Farmers declare crop holiday’
HYDERABAD — The unprecedented decision of the farmers in the fertile Konaseema region, often referred to as the ‘rice bowl’ of Andhra Pradesh, to declare a crop holiday this season in protest against the administration’s indifferent attitude to their problems has not only come as a major embarrassment to the Congress government in the state but has also come as a cause of concern for the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
ICAR officials believe that the decision of the farmers of East Godavari district not to grow crops this season could turn contagious and find an echo in other parts of the country too. “The situation is serious and we are addressing the issue. It may spread to other areas in the country,” ICAR deputy director-general Dr A K Singh said.
As it is, farmers in Kurnool, Khammam and Nellore districts, taking a cue from their East Godavari counterparts, have already announced their intention to go in for a crop holiday this kharif season, and extend it to rabi too. The picturesque delta region, which accounts for a lion’s share of paddy production in the state, today presents a picture of paradox now with the farmers in the large swathes of East and West Godavari districts declaring the “crop holiday”. Hundreds of farmers spread over 250 villages in the fertile region have decided to keep their fields fallow rather than risk continued losses, attributed to the soaring input costs and non-remunerative price for the produce. This means that there will be no paddy cultivation in over 1.70 lakh acres in the region that accounts for 60 per cent of the state’s food production.
G Subba Rao, a farmer says that while it costs around Rs28,500 to cultivate paddy on one acre, the yield fetches only Rs21,000. “Crop holiday is a painful decision for all of us because in a normal situation, we raise three crops a year. But, we were forced to take this decision because our repeated pleas to the government for justice went unheard,” he said.
The government has fixed the Minimum Support Price (MSP) at Rs1,110 per quintal. But, the farmers argue that it is not enough to cover their ever-increasing costs and have demanded at least Rs1,600 per quintal.
A majority of the farmers could not sell their produce last season due to lack of MSP from the millers. As a result, they could not repay bank loans taken last year and the banks refused to give fresh crop loans and input subsidy this year. The farmers hit the streets at the beginning of the season recently and the agitation soon acquired political overtones with the opposition Telugu Desam Party and YSR Congress Party joining the protests and expressing solidarity with the farming community.
Despite a bumper crop in the last agricultural season, the farmers could not sell their entire produce because the rice millers had offered them a meagre rate of Rs700 to Rs750 per quintal as against the MSP of Rs1,000 to Rs1,030 per quintal depending on the quality of paddy. The small and marginal farmers had to resort to distress selling.
“We tried to bring pressure on the government to make the millers buy at the MSP, but the officials succumbed to the millers’ lobby and denied us the rate,” another farmer from Amalapuram, N Satyanarayana, said.
As a result, huge stocks of paddy cultivated in the last season had not been lifted by millers and they got piled up in the private godowns and that of civil supplies department. While the crop holiday hit the paddy production very hard this season, the biggest sufferers are agricultural labourers and daily wage workers.
“If the government does not take corrective measures, it would snowball into a major movement in the state agriculture sector,” warned P Chengal Reddy, chairman of Confederation of Indian Farmers’ Associations.
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