests is because sugarcane is a cash crop, for which the three laws may not directly be applicable, given that farmers have to sell their produce to nearby sugar factory.
“The highly institutionalised cooperatives engaged in sugar sector, along with firms owned by farmers who purchase the agriculture produce, have largely kept the farmers assured about rates,” said Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator Rohit Pawar, who is party chief Sharad Pawar’s grandnephew.
For those growing other crops such as soya bean and wheat, the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) Act, 2003, adopted in 2006, allows farmers to sell their produce either at APMC markets or to private traders. The law was enacted during the NCP-Congress rule when Shetkari Sanghatana, one of the first farmers’ outfits in western India, had demanded for freeing agriculture. If farmers from North India have been excessively relying on single crop, their western Maharashtra counterparts have been cultivating multiple crops on small plots. The multiple crops along with vegetables, according to agriculture experts, have ensured that money flows into the hands of farmers.
Sanjay Suryawanshi, a 53-year-old farmer from Loni Bhapkar village in Baramati tehsil, has been cultivating wheat and jowar in his 4.5-acre non-irrigated land. In 2020, Suryawanshi sold his 10 quintals of wheat grown on 0.5 part of the land at ₹1,500 per quintal to APMC in Baramati, Sharad Pawar’s home town.
“I could hardly recover the money I had put in producing the wheat as I had to pay the head-loader, middlemen and transporter,” said Suryawanshi. He said if the Centre implements the three laws properly, there’s no problem with some of the provisions of the laws, such as contract farming. On minimum support price (MSP), he said that farmers are not getting much anyway.
The critics of the farmers’ protest have often pointed out the benefits of contract farming, which is in existence in Maharashtra.
One such firm – Baramati Agro – started by Rohit’s grandfather Appasaheb Pawar in 1988, underlined several benefits of contract farming. As per its website, the firm deals with various sectors such as animal and poultry feed, sugar and ethanol manufacturing, co-generation of power, trading of agri-commodities, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and retailing.
Rohit said he has not faced any problem from farmers even while running a firm involved in contract farming.
“One reason why our firm never faced issues from farmers is because we have always safeguarded their interests. However, the same cannot be said about big companies whose owners farmers may not even know.”
On the current protests by farmers from Punjab and Haryana, Rohit said the main concern of farmers is on MSP.
“Under MSP system, farmers can sell their produce to private players if they are getting better rates. However, under contract farming, farmers do not have this freedom [to sell produce to entities they have not signed agreement with]. The Centre is stressing that farmers have freedom to come out of contracts. However Clause 11 in the law says: “At any time after entering into a farming agreement, the parties to such agreement may, with mutual consent, alter or terminate such agreement for any reasonable cause”. This means unless both parties agree on the terms, they cannot come out of contract.”
The farmers HT spoke to feel that the alternate arrangement of allowing produce outside APMC may not be bad if the mandis are going to stay.
“I have been alternatively growing vegetables and pulses. I sell vegetables in APMC and pulses to private traders who pay in cash,” said Balaji Sawate, a farmer from Malshiras in Solapur.