They farm, we eat. If they die, who’ll reap?

Capstone Shahpur Taluk

While we happily bargain with vegetable sellers and buy at printed price from super markets, farmers in Shahapur live in extreme poverty along with debts. So much that, farmer suicide is a common issue in Shahapur’s villages.

Bangalore, March 22, 2020

By Sanchari Ghatak

Mehboobi, who lives in a joint family with her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, sits on the porch of her broken mud-house, which used to stand tall before the flood hit the village of Hurasagundagi. She laments saying the villagers are most probably reaping their seeds of sin, since, right after a year of drought, Mother Nature has sent in devastating floods. Both of which were instrumental in crop failure.  She said, “We used to have pretty good yields of Kapas (cotton), yield good enough to sustain our humble lives. But, since last year we are living in debt and abject poverty.”

Farmers in Sahapur taluk are in distress due to crop failure. The drought last year and the flood this year have put most farmers neck-deep in loans. Even though loans from banks can be waived, the ones from moneylenders cannot. Most are now living in acute poverty with no hopes of yield even next year, with no capital.

After two years of crop failure, farmers are unable to pay back loans. This is causing not only debts but is also not allowing the farmers to take another loan again next year.

The land where Mehboobi’s family used to grow cotton until the flood destroyed all of it. The Upper Krishna Dam proved to be more of a curse than a boon during the flood.

Rafiq’ s story is not very different from that of Mehboobi’s. The only difference, he is now planning to either shift to some different village or take up some other occupation. He said, “I am the sole bread earner of my family. I have to look for a way to earn money; else my wife and children will die of hunger.”

Nagada Pujari, Taluk Panchayat President and head of the Farmer’s society in Rastapur village expressed his concerns regarding the lack of proper marketing facilities, increasing stress on natural resources, poor extension services, frequent failure of monsoon and droughts resulting in crop losses, and absence of institutions where farmers could seek counselling.

“In the past, we tried to set up a support group for the farmers in debt, where all of them came together and spoke about their concerns. Then, all of us together would try to find either a possible solution to the problem, connect with higher authorities or just try to help each other out ourselves,” he added.

Agrarian Transition and Farmers’ Distress in Karnataka, by R.S. Deshpande states that Karnataka is a drought-prone region with a large proportion of wastelands. It is dominated by rain-fed agriculture but has poor irrigation. Under these circumstances, inappropriate cropping patterns in many parts of the state have given rise to an agrarian crisis. Agricultural distress is acute in Karnataka’s northern dry regions. Shahapur is one such area.

Vasudev, a farmer who lives in Hallisagar said, “Even growing a simple crop like paddy has now become a challenge. I am unable to buy fertilizers due to lack of funds, also I can’t get any more loans from the bank due to my already outstanding loan debt. Things are getting more and more difficult everyday.”

Vasudev and his neighbours mostly grow paddy as their main crop

“The government has waived the loans of a few farmers but a majority of them are yet to get their loans waived off and are still neck-deep in loans. To make things worse, some have taken loans from mahajans (money lenders). The government and banks have the capacity of waiving off loans but these mahajans don’t. It’s like a business for them. They feed off of the farmer’s misery but also help when in need. However, mahajans usually carry out their money lending business in secrecy,” Abdul Pasha, a farmer-turned-auto driver, told the Soft Copy.

“Even this year my cotton produce has been a failure. With a preexisting debt, I can’t get more funds from the bank. I don’t have enough money to buy pesticides and fertilizers for my crop,” Bhimanna, a farmer from Abdul Pasha’s village, added.

Bhimanna, a cotton farmer, is still neck deep in loans from the bank
Bhimanna’s cotton produce for this year did not turn out good as well due to lack of funds for cropping essentials.

Mr. Hanumaradarappa, the Officer-in-charge of Shahapur police station said, “The year 2018 saw a total of 17 farmer suicide cases, whereas, 2019 saw a total of 16 farmer suicide cases. Farmer suicide is a problem here. The most recent suicide case was registered only two months ago.” The family of the farmer who has committed the suicide gets a compensation of nearly Rs. 5 lakhs from the government in order to sustain themselves. Their debts are waived off too. “We usually first register suicides under the head of ‘unnatural deaths’ and then conduct thorough investigation so that the farmer’s family gets the compensation without any doubt. There have been a lot of cases where the families tried to portray the suicide as a case of farmer suicide due to debt, in order to receive undue compensation, where as those suicides had other underlying reasons, such as family problems, marital issues, etc. We work very hard to ensure such things don’t happen,” he added.

