Farm crisis

Explained: Behind the farmer protests in 16 states are bumper harvests and low prices

From paddy to potatoes, onions to groundnuts, farmers are selling their produce at rates below the minimum support price.

From north to south, India is awash with protests by the agricultural community. Since April, farmers in 16 states have gone on strike to express their disgruntlement with their state and Central governments. Many of them reaped bumper harvests but the prices they received in the markets for their crops were not enough to recover costs. Demonetisation of high-value currency in November, which destroyed the liquidity of traders, is thought to be one of the reasons for low prices across the board.

There are a few common demands across the states, including the implementation of the MS Swaminathan Commission report that, among others, recommends a minimum support price that is 50% above the cost of inputs, as well as loan waivers and interest-free loans.

Scroll.in takes a look at the crops that have triggered protests in each state.

Himachal Pradesh

Tomato farmers in Solan in the northern state are among the latest to join the nationwide agitation for better prices, Catch News reported on Thursday. Prices crashed last season after a glut in tomato production and have remained low, farmers say, because of continuing tension between India and Pakistan, which has affected exports. Despite Solan being the country’s tomato hub, the district has no cold storage facilities where farmers can store their produce as they wait for a better price in the market. They have no choice but to sell their tomatoes at whatever market rate is available at the time of harvest.

Punjab and Haryana

Both states saw low potato prices in March while their maize crop is not fetching a good rate right now.

Farmers in Haryana are also concerned about falling prices for their sunflower seeds. On Friday