Mahipal and Rampyari are peasants from Bidhnoi village in Bhiwani District, Haryana. Even with 10 acres of irrigated land, Mahipal and his family are unable to make their ends meet. If we look at cultivation for a whole year, Mahipal and Rampyari, even with 10 acres of irrigated land in one of the agriculturally most advanced States, got an income of only about Rs. 10,000 per acre over their paid out expenditure. If we account for the value of their own labour and other family resources, the return from land was barely Rs. 2500 per acre. While white fly infestation caused massive yield losses for this cotton farmer in Haryana, their problems were compounded by demonetisation.
Mahipal is a Jat farmer from Bidhnoi village in Bhiwani District, Haryana. Even with 10 acres of irrigated land, Mahipal and his family are unable to make their ends meet.
Mahipal has studied up to intermediate and his wife, Rampyari, up to 10th class. They have two sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Balwan, is physically challenged and had to drop out of school in absence of suitable schooling facilities. Other children – Neelam, Renu and Madan – are all college-going students. Mahipal and Rampyari both work on their land and look after their livestock.
Mahipal’s land is irrigated by a tubewell. To get a sense of a whole agricultural year, we collected information for this year’s kharif season (June-December, 2017) and last year’s rabi season (December, 2016 to April, 2017). This year, they have cultivated cotton, bajra and guar (cluster beans) in kharif. In the rabi season, they cultivated wheat and mustard. In a normal year in the past, these crops could have given substantial returns. But this has not been the case for the last few years.
In the kharif season this year, with all crops fetching low prices in the market, the family barely recovered the incurred expenses. If one accounts for their own labour and resources that were deployed, they incurred loss in production of bajra and guar. Guar crop gave windfall returns until some years ago as the demand for guar gum soared because of its use as a lubricant in fracking. In 2012, prices of guar seeds had soared to about Rs. 30,000 per quintal. With invention of synthetic substitutes, guar seed prices have fallen drastically. This year, guar was sold only for Rs. 3300 per quintal. In the earlier years, guar straw was sold to brick kilns to get some additional return. But this year, all brick kilns in Haryana were ordered shut because of high air pollution in Delhi. Last year, Mahipal sold guar straw for Rs. 2500 per quintal. This year, there is no demand for straw from brick kilns and they have had to leave the straw on the field.
Of all the crops that they cultivated, cotton required highest investment. In addition to using own land and family labour, Mahipal had to spend about Rs. 8,450 per acre to buy inputs and Rs. 7950 to hire workers and machinery. Bt seeds that they used were priced at Rs. 900 per packet, two of which had to be used on each acre. In normal years, these seeds give a much higher yield than the seed varieties that had been in use earlier. However, for the last two years, cotton crop in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan has been severely affected by white fly. Although BT cotton is resistant against American Bollworm, it does not protect the crop against sucking pests like white fly. Consequently, on top of investing in expensive seeds, farmers have had to incur massive expenditure on pesticides to deal with white fly infestation. Despite spending over Rs. 4000 per acre on spraying plant protection chemicals, white flies destroyed much of Mahipal and Rampyari’s cotton crop and they got a yield of only 6 quintals per acre. In all, from four acres of cotton fields, they received Rs. 43,200 over their paid out expenditure. If we account for his own labour and resources, the return turns out to be just Rs. 3450 per acre.
Talking about their cotton crop, Mahipal also told us about the distress last year. Last year also much of their crop had been destroyed by white fly. On top of that, demonetisation compounded the problems as it became difficult to sell the cotton which had been harvested. Finally, a trader gave him three options: sell at Rs. 4000 per quintal in old notes, or at Rs. 4100 per quintal for payment in cheque, or at Rs. 3800 per quintal in new notes. Mahipal accepted Rs. 10000 in old notes, but it took him a whole day of standing in queue to deposit it, and then he was allowed to withdraw only Rs. 2000 each day. After struggling for five days to get their money, they decided sell rest of the crop for Rs. 3800 per quintal in new notes. Given the crisis, Mahipal did not have money to pay the interest of Rs. 25000 on his Kisan Credit Card loan, and had to borrow money from informal sources to pay interest to the bank.
In the rabi season, which overlapped with the worst period of crisis in availability of cash, Mahipal and Rampyari cultivated wheat and mustard. Distress sale of cotton provided them with cash to invest in mustard and wheat. With mustard, he just about broke even, and from wheat, got a return of about Rs. 6300 per acre.
If we look at cultivation for a whole year, Mahipal and Rampyari, even with 10 acres of irrigated land in one of the agriculturally most advanced States, got an income of only about Rs. 10,000 per acre over their paid out expenditure. If we account for the value of their own labour and other family resources, the return from land was barely Rs. 2500 per acre. Of five different crops they had grown last year, the benefit of government procurement was available only for wheat. All other crops were sold to traders at prices that were below the MSP declared by the government. Their household comprises 6 adult members. Given this, an average income of only Rs. 9,125 per month from land cannot provide for even their bare minimum needs.
Thokchom Doordarshni Devi is a Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
This was originally published on NewsClick.in.