BARGARH: The Barahguda market lies on NH 6 on the outskirts of Bargarh town. An auction takes place there. Traders from a wide area come to pick up huge volumes of vegetables. It’s a unique market. The bids begin past midnight and the deals last through the wee hours. Prahallad Sahu hasn’t been there in more than a week. It’s 10 km from his village of Kalangapali but what’s the point?
There have been good years for Prahallad there but 2016 has been different. Tomato was going for a measly Rs 2 a kg, so he decided not to hire labour and made his family harvest the crop. Some of this season’s produce was picked up for that paltry price but the traders came to the village to pick it up. The rest is rotting in field.
Vegetables had been a fetching crop for farmers in Bargarh block in previous years. This year too the yields had been bumper but then demonetisation drove the traders away. The only traders turning up in the market are those who had buy-back deals with farmers and had paid in advance. They got by the challenge of procuring fertilizers and seedlings by arranging credit, but paying for labour has no such solution. Many of the farmers have money in the bank but there are limits on how much you can withdraw.
Winter is when vegetable prices soar. So there’s hope when this demonetisation thing ends on Dec 30. “When this crisis is over and we can sell vegetables for some profit again,” said Uddhaba Deep, a farmer in Jamurda village. No one in Bargarh has read Shaktikanta Das’s latest time horizon for that.
Farmers who had already sold their produce before Narendra Modi’s bombshell on Nov. 8 ought to be happier, but they aren’t. Bipin Biswal is a cabbage farmer who sold his harvest before Nov. 8 and put his money in the bank. Now it’s locked and he can’t pay his labourers. Really, the only lucky ones have been those who engaged local labourers. Villagers here have revived an age-old to cope with demonetization: they pay them in rice and vegetables. Farmers who employed migrant workers don’t the luxury or barter.
Bidyadhar Pradhan owes his labour contractor Rs 43,000. He can withdraw a maximum of Rs 24,000 per week from the bank. If he chooses to pay off the labourers as they are breathing down his neck, he has to forego preparing his field for the rabi rice. He’s got some tight management to do: he feeds his labourers twice a day and plies them with tea so they will a bit longer. Or, if the stars will it, his kharif crop will be sold and there will be money to pay them off.
Some farmers said the heck with it and sold to any trader who will pay them in cash at whatever price, profit or loss, throwaway or handsome. Vegetable grower Shatrughan Mallick got rid of his entire lot of ladies fingers at one go. “At least I got some money,” he said.
Take away the gnawing demonetization worries, villages in Bargarh have been sent back in time to days when apparently -- like in the Desh ki Dharti movies of the 1950s and 1960s -- kind neighbours helped out in each other’s fields and sang songs when the rain came. Since everybody is in the same boat, the merchants and traders of Bargarh are being sympathetic to the farmers, offering fertilizer and pesticides on credit.
“The villagers are ignorant but they never cheat and are very conscious of their prestige in the village. So they repay immediately after receiving the proceeds of their harvest,” said a local merchant.
Funny how the cashless economy has put rural India in the warm embrace of feudal practices.