Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
Andhra Pradesh Second Reachout Meeting
Anantapura District, July 28, 2005
Consumers Guidance Society (CGS), Vijayawada – project partner for Andhra Pradesh – as part of the project organised a daylong outreach meeting with farmers in Kadiri, Anantapur district, on June 28, 2005. This meeting was organised with the cooperation of lawyers in Kadiri town, leaders of AISF, DYFI and AP Rythu Sangham. Farmers from different villages in and around Kadiri participated in this meeting. Nearly 20 percent of the participants were women. The meeting began with the inaugural remarks by Byrappa, a local activist on farming issues and was subsequently addressed by Diwakar Babu, Nodal Person, Vishweshwar Reddy, AP Rythu Sangam, Ramakrishna, ex-MLA, Singamaneni Narayana, eminent writer and Dr Narasimha Reddy, Project Coordinator and Member, IFOAM-Asia Board. The meeting was presided over by Kumaraswamy Reddy, local CPM activist. This was followed by interaction and individual reactions of the farmers.
Kadiri is a small town in Anantapur district. This district is the southernmost part of Andhra Pradesh. It is perennially affected by low rainfall. Major crop grown here is, presently, groundnut. In some parts, tomato is also grown. Most of these farmers own less than five acres and belong to backward sections of society. For most of the years, in the past 40 years, this district has been declared as drought-affected. There are no major irrigation projects, but one medium irrigation project is presently catering to the drinking water needs of Anantapur town. Another project, Handri-Neeva project, proposed almost 18 years back is yet to take shape. Tens of crores were pumped on watershed improvement projects, with partial or zero impact.
Kadiri has become famous for three reasons: there is a famous temple of Lord Narasimha, a huge banyan tree occupying 2.5 hectares and migration of girls to cities like Mumbai and Pune due to poor living standards and with the objective of earning money by entering into prostitution. There are many instances, which highlights the Gandhian precept: ‘Hunger and starvation knows no morality’.
There is a big racket operating for the purpose of luring girls into flesh trade from drought-stricken villages. Suicides are also common, though not on the scale seen elsewhere. Interestingly, in parts of Anantapur, such as Dharmavaram, people belonging to farming communities have shifted to silk-based handloom production. Dharmavaram sarees are famous all over the world, especially popular for marriages in South India.
While the natural conditions (rainfall, soil fertility, terrain, etc.) are adverse for exploitative agricultural practices, farmers here are facing market problems. International trade of not only groundnut oil but also of other oils, especially palm oil, is increasingly influencing groundnut prices.
As per local sources, despite this, farmers’ situation was better until 1996. All the farmers here believe that their situation worsened, and the crisis has been continuing, since 1997. Groundnut yield that was 10 to 12 bags per acre has dropped to 2 bags (of 50 kgs each).
With this as a backdrop, CGS set out to organise the outreach meeting in Kadiri, inviting farmers from surrounding villages as well, to share and learn from each other.
The objective of the meeting was to bring farmers to a common platform, to discuss the opportunities and challenges in agriculture and to share and learn information and opinions with reference to their livelihood.
Highlights of the discussion
There was a song by an activist, which refers to water and power shortages, major pests, spurious inputs and higher costs, low market prices and high labour costs being faced by the farmer. This song having reflected the pitiable plight of farmers provided the required platform for the meeting
- Our agricultural policies are very dismal and myopic.
- There was no debate in the country when India signed and subsequently Indian Parliament ratified the decision to join WTO. It is imperative at least now to debate these issues to understand the opportunities and challenges, inherent in joining the WTO trade regime.
- Subsidies do have a large influence on the agricultural prices and the competitiveness.
- Lack of proper institutional infrastructure and credit access affects farm sector adversely.
- While subsidies in India are quite low, developed countries have very high subsidies, primarily because of the disparities in the agricultural situations.
- Irrespective of subsidies, it is important that in a free trade regime, there is a need for level playing field.
- Opinion from the farmers would be gathered and forwarded to the policy makers in appropriate form for bringing about desirable policy changes.
Vishweshwar Reddy, CPM leader
- The crisis for agriculture was never so serious. Earlier, it was confined to an area, or crop, but today it is all pervading.
- All political parties are now forced to talk about this crisis.
- It is very surprising to see groundnut farmers committing suicide, who comparatively invest very less, unlike cotton or rice. This is a new phenomenon.
- While income from agriculture is almost 25 percent of gross national product (GNP), government allocations to the sector range between five to six percent. Successive Governments are neglecting agriculture.
- New Seed Bill is being introduced with serious ramifications, considering the provisions therein in the farm sector. At the same time, government is withdrawing from production of seeds. In addition, there are power reforms and liberal approach towards making profit out of water.
- Privatisation of everything related to agriculture is being done through reforms.
Comments: Firstly, three points are significant. There are many people who tend to dismiss agricultural crisis either as a one-off phenomenon or boogey raised for partisan purposes. Or, it is a periodical problem. Or it is confined to dryland regions. But here is someone who says it is all pervading, irrespective of crop and region. Secondly, it relates to how after the debacle of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in recent elections, political parties, if not governments, have been forced to ‘return’ agriculture to their manifestos. Thirdly, the aspect of how groundnut farmers despite making low investments are also forced to commit suicide. This is the indicator of how unregulated market fluctuations can hurt these farmers.
- India has to fight the challenges posed by the WTO.
- It is very difficult to walk out of WTO. It will only increase our losses. We need to fight exploitation, though. However, we are not in a position to fight on a comparative basis, given the economic potentials of rich nations.
- Agriculture and farmers are clearly in a crisis. There is no hope that governments would come to the rescue. Governments do not seem to have any goal to help Indian agriculture, apart from making noises.
- There is widening gap between the poor and the rich. Government policies favour the rich.
- We should lobby for better policies at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference.
Comments: Coming as it is from a leader belonging to the Left party in India, acknowledging that we will not gain anything by leaving WTO was significant.
Singamaneni Narayana, Retired teacher and eminent writer
- How would a trade organisation located in distant lands affect a farmer living in Kadiri?
- Anantapur has 21 lakh acres of agricultural land, of which 21 lakhs is under groundnut. What are the factors behind this?
- By 1960, groundnut was grown in 7 lakh acres, which used to fetch Rs100 per bag. In addition, there was mixed farming with different grains. Farmers used to sell any produce only after self-consumption. In this type of farming, if one crop failed, the other one would help the farmer in ensuring their food security.
- In this situation, government encouraged groundnut production, through subsidies and many other promotional activities in the year 1980. Then, the oil rate was Rs 6 per litre
- In 1985, oil rate increased to Rs 9 per litre and the groundnut fetched Rs 250 per bag. Investment was Rs 670 per acre. Thus, low investments, high market prices and government encouragement, cumulatively led to the growth in groundnut acreage.
- However, investment per acre increased to Rs 1300 per acre in the year 1995. Prices have started falling. This year, 1995, is the key to change for the groundnut farmer in Anantapur.
- There were 150-200 oil mills in the district, prior to 1995. Presently, there are no more than 50 oil mills.
- Returns to the farmers have drastically reduced. Faced with financial crisis, between 1995-2005, there were more than 500 suicides in the district.
- There is an unseen conspiracy against the farmers. Farmers are facing crisis because of import policies related to oils. Oil prices are being controlled externally.
- Presently, farmers are left with only land. Every other resource has been usurped from them and they have been incapacitated. Farmers are incapable of looking for any other source of income, even with the drastic decrease in agricultural incomes.
- Despite this situation, average farmer is not aware of the causal factors. Consciousness and awareness among the farmers is low. If one has to fight the challenges, awareness and consciousness have to be raised. Lack of awareness is leading to their exploitation.
Comments: His talk was very inspiring, and has succinctly brought out the link between international changes and local implications. It was in Telugu and there was good response from the participants. However, only a brief summary is produced here, considering the readership for this report.
Tumma Mahipal Reddy, farmer
- No government seems to be bothered about the plight of farmers.
- Agriculture in different countries is different in many aspects, including the scale and style.
- River linking projects would solve the water problems and thus help the agriculture.
- Dairy industry has to be encouraged.
- Farmers are facing severe problems in getting loans, and paying off loans. Loan givers are few, while the seekers are many. Collection of loans from farmers has to be deferred.
Comments: This farmer is almost 65 years old. As we can see from his opinion, there is a general lack of confidence on all political parties and their ruling coalitions, irrespective of their ideologies. Multi-functional agriculture is being suggested as one of the solutions to the current problems.
Fakruddin, farmer, Gandlapenta
- We want you to take up our issues and talk to policy makers at various levels for solutions and challenges.
- In the last 9 years, our loans have accumulated to Rs50,000 per head. We want these loans to be cancelled, as we are not in a position to pay.
Konda Reddy, Jeellakunta
- Leadership among farmers has failed.
- Political parties are sold to big investors and companies. It is all debauchery.
- We need artificial rains and dairy industry.
- New kinds of crops have to be grown.
- Because of WTO agreement, mulberry rate has dropped drastically affecting the farmers. Mulberry is grown in 5,000 acres in Anantapur.
- Cheap Chinese silk imports are also causing problems.
General discussion yielded the following consensus among the participants: given the present circumstances, alternative crops might be a better option. Farmers here are in heavy debts, because of increasing investments and low market prices for groundnut. Farmers can come out of this situation, only if their loans are written off. Government should also help in augmenting water supplies for agriculture.
Methodology for the meeting
- Mobilisation by farmer wings of Left political parties, CPI and CPM.
- Distribution of a two-page pamphlet in the target villages, prior to the meeting
- Oral presentations in the meeting
- Local language was the basic form of communication
- Partnership with two cadre-based organisations
- Song by the local activist has set the mode and tone for the meeting, accomplished with less number of words.
- Proper moderation of the discussion