Orissa First Outreach Meeting
Cuttack District, Orissa, November 8, 2005
Centre for Youth & Social Development (CYSD), the project partner in Orissa organised the First Outreach Meeting under the GRANITE project on November 8, 2005. For the meeting, Safa panchayat under Tangi-Choudwar Block of Cuttack district was selected to study the perception of the farmers on agricultural issues. People of this coastal panchayat primarily depend on agriculture, which is inhabited predominantly by Scheduled Tribes who make almost half of the population. Besides, people belonging to General Caste and Scheduled Caste also inhabit the area.
The broad objective of the meeting was to gather people’s perception from the grassroots level on trade related issues with respect to agriculture on both domestic and international front. The specific objectives were as follows –
- To collect perception of farmers at the grassroots level on trade related issues;
- To gather primary stakeholders’ requirements and accordingly prepare information base to disseminate the same at the grassroots level; and
- To develop advocacy agenda to lobby before the government on trade related issues.
The meeting adopted focused group discussion (FGD) and personal interviews as the methodologies to collect peoples’ perception. The villagers were interviewed on the issues designed on a preset checklist. The personal interviews were conducted to cross check the responses with what people responded in the FGDs. These two methodologies proved to be less time consuming and economical.
The people of the Safa Panchayat spend nearly eight months of a year on agricultural activities. A decade ago, when the forest resource was in abundance, people used to depend more upon forest resources and took up agricultural activities only for six months.
Paddy is the major produce in the region. People with more cultivable land also go for maize cropping. Pulses like harada, kolatha, green gram and black gram are produced mainly for self-consumption. Vegetables like little lady’s finger, bitter gourd, pumpkin, cucumber, brinjal, cauliflower, potala etc. are produced primarily for household consumption and if at all surplus production is there people sell it in nearby local markets. Similarly, fruits like guava, lemon, mango etc. are produced only for consumption. However, big farmers, though very few in number, have taken up coconut plantation as a business. Cereal production is for both consumption and trading and in case of marginalised and small farmers it is only for household purpose. Since last two years the farmers have been practicing sunflower cultivation during the off-season.
Though no external input has helped change the main crops produced, outside agencies, both government and non-government have made efforts to assist farmers in changing their cropping patterns. While Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Cuttack advised the local farmers to use high yield variety (HYV) paddy seeds, CYSD has introduced sunflower cultivation during off-season. The farmers are suggested to adopt mixed-cropping of vegetables with dalua crop, a local paddy variety, for better sustenance. The reason is that cultivation of this local variety paddy does not give good return in terms of both cash and yield. As HYV paddy requires more fertilizer i.e. 4-5 kg/guntha (an area of 121 square yards) input in comparison to the local paddy variety (1 kg/guntha), the production cost becomes much higher for a poor farmer. Moreover, the respondents were of the view that HYVs can be beneficial only in plain lands, not on upland/highland areas. Therefore, the farmers resort to mixed-cropping pattern of dalua variety paddy with vegetable for two reasons: first, to make the soil more fertile; and second, to become self-sufficient in vegetable production. However, the participants were unable to quantify the outputs derived as a result of mixed-cropping.
During group discussion, the participants raised concern over the declining yield over the years. Change in soil fertility, an outcome of increased use of chemical fertilizers, is the primary cause assigned for lowering yield. In order to increase the level of soil fertility, the participants view the use of bio-fertilizers like compost as a panacea. “Use of compost gives higher yield”, they said.
Though the government does make arrangement of seeds through block offices, they reach the farmers late. This late distribution of seeds, which is a regular phenomenon, leads most of the farmers to make use of it in the next sowing season. Besides, farmers make use of the seeds being distributed by Farmers’ Club in the area, which bring seeds from Seed Corporation or CRRI. As the authorities do not pay any heed to farmers’ complaints, they have adapted to the government apathy.