The Department of Technical Education (DTE) has come out with an order to provide free education to children of farmers, who have committed suicide across the state.

Jagannath Reddy, the Taluka Magistrate, Shahapur Taluk said, “After the police investigation is complete, we make sure that the deceased farmer’s family gets their due compensation of Rs. 5 lakh. This has been going on since Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced a hike in the compensation from Rs. 2 lakhs to Rs. 5 lakhs. We make sure all such families receive compensation positively. The police works with us deligiently and helps the process to its end”

During his tenure, Siddarmaiah had also allowed compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to farm labourers and farmers who were into farming by taking farmlands on lease. Earlier such farmers would get no form of compensation.

Dairy farming at The Agricultural Research Centre, B’Gudi

According to Dayanand Satihal, Farm Superintendent, Agricultural Research Station, College of Agriculture, Bheemarayana Gudi, Shahapur, “Farmers use excessive fertilizers on their crops, leading to an increase in the cost of cultivation. This extensive use of fertilizers invites pests, which in turn needs investment in pesticides.”

The Upper Krishna Irrigation Project (UKIP), which was designed and launched by the Government of Karnataka to ensure that farmers receive sufficient water to irrigate their fields has failed in providing the same. Farmers are leaving the profession of their fathers and ancestors as a result of this. They are to moving to other activities in order to supplement their income.

Integrated farming – an alternative to traditional farming methods

BhaskarRao, an advocate who has dealt with the issues of farmers for a long time and written a book on the UKIP, said: “The UKIP is a huge project which has the capacity to provide irrigation to 25 lakh acres of farmland. Andhra Pradesh has been acting as a hindrance to the release of UKIP water to Karnataka. This is causing havoc to farming. Several farmers have committed suicide because their crop failed. This is a direct ramification of water shortage. A crop can grow only if it gets the required amount of water.’’

Mr.Satihal suggests that integrated or mixed farming can be an answer to the farmer’s woes. He is working on various methods of integrated farming which the farmers of the Taluk should embrace in order to get better profits even from small landholdings. He said, “Greater awareness among farmers is needed regarding such integrated techniques. Through this, one crop failure wouldn’t hit the revenue of the farmers completely. Animal husbandry, apiary, vermicomposting, crop rotation, growing fruit yielding trees, etc. in the same farm should be the aim now.”

Crop failure is a major contributor in the taluk’s malnutrition scenario. With no income, the families are forced to live on very little food and whatever milk their cattle can produce. Also lack of marketing has also been an issue due to which the farmers have to live with poor living standards.

Sangeetha and her husband are farmers too. They live in the village of Sakhapur, in Shahapur taluk. Surprisingly, they are living a happy life with no loan debts. “We have cows, a vermicompost pit, as well as a small land holding. We sell our cow’s milk at Shahapur every morning and grow whatever cash crop we can. Currently we’re growing chillies. This is enough for us to earn our four square meals as well as save for the future,” she told the SoftCopy while fetching fodder for the cattle.

Sangeetha and her husband just feed their crop leftovers to their cattle

Sridevi lives with her brother in the same village. They have a poultry in addition to cows. The eggs from their poultry provide for additional income for their family.

Mr. Bhaskar Rao said, “I really hope the current 16 point plan that the finance minister brought in with this year’s budget does some good to the farmers in distress. I completely agree with the fact that farm markets need to be liberalized and be made more competitive, handholding of farm-based activities need to be provided, sustainable cropping patterns and improved technology should be provided to the farmers readily. Only then there will be some hope for the prevailing agrarian crisis.”

The National Crime Records Bureau report shows that a total of 10,655 persons involved in farming sector (consisting of 5,955 farmers/cultivators and 4,700 agricultural labourers) have committed suicides during 2017, accounting for 8.2% of total suicides victims (1,29,788) in the country. While, another recent report shows that at least 10,349 people working in the farm sector committed suicide in 2018, which is around 7.7 per cent of the total number of suicides committed in India, i.e., 1,34,516.

It’s a shame that in a country that lives off of its agricultural produce, farmers are met with such fate. With rapid modernisation, we’re very easily overlooking the faults and realities at the ground level. We shell out the triple price for vegetables while in a supermarket but bargain with the local vegetable seller even for a rupee. The rich keep getting richer, while the poor keep getting poorer and we are to be blamed.

A Timeline of Agricultural Practices in India


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *