Wages of neglect

A crop holiday declared by farmers in the delta area of Andhra Pradesh which is the state’s rice belt exposes the vagaries that agriculture is subjected to in the country. The farmers in the region, which has been a showpiece of the Green Revolution, have decided to leave their land idle in the kharif season not because the last crop failed and they are unable to return the loans they have taken from moneylenders.

Distress caused by crop failure is the usual reason for farmer suicides. But farming will not take place in about three lakh acres of the fertile East and West Godavari districts mainly because there is a crisis of plenty. The farmers had a bountiful last crop but they have suffered huge losses because of that very reason. Prices crashed because they could not sell the paddy in the open market. The government did not make arrangements for procurement.  A lot of paddy is still lying in the open fields.

Higher labour cost is another reason. Many farm labourers have migrated to cities where wages are higher. Farmers have also complained that the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has pushed up wage levels in villages. In some places the wages have doubled. The cost of inputs like fertilisers and seeds has also increased and the farmers say that farming has become unremunerative even when production has sometimes doubled. The minimum support price of Rs 1,030 is inadequate in many areas. There is no assured paddy procurement in AP, unlike in some important paddy-growing states. Since private traders did not buy paddy and the decision on exports came very late many farmers resorted to distress sale, incurring huge losses.

The state government has woken up to the problem too late and the response has been to set up a committee to study the situation. When the distress situation developed and the farmers made the crop holiday announcement the government was in fact misguided by officials who said they were only trying to change the crop pattern. Only when the situation became political did the government realise its gravity. The Andhra farmers’ plight exposes the paradoxical and difficult position they have to face. Crop failure is bad, and success is sometimes equally so. The fault mainly lies in the lack of official planning and management  which should extend from the stage of planting of seeds to marketing of crops. Governments are responsible for this.

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