In order to cope up with the late arrival of seed, farmers resort to their own resources like the saved seeds of previous year. Some farmers prepare their own land and sow the seed brought from block and store the yield as seeds for the next year. Also, they depend on local markets where seeds for vegetables are available. Besides seeds distribution through blocks, the government does not provide any other agricultural assistance in form of Minimum Support Price (MSP), marketing facility and also in terms of subsidy in fertilizers/pesticides or electricity. Participants were of the view ‘even though the government gives subsidy on fertilizers/pesticides and electricity, the poor farmer barely has the purchasing capacity to buy the same’.
Use of seed variety according to soil suitability is based on the experience of the farmers rather on any other information source or mechanism. However, the participants felt that testing soil suitability would save their time and would also guard them against any crop loss due to soil-seed incompatibility.
Farmers of Safa Panchayats mostly use chemical fertilizers for better and immediate results. ‘As the soil fertility has eroded over the years use of chemical fertilizers has become imperative’, the participants observed. However, they use bio-fertilizers as a preparatory measure before tilling the land. Only one participant knew from magazines like Science Today that use of pesticide was harmful and not that of chemical fertilizers. This shows that the farmers possess some knowledge on the ill effects of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
In the absence of proper irrigation facility, cost of irrigation has gone up to Rs. 2000 to Rs. 2500. “Construction and maintenance of canals, repairing minor irrigation points and promoting water conservation through water harvesting structures would bring down the cost of irrigation”, the participants observed.
The participants unequivocally raised concern over rising input expenditure. Moreover, the farmers get financial support from Safa Cooperative Society. After selling their produce, the farmers repay the loan along with 10 percent interest.
There is a clear division of labour in performing agricultural activities, which is interwoven with caste factors. While the women of lower castes belonging to tribal communities participate in agricultural activities like plantation of saplings and harvesting, women from higher castes do not have any visible role in the field. In some cases, the children also assist their family in tilling the land and other such activities.
Trading the Produce
Despite government-instituted mechanisms to procure agricultural produce with a minimum support price, middlemen like local traders and mill owners rule the show involving procurement. While the government has fixed a MSP of Rs 540 per quintal for paddy, the mill owners pay only Rs 475 for the same. Similarly, the local traders who use to lift the produce from the village itself pay only Rs 425 per quintal. The government does not have proper storage facility, which paves the way for the rule of these middlemen. The vegetable production is sold in the nearby markets.
Price of the products, which the farmers used to receive 5-10 years ago, has remained almost same, while increase in labour cost, irrigation cost and price of fertilizer have raised the inputs. Moreover, government has subsidised the rate of rice under Public Distribution System (PDS) and this subsidised rice always finds way into the local market. Thus, the producers face a stiff competition from subsidised rice and are forced to lower their prices as a survival strategy.
Overcoming Trade Barriers
As suggested by the participants, domestic trade barriers can be overcome by initiating following measures at the policy level.
- Price reduction on fertilizer/pesticide;
- Increasing the MSP;
- Curbing the corrupt practices in PDS; and
- Reformulating the labour wage rule where wage must be calculated on hourly basis.
The farmers believed that in order to overcome such problems they should adopt better agricultural technology, and resort to cash-crop agriculture like horticulture. Besides, they could also go for campaigns against corruption and advocacy for better government facilities.
On globalisation, it was found that the participants did not possess any knowledge whether their product finds a way into the world market except two farmers. On standards of produces to be globally accepted, no farmer had any idea. The participants even were not sure of any competition being faced by imported agricultural products from other countries. Nevertheless, the participants were of the view that ‘if imported products are posing threat to our own products, they need to standardise their products and increase the rate of production in order to survive the competition’.
An interesting finding that people have stopped cultivating sugarcane suggests there is direct link with the abolition of quantitative restrictions on agricultural products from March 2001 by India under WTO guidelines. With no restriction on sugar import, the Indian sugarcane industries had to stop their production and as a fall out they were forced to close down.
In context of WTO and trade liberalisation, the study findings suggest for a large-scale domestic reform, particularly in areas of credit and insurance facilities to small farmers and developing market infrastructure, including minimising the role of middlemen.