“Cotton would fetch a higher price in the market than the regular food grains. This was good enough reason to bring more acreage under cotton farming even if the conditions didn’t support it. This meant farmers relied heavily on pesticides and fertilizers to try and increase the throughput and in turn driving up the input costs. But, since the yield never went up and only the costs, the farmers were pushed into the vicious cycle of debt. And when there is no point of return, they are forced to commit suicide.“
Dr Ramoo explained the suicide phenomena among the cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh during his talk on agrarian crisis on Friday, June 6th.
The talk itself was very doubtful with dark clouds looming around, the weather channels predicting heavy flooding in the evening, people dropping out in the last minute and with 30 minutes left for the talk the weather predictions coming true – it was really doubtful. But to our surprise, we had 20 other people waiting for us @ the venue, they dodge the traffic and braved the weather.
The people who made it had a great opportunity to interact with Dr Ramoo and get an insight into the farming crisis. During the talk, he shared the data, the graphs and the reports showing how the situation had been deteorating over the past decade or so. But Dr Ramoo didn’t just talk about the crisis and the issues, he also focussed on solutions. Solutions that were scalable, replicable and more importantly sustainable. For instance,
- the seed processing unit that was set up with the help of a private sponsorship was able to serve 3 districts and provide employment.
- the cotton processing unit: instead of the cotton being sent to an outside location only to be converted into yarn and sold in the very same village at a higher cost, make the processing unit part of the village that’s producing the cotton
- 0ver 36 lakh hectares with the help of government is being brought under organic farming and implemented in a way where the farmer is positioned higher in the value chain.
On this occasion the audience were also introduced to a new not for profit organization called “i4Farmers“. The organizations mission is to make the individuals become part of the solutions to the farming crisis. For too long, the issues of agriculture have been kept to the activists, the agricultural universities and scientists and to the farmers themselves. This was not by design but more due to the perception that the issues are far too complex and beyond an ordinary individuals reach. This is the gap that i4Farmers would like bridge.
A friend of mine in the audience asked me a very fundamental question: What’s the point of having the talk on farming crisis and that too Indian farming crisis in New Jersey? The question was a very valid one and I appreciate my friend for being honest about it. My quick answer was that today a lot of NRI’s support programs in India to help sponsor kids education and the reason they do that is because there is enough awareness about the issues and there are enough platforms where individuals could contribute to help solving these problems. This effort was an attempt to create the same level of awareness for the issues faced by the farmers.
Other learnings from Dr Ramoo:
- There is a huge demand for the sona masoori rice and to meet this demand the ordinary rice (forgot the actual name) is polished to make the shining appear as similar to the sona masoori and then sold in the market
- There was a village in Maharashtra called “Dorli” which was up for sale a few years ago because the villagers were not able to pay off their debts. So their idea was to sell the village and pay off the debts which was much better than committing suicide.
- Every third house in the villages of Punjab has a cancer patient
- The health expenditures, the medical bills are not taken into the costs that the farmers incur and are conveniently ignored from all research and studies.
- Red Chillis fetch a good price in the market but at the same time it is highly volatile
And this is one of the many advantages of being an AID volunteer is having access to great talks, great people and great projects.