agrarian crisis

Farmers in Telangana’s tur belt don’t know whether they should grow the pulse this year

Constant swing in prices of the dal and tardy implementation of the government’s procurement mechanism have made life tough for farmers.

Husnabad and Kadangal are just 110 km from the cyber city of Hyderabad. In the last week of March, it was a beginning of a long dry spell, with temperatures hovering around the 40-degree Celsius mark. The Kharif season of 2016 had ended. The villages wore a lazy look. Given the perennial water scarcity in the region, most of the fields were dry. Nothing could be cultivated after the autumn harvest except for a few patches where summer paddy was visible, thanks to some irrigation from private bore wells.

It was time for the board of directors (all women farmers) in the Husnabad Farmer Producer Company to take stock of the operations in a firm they had been members of since 2011. The mood was subdued because the government had closed down procurement centers of tur dal (arhar or red gram) by March 15. The procurement under the Minimum Support Price mechanism was operational for over a month and a half.

While most farmers had sold their produce and collected payments, there was uncertainty among the women who were meeting. For them, the moot question was whether to cultivate tur in the Kharif season of 2017 that starts in May.

Existential dilemma

For hundreds of small and marginal farmers with about an acre of land in the central Indian dry land in Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh with no access to critical irrigation, the monsoon and the quality of the land determines what to cultivate, or rather, what cannot be cultivated. Husnabad is the tur belt of Telangana with a big market at Tandur known for a significant turnover, all grown by small and marginal farmers whose land cannot be used except for tur and cotton.

At this point, it is important to understand the global context of tur production, market surpluses and how it impacts small farmers in Telangana and, for that matter, all parts of the country.

Yo-yo of tur prices

The Husnabad Farmer Producer Company is owned by about 800 women farmers living in 10 contiguous villages. In end-December 2015, it had procured the produce of its members at around Rs 8,000 a ton with a hope that tur prices will rise further and they will be able to offload the stocks between June and August 2016 and earn a surplus for its members. They were hoping that it would be a repeat of the July 2015 season when retail prices of tur had soared to Rs 180-200 a kg. Their calculations went horribly wrong and prices did not rise.

Taking the produce to the market.
Taking the produce to the market.

On June 1, the government announced that it would buy tur at Rs 5,050 per quintal (100 kg). Although the announcement made headlines, the ground reality was quite the opposite in Husnabad. Between the announcement and opening of procurement centers in villages to the actual act of procuring tur and paying farmers, the implementation was full of hurdles, lacked systematic planning. The intervention needed a detailed exercise in planning and execution of the logistics. It failed on both the counts. For farmers, added to the logistics nightmare was the trauma caused by the demonetisation measures announced on November 8.

Imagine a women farmer who has harvested Rs 70,000 worth of tur at the end of November and waiting for the procurement to begin for another one month. Compounding her woes, she had to wait for payment for another three weeks. To complicate matters, the banks decided to transfer the money to farmer members only to electronic transfers. To cite data obtained from Husnabad Farmer Producer Company, the women who sold their produce on January 4 got payment in the Husnabad Farmer Producer Company account on January 25 and had to wait another full week for the bank to execute the transfer in their individual savings account. Remember, this is for the harvest made in end November and early December. Needless to say, this adversely impacted the cash flow for most smallholder farmers.

The moot question is: why did the farmers not go to a private trader or the wholesale market in Tandur and preferred to wait for the government to buy their produce? It was simply because the prices were much lower they had no other option but to wait for the government to come to their rescue, which it did tardily. Thanks to the untiring efforts of some NGOs, at least in some areas, the procurement started, while in states like Maharashtra, it became almost a chaotic scene.

Worse situation in Maharashtra

The situation on the ground in Maharashtra is grim. The state government procured a record 400,000 tons of tur but unilaterally decided to close down all procurement centers by March 15, whereas thousands of tons of tur harvested after the season is still lying open in the market yard premises all over the state. Private traders have reportedly offered prices as low as Rs 4,000 a ton to desperate farmers. The government, buckling under the pressure of farmers’ groups, has decided to extend its buying operations till April 22. It was reported that private traders who bought tur after March 15 from farmers desperate for ready cash flocked to the procurement centers.

Scenario for 2017

With the onset of monsoon in June and July, farmers will start sowing in this region. But sowing what? Do they sow tur? The only alternative is cotton, as the dry land does not allow any other permutation or combination. So what will be the outlook for tur and cotton next year? It is anybody’s guess. Since the government has created a buffer stock through its purchase mechanism this year, will it continue the operation in November this year? Will the open market rate be higher than Rs 5050 or will the price remain depressed?

If the farmers decide to switch to cotton as that seems to be the mood of the women whom I met, will lower acreage of tur lead to price appreciation, thereby giving handsome returns to farmers who have continued with it? What will be the outlook for cotton in end 2017? Who will advise farmers in June and July what to cultivate at the beginning of the Kharif season?

Unfortunately, policymakers have no clear answer to this set of complex questions. Like farmers, the mood swings of the policy makers depend on the retail tur prices. Fortunately, the meteorology department has made a forecast of a normal monsoon.

Uncertain future

As the women farmers await the arrival of monsoon, the future looks quite uncertain. The country is still insufficient as far as availability of tur is concerned. India continues to import tur. The buffer stock created by the government this year will not be adequate if there were low production at the end of 2017. The quality of tur procured and stored in the government-owned warehouses is always suspect.

Farmers continue to remain dependent on the vagaries of the monsoon and seed companies. To add to that, the Minimum Support Price of the government and the prices prevailing in the open market make them more vulnerable. There is no assurance of availability of seeds on time and of assured quality. The scenario on the cotton front is repeat so the only feasible option for many families, if not this year but in the years to come, is to travel to Hyderabad to offer their labor at construction sites and abandon the fields that were once the lentil bowl of Telangana.

The observers of the space quietly watch the promise of the National Dairy Development Board leadership, made a few months ago, announcing the AMUL type revolution in pulses that has yet to see the light of the day. In the meanwhile, the dilemma to cultivate tur or not continues for hundreds of farmers in Telangana and many regions of Central Indian dry lands.

Ajit Kanitkar is a Consultant for Tata Education and Development Trust and a Member of the research team at Centre for Development and Research in Pune. Prior to this, he was Program Officer at Ford Foundation, India office, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, both in New Delhi. He taught at Institute of Rural Management, Anand, during 1992-1995.

This article first appeared on Village Square.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.