By Rajendra Jadhav, Reuters
Mumbai: India’s western state of Maharashtra is trying to fix the problem of farmers’ suicides by crop diversification — encouraging farmers to shift to soybean from capital-intensive cotton.
In Maharashtra 1,448 farmers, mostly cotton growers, committed suicide in 2006 and the suicides are still continuing despite various attempts by the state and central governments. “High input cost for cotton cultivation and lower output is one of the major reasons for farmers’ suicides,” Balasaheb Thorat, state agriculture minister, told Reuters. “For soybean cultivation farmers need less inputs and returns are attractive.”
“Farmers are cultivating cotton for decades. Soybean is new for many of them. We are explaining them how to cultivate it. Besides, we are distributing seeds and giving grants for seed purchase. This year many villages have set up their own seed banks at local level,” he said.
In case of cotton, the per-hectare input cost is Rs17,094 in Vidarbha, where the maximum number of suicides were reported in 2006, while for soybean it is only Rs3,500, said a senior researcher with the Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research, on condition of anonymity.
“Costly seeds, pesticides and inter-culturing operations like weeding increase the cost of cultivation of cotton,” he added.
“The high input cost usually forces farmers to borrow from banks or moneylenders at high interest. But if the crop fails due to erratic weather he becomes a defaulter. Such debt-trapped farmers are committing suicides,” said Kishore Tiwari, president, Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, a non-government organization.
Wrong crop selection also causes problems, and it would be better to grows crops like soyabean, which can be grown even on less fertile land, said Appasaheb Bhujbal, director of agriculture (inputs and quality control), Maharashtra.
According to data compiled by The Soybean Processors Association of India, per-hectare soybean yield in Maharashtra rose to 1,040 kg in 2006/07 from 822 kgs a year earlier.
However, in case of cotton, the yield is decreasing while input costs are rising. According to the East India Cotton Association, in 2006/07, India’s per-hectare cotton yield rose to 500 kgs from 340 kgs in 2003/04, while in Maharashtra the yield was only 283 kgs in 2006/07.
“It is possible for farmers to cultivate soybean or arhar without taking loan from anybody as cost of cultivation is very less. Besides, in the present scenario, there is price guarantee for both crops,” Thorat said.
According to Radha Vallabhji Purohit, a Nagpur-based soybean trader, in this June-December season farmers will cultivate more soybean as in the last season they got good prices. In 2006/07, farmers sold soybean at Rs1,100 to Rs1,700 per quintal.
“Last year we had cultivated soybean on 9 hectares of land. This year we are planning to cultivate on 14 hectares,” said Krishna Thakre, a Nagpur-based farmer, who got a remunerative price for his produce last year.