If you visit households in Amarakonny village near Pulpally in Wayanad district, portraits of farmers who committed suicide during the agrarian crisis in 2001-04 will welcome you.
The spiral of farmer suicides was the result of failure of crops like pepper and coffee and their subsequent price slide.
The victim families, especially spouses of those who committed suicide, in the villages which became ‘infamous’ after the agrarian tragedy, survived by shifting to dairy sector.
Now, almost 10 years later, farmers in Amarakonny, like most of the small-scale dairy farmers in Wayanad and other agrarian districts in the state, are facing an uncertain future with the small-scale dairy production becoming increasingly unviable.
Showing the portrait of her husband Suresh, who committed suicide in 2001 after crop failure and humiliation by moneylenders, Bindu asks: “Is it a crime to depend on agriculture for your livelihood? After my husband committed suicide, life became a big question mark for me. Several times I thought of ending my life. But I didn’t because of my children. Dairy farming helped me rebuild my life. But now I am unable to continue with it due to the increasing production cost and low returns.”
Most of these marginal peasants own just two to three cows. It is sheer hard work, which starts from 4 am daily.
“You have to pay Rs 20 for a bottle of 1-litre mineral water, right? If I sell 1-litre milk to Milma, I will get only Rs 27! What economics can justify this,” she asks.
Babu, her neighbour echoes Bindu’s sentiments. Babu’s wife Anitha had ended her life on March 13, 2003, just a day before they had to settle the annual accounts at a neighbouring shop. Their family had run into a deep economic crisis in 2003 after a massive crop failure.
“We are not saying that the government should increase the prices. But they should understand that over the last two years, production cost has drastically increased. At the same time, the government is withdrawing several subsidies,” he says.
Two years ago, a 50-kg sack of cattle fodder used to cost around Rs 500, says Babu. Now it is between Rs 980 and Rs 1,200. Similarly, the price of groundnut pellet increased from Rs 20 to Rs 44 per kg. The coconut pellets now cost Rs 22.
Babu wants the government to consider a suggestion made by the All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) of giving Rs 10 as subsidy to a litre of milk produced by small farmers.
The production cost of a litre of milk is between Rs 38 and Rs 42, says K V Ramakrishnan, AIKS general secretary.
The crisis in the sector has the potential to accelerate deprivation faced by tribals, as many of them had taken up cattle rearing due to decline of working days in agricultural fields. “It has become impossible to continue in dairy sector. Why are the authorities troubling us like this,” asks Balakrishnan, a Kurichia tribal who had shifted to the sector after agrarian crisis.