An unending cycle: Cotton farmers cope with losses and loans, hope for pest-free season
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An unending cycle: Cotton farmers cope with losses and loans, hope for pest-free season

The state had announced a compensation of ₹30,800 for per hectare of losses suffered by cotton farmers after a devastating pink bollworm attack reduced their yield to nothing

mumbai Updated: Jul 20, 2018 01:00 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Cotton farmers,Vidarbha,Cotton crop
39-year-old cotton farmer and single mother Usha Pande had pinned her hopes on government compensation to survive another farming cycle.

After losing two-thirds of her crop last year to one of the worst pest attacks Maharashtra has witnessed in over a decade, 39-year-old cotton farmer and single mother Usha Pande had pinned her hopes on government compensation to survive another farming cycle.

The state had announced a compensation of ₹30,800 for per hectare of losses suffered by cotton farmers after a devastating pink bollworm attack reduced their yield to nothing.

This included ₹6,800 from the National Disaster Relief Fund (₹13500 for irrigated land), ₹8,000 from insurance companies and ₹16,000 from seed companies.

Pandey, a farmer from Fattepur village in Amravati district, 125 kms from Nagpur cultivated cotton on 1.73 acres.

She was hoping to receive the compensation in time for sowing season, but it didn’t come through in time so she raised ₹40,000 from a moneylender at the compound interest rate (in which the annual interest rate is compounded monthly) of 5%. When she finally received her compensation, it came to ₹7,560, less than half of what had been promised by the government in the assembly in December 2017.

“The compensation given by the government is too little to provide any relief, but if it had come a little earlier, I would have borrowed a little less,” said Pande.

With a loan of Rs 4 lakh, Pande is a bank defaulter with no access to bank credit. The state’s policy of loan waiver of Rs 1.5 lakh is only available to farmers who can pay the remaining amount they owe to the bank. This is impossible for Pande, given her shrinking earnings.

“Every year is turning out to be a gamble for us farmers,” said Pande, who earned virtually nothing from her farm last year and may be adding to her debts in order to pay for her son Suraj’s education.

“I have a scholarship of Rs 24,000 from my college in Amravati and I have to pay only half of the annual Rs 48,000 fees. But, even that looks tough this year. I also owe the college Rs 14000 in fees from last year. We have no choice but to go to moneylenders,” said Suraj.

A bleak start to a new season

Pandey is one of 41 lakh cotton farmers, mainly from the distressed regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada, who have lost more than half of their standing cotton crop to a pink bollworm attack last year. Maharashtra is the second-largest cotton-producing state in the country after Gujarat. Nearly, 84% of the area under cotton cultivation in the state suffered damages. It was the worst attack since Maharashtra adopted BT cotton (genetically hybrid seeds) in 2002.

Despite the government’s promise of compensation and loan waivers of nearly Rs 15,000 crore disbursed to 38 lakh farmers in the state, cotton farmers have started this season with trepidation. Agriculture experts said that another bout of pink bollworm this year could break the cotton farmers and aggravate the agrarian crisis, pushing even more towards suicides.

“There is a real possibility of another pink bollworm attack this year as not enough precautions have been taken by the government. And even after the loan waiver and freeing up defaulter loan accounts of 38 lakh farmers, farmers are not getting access to fresh crop loans,” said Dr Madhukar Gumble, founder of Apeksha Homeo Society, an organisation that works for farmers welfare and with farm widows.

Waiting for payouts

Senior officials said that compensation has been distributed on the basis of panchanamas drawn up by the local administration in an effort to give speedy relief. “We have not waited for NDRF and have disbursed funds through state funds. The insurance companies’ payout has also reached farmers this year. With regards to seed companies, due procedure is underway as they have challenged the demand for compensation,” said agriculture secretary Bijay Kumar. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told the state assembly this week that insurance payouts to the tune of Rs 12,000 per hectare have been disbursed to 32 lakh farmers worth Rs 2,337 crore. This includes the claims of all farmers in the state and not just cotton farmers. Most of the cotton farmers whom HT met in three districts of Vidarbha said they had not received insurance payouts.

The woes of the unlisted

“How can the administration just weed us out?” Ramchandra Chavan from Pusagondi village in Katol taluka of Nagpur district, where HT met farmers who complained that the state had turned a blind eye to them. “I made a loss of Rs 1.80 lakhs last year after my 10 acres of cotton yielded only 20 quintals. Villages bordering ours have made it to the compensation list,” said Chavan.

The talukas of Katol and Narkhed, represented by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Ashish Deshmukh have not figured in the state’s list of cotton cultivation areas that are affected and damaged by the pink bollworm. Deshmukh complained in the state assembly last week that unless the farmers received their due benefits, the BJP could face a loss in this area.

Locals don’t know whether they’re victims of BJP’s internal politics. All they want is for their hardship to be officially acknowledged.

“This is patently unjust. We don’t know if this is because of internal BJP politics or government ineptitude, but we have been left out of compensation even as villages less than a kilometer from our fields, falling in another tehsil, have been granted compensation for losses,” said Mohammed Yunus Musani, a cotton farmer from Dhotiwada village in Katol taluka of Nagpur district.

When compensation isn’t enough

Those without compensation are, however, the exceptions. For most cotton farmers, the problem is that the compensation is inadequat. Kalyan Kamble from Maldura village of Amravati district received as little as Rs 3,240 as compensation for losses incurred last year. He had to borrow Rs 20,000 from a moneylender to tide over the sowing season.

Gopal Chaudhary, a cotton farmer from Manchanpur village in Akola district, 235 kms from Nagpur, is expecting a compensation of Rs 27,000 as per government norms. “I got a yield of just 30 quintals from my seven-acre cotton field last year and suffered a net loss of Rs 50,000 thanks to this pest attack. Instead of a possible income of Rs 8 lakhs, I got nothing from cotton,” he said.

Availing the government’s promised loan waiver of Rs 1.50 lakh per farmer, he managed to clear his loan account. He owed Rs 1.77 lakh to the bank and borrowed Rs 27,000 from a moneylender at 3% compound interest. “I wanted to clean up my loan account,” he explained.

“The compensation is no way is commensurate with our losses. But we farmers have such low expectations that this seems better than nothing,” said Ashoke Kale, a cotton farmer from Dhotra village in Amravati district. “I lost more than 50% percent of my crop to the pest attack last year. As compensation, my wife and I have got Rs 6,800 each for losses over 0.80 hectares of cotton fields as calculated by the government.”

Kale spent around Rs 72,500 last year to grow cotton on 2.9 acres, which yielded only 12 quintals and had to be sold at around Rs 48,000. So far, he has not received the promised incentive amount of Rs 25,000 or the amount from the insurance company. “Seed companies have refused to even acknowledge any responsibility for this attack,” he said.

Kale, removed his son from a private school and enrolled him in the village school this year in a bid to save money for farming. “The village school has three teachers for seven grades, so you can imagine the quality of education here, but I have no choice,” he said.

As Chaudhary put it, “It’s an unending cycle for us farmers.”

First Published: Jul 20, 2018 01:00 IST