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Cash crops cost Telangana, Andhra Pradesh farmers dear

Shruti Sarma  |  Hyderabad 

Cash crops cost Telangana, Andhra Pradesh farmers dear

Thirty-two farmers have committed suicide in the past three weeks in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. Since its birth as a new state, Telangana has recorded 1,269 suicides.

The Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), estimates farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh in the past 20 years (1995-2014) at 38,000.

Experts and policymakers are convinced the two states are facing prolonged farm distress. Suicide by farmers unable to handle crop loss and mounting debt in the dry parts of the two states is common during the kharif season.

"This is not just a one-year phenomenon," says a scientist with a city-based international agriculture research institute. Every year, dry areas of these two states face the same crisis, he adds.

The rainfall deficit in the districts of Mahabubnagar and Nizamabad in Telangana and Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh is as high as 70 per cent. At least half the crop has failed and interventions by the government have hardly had an impact.

The problem is acute in Telangana because of a large-scale shift towards cotton. Medak, Warangal, Karimnagar, Adilabad and Nalgonda districts, which have large areas under cotton, are the worst affected. In Anantapur, groundnut farmers also face a crisis of stagnant prices and crop failure because of the district being in the rain shadow region.

"Most farmer suicides are linked to cash crop failure, whether it is cotton, sugarcane or maize. A farmer invests a lot of money in cotton and maize but the yield is low and they go bankrupt," explains the scientist.

Marginal and dry areas do not provide the environment for growing such cash crops. For instance, Anantapur is not suited for cotton because it a very dry area, as are some parts of Telangana. The input costs for cotton, chillies and maize are increasing rapidly and the crops are spreading to other areas not suited for cultivation, says GV Ramanjeyulu, executive director, CSA.

A paper by K R Kranthi, director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, links suicide with cotton yields. Whenever the yield increases, the number of suicides comes down.

Cotton is cultivated in about 2.4 million hectares in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana put together. This accounts for 17 per cent of the cultivated area in both the states. Undivided Andhra Pradesh was the third largest cotton producing state in India. After bifurcation, Telangana has become the third largest cotton producer, with 1.6 million hectares under cultivation. Andhra Pradesh is at fifth position, with 736,000 hectares.

  • Since its birth as a new state, Telangana has recorded 1,269 suicides
  • CSA estimates farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh in the past 20 years (1995-2014) at 38,000
  • Medak, Warangal, Karimnagar, Adilabad and Nalgonda districts of Telangana which have large areas under cotton, are the worst affected
  • The problem is acute in Telangana because of a large-scale shift towards cotton
  • Cotton cultivation accounts for 17% of the cultivated area in Telengana and Andhra Pradesh
  • Lack of access to institutional credit and low crop insurance add to farmers’ woes

The dry areas in both these states are known. Then, why do farmers not change strategy? "We are working in a commercial environment where money matters.

A farmer needs to make money," says the scientist. For a small and marginal farmer, money does not come from growing sorghum or tur. Cotton, maize and other cash crops bring in money. Small and marginal farmers, who form about 83 per cent of cultivators, suffer the most.

Agricultural scientists suggest growing sorghum and ragi in these parts. Unfortunately, they do not command a price like cotton or maize. The Rythu Swaraj Vedika, an umbrella organisation of farmers' groups and non-governmental organisations, observes suicides mostly take place from September to November, as this is the time a farmer realises his kharif crop is lost and he will not be able to repay loans. He is left with no investment for rabi production.

Ramanjeyulu estimates the loss this year incurred by a farmer due to drought at Rs 40,000-60,000.

The cost of cultivation is high in both states and the minimum support prices announced by the Centre are lower than the costs incurred. This year, the cost estimation of paddy per quintal is Rs 2,400 in Andhra Pradesh and Rs 2,100 in Telangana. The minimum support price announced is Rs 1,400 a quintal.

Lack of access to institutional credit and low crop insurance add to farmers' woes. Besides, in anticipation of loan waivers, a large number of farmers did not repay loans last year, and banks have refused loans this year, points out Ramanjeyulu.

The Telangana government has enhanced relief from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh while Andhra Pradesh has enhanced this from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. But, these one-time reactive measures have little impact. "We need more involvement of farmers in the development of technology. Research institutes need to work closely with the community, so that technologies are customised and made available at the local level," says the scientist.

Scientists stress the need for a good policy initiative where farmers are assured of prices. Organising farmers into cooperatives to raise their bargaining power would help. "Otherwise, you will have the same situation again and again," they say.

As a long-term solution, agriculture scientists say the government should encourage farmers to plant crops suited for these locations. "If the government is able to give them a suitable price for these crops, farmers will not go for cotton and maize. Also, demand has to be created for these crops," they suggest.

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First Published: Tue, October 13 2015. 00:38 IST