BALLARI: Demonetisation couldn't have come at a worse time for farmers in Ballari district. November is when they harvest the kharif crop and sow for rabi. Even as they were coming to terms with the carryover effects of drought and low prices, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pulled a fast one on them.
Lepakshi Naidu, a farmer of Hosapete taluk, says demonetization left him with no cash to buy pesticide for the chilli crop he had sown. He got by by borrowing from someone he knew. His own money is in the bank but it allows him to withdraw only Rs 2,000 per day, He can’t pay his workers and for the other inputs.
It’s a familiar story in Ballari, the granary of Karnataka, irrigated by the Tungabhadra.
So what about rabi then? Naidu said water has not been released from the Tungabhadra dam anyway, so he had not bothered to sow a postrainy season crop. “My worry is now the chilli crop. I sowed 30 acres, and I hope it survives. I need pesticides urgently but I have no cash,” Naidu said.
Years of drought have rendered the farmers of Ballari a stoic lot. So the anger does not burst forth from the likes of Lepakshi Naidu but it takes a lot of smothering of temper to accept the possible loss of 30 acres of chilli for the lack of a few thousand rupees.
The pesticide shops in Ballari is a good place to sense the the distress of farmers. The owner of one, Chandrashekhar, told New Indian Express that rabi sowing had indeed dwindled due to the water shortage but the cash crunch made it worse. But what has kept farm operations going despite these twin blights has been the age-old informal coping systems policymakers make light of. Chandrasekhar sells his pesticide bottles on credit. “But for how many farmers will I be able to do so?” he asked.
The pesticide bottle evokes a particularly morbid image in southern India’s farmscape, drinking monocrotophos mixed with Coca Cola being a preferred method of committing suicide by farmers.
At Kolagallu village, about 8 km from Ballari, the demonetization debate among farmers has moved onto its effects on market prices for produce. Will the price crash below last year’s? Will it soar miraculously? Will produce be sold at all? Yerriswamy, a farmer, cited paddy as an instance. It fell. He grew sona masoori rice on his five acre patch and the harvest is in progress. But news from the market is not good, as it rarely is even in a normal year. But then this is the ‘new normal’, a memorable post-demonetisation coinage by the eloquent Arun Jaitley. The mills are not buying paddy owing to shortage of cash.
|Sowing target||2,04,000 hectares|
|Actually Sown||33,421 hectares|
Last year, Yerriswamy sold his paddy for Rs 2,100 a quintal. This year, ahead of harvest, he is ready to sell for Rs 1,800 per quintal – if they would only buy.
Right now, his priority is his harvest. He has no money for the harvester, which costs Rs 2000 a day to hire. “The rich farmers may manage but what about farmers like me?” he asked.
He revealed that he has a loan of Rs 3 lakh to clear. And before long, the dreaded quote drops from his lips: “We are left with no choice but to consume poison.”
In the same village of Kollagallu we move on to cotton, a notorious source suicide stories in the past. Honnur Swamy has apportioned all his three acres to cotton this year and is now caught without an exit option. He has no money to pay to labourers. “The banks don’t understand the plight of farmers. They don’t allow us to withdraw more than Rs 2,000. And we have to pay commission to some people to get Rs 100 notes.”
Farming isn’t only about inputs and labour. There are incidental costs too. For instance, drinking water has to be bought for the farm workers. We met Kumar, a young small farmer, as he was serving food to workers on his farm under the shade of a tree. He has an arrangement with the shopkeeper. He makes the payment in one go at the end of the month. But there’s the rent to pay for the harvester.
“I have money in my bank but it allows me to withdraw only Rs 2,000 after waiting from morning to evening. And then what good is a Rs 2,000 split between eight farm workers?"
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Where are the currency notes?" he asked.