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Saturday, 5 September 2015

Churches' response to the crisis of Farmer Suicide

NCCI-URM and VCLC responded to this burning issue by visiting and being in solidarity with the families of farmers residing in the Turakmari, Butibori area on the 7th of July, 2015.  Dr.Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary of NCCI, Pranita, Intern of the URM, Sanjay Wankhede Support Staff and VCLC Coordinator Rajesh Jadhav had a in-depth analysis with and among themselves.

In a bizarre development, seven debt-ridden farmers, among them three women, in Maharashtra's Wardha district have sought the administration's "permission" to commit suicide. 

"The situation has become so bad that these seven peasants have approached the district officials requesting their green signal to end their lives," said Kishore Tiwari, president of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, an NGO working for farmers' rights. 

Kishore Ingale, Bhanudas Wadadkar, Pankaj Gawande, Shankar Khadse, and the women farmers - Kundabai Lonkar, Kamala Warhade and Vasanta Gingavkar - from Wadad village, have been running from pillar to post since January for the aid promised by the Maharashtra government, he said. Around 10 days ago, these farmers wrote letters and simply walked down to the local tehsildar (government revenue department officer) to submit to them a memorandum, seeking their "clearance" to commit suicide. 

They got an official acknowledgement to their "suicide permission letters" from the amused officials, which they submitted to the collector's office and got another acknowledgement, Tiwari said. As per government norms, the farmers are entitled to an aid of around Rs.4,000 per head for crop losses they suffered due to hailstorms, droughts and floods last year. 

"For over six months, the money remains locked up in bank accounts as the district authorities are not clearing the disbursal. This is now forcing the farmers to write letters and ask for 'clearance' before committing suicide," Tiwari said. In the meantime, the current dry spell in the state has damaged around 70 percent of sown crops, and claimed 23 lives in the past 12 days. 

These include seven from Yavatmal, five from Amravati, four from Wardha, two each from Akola and Buldhana, one each from Bhandara, Chandrapur and Washim districts. 

The dry spell and crop losses are estimated at around Rs.8,000-10,000 per acre, pushing the farmers into deeper debt traps. There are some areas the NCCI-URM felt that deserve integrated attention. First, conservation and enhancement of the ecological foundations essential for sustainable agriculture, namely, soil, water, biodiversity, forests and climate; improving the productivity and profitability of small holdings. 

Soil health can be ensured by paying attention to soil physics, organic matter content, macro- and micro-nutrients and soil micro-organisms essential for sustainable agriculture. Also, soil health cards should be issued to farmers and mobile soil-testing vans could be used for reaching remote areas. 

Water is a key constraint. This year has begun with a serious water shortage, both for agriculture and domestic needs. All pending irrigation projects should be completed as soon as possible. Rainwater harvesting, aquifer recharge, watershed management, de-silting of community tanks, and more crop and income per drop of water programmes must be implemented with the active participation of farm families and labour under national rural employment guarantee scheme. Also, minimum support prices should be implemented with the help of a price stabilization fund. Subsidy should be given to promote conservation farming and ecological agriculture. Timely availability of quality inputs is of utmost importance. The recommendations of the national commission on farmers with reference to credit and insurance should be implemented. The credit cycle in rain fed areas should be five years, and insurance should be small farmer-friendly, there is an urgent need to improve productivity and profitability of small holdings. In India, the cost-risk-return structure of farming is getting adverse. Indebtedness is increasing and the economic position of small farmers is deteriorating. The new government should give farmers direct income support, as is being done in industrialized countries. A minimum income guarantee programme can be designed for this purpose. Also, the government should set up a farm income commission; VCLC will generate pressure groups in the area and at the same time consentize the Church Groups.


Rajesh Jadhav.