NATIONAL

Price fall spells doom for Saurashtra cotton farmers

Whenever an animal dies in her village, Deuben Chavda can count on it for survival. Its flesh, bones and fat — some consumed, rest cured and sold — can keep her family of eight afloat. The two quintals of cotton, painstakingly harvested on her three-acre land, has only heaped distress on her. The cost of cultivation being so high, she has had to mortgage her jewellery. For the past two years, cotton has been lying unsold in her house for want of better prices.

“If the government fixes the minimum support price [MSP] at Rs. 1,000, we can at least recover the labour cost,” says the Dalit farmer’s son Laljibhai Chavda from Jorawar village in Surendranagar, one of Saurashtra’s cotton-growing districts.

Farmers from the cotton-growing Saurashtra region of Gujarat have been on an agitation for nearly two months for raising the minimum support price from Rs. 810 per 20 kg. Nearly 700 medium and large farmers (owning over eight and 24 acres, respectively), mostly from the Patel community, at Rampara village in Surendranagar, are on the brink of huge losses.

About 9,000 acres in Rampara is under cotton cultivation. The total harvest this season has been about 1.26 lakh quintals. However, only 40 per cent of this stock has been sold.

“Those in dire need of money had to sell off, but everyone is waiting for the price to rise. Over the past two years, input costs rose by nearly 30 per cent, but cotton prices dropped. In 2012, the price was Rs. 1,050 per 20 kg. We have high hopes from the government. If the Centre increases the minimum support price to Rs. 1,000 or Rs. 1,100, we will get some relief. At least we can break even,” says Ghanashyam Chavda, an award-winning farmer owning 25 acres.

The cultivators bore a total input cost, which includes expense on labour, power, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, of Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 60,000 per acre. The production per acre has been about 70 “man” (unit of weight in Gujarat. 1 “man” = 20 kg) or 1,400 kg an acre. At the current minimum support price, they can barely make Rs. 6,000 from one acre.

Cotton farmer Narsinh Chavda reminded Prime Minister Narendra Modi of his promises. “Last year, when the then Gujarat Chief Minister addressed a meeting in Surendranagar, he said the minimum support price should be Rs. 1,300. At that time, the Congress was in power,” Mr. Chavda says. “Mr. Modi said the MSP cannot go below Rs. 1,000. If the Centre wishes, it is possible.”

The cost of the fertilizer diammonium phosphate has shot up from Rs. 300 to Rs. 1,200 for one sack of 50 kg in two years. A litre of monocrotophos, a pesticide used by farmers, rose to Rs. 600 now from Rs. 200 in 2011. Labour wages, seeds, power and fertilizers have seen similar steep hikes.

“Expenses are mounting and prices are falling,” says Jyotsna Jhajeria, a cotton farmer.

The Gujarat government recently announced a farm relief package of Rs. 1,100 crore to waive half of the power bills and interest on agriculture loans. However, farmers ascribe little value to it.

“At the most, a farmer will get a benefit of Rs. 5,000 from the package. We have 100 per cent drip irrigation in Rampara. We do not get Narmada water here, so using power to pump water is out of question. Our primary concern is the low price of cotton. The government must address that,” Ghanashyam Chavda says.

The Congress and the RSS-affiliated farmers’ body Bharatiya Kisan Sangh intensified the demand for an increase in the minimum support price by staging rallies in parts of Gujarat, including Ahmedabad.

Self-immolation

In this backdrop, the death of Arvind Nagani this week, a 21-year-old farmer’s son, who immolated himself in the yard of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee in Vinchhiya, Rajkot district, has put pressure on the Anandiben Patel government.

Moved by the long-standing plight of cotton farmers, Nagani scribbled in a book, “Cotton prices should be increased. Hitler has become the PM.” The book was recovered by the police from the yard where he ended his life.

A pall of gloom looms over Nagani’s Dharai village in Surendranagar. “I have lost everything. My son sacrificed his life. It should not go waste,” his father, Bhupad Nagani, says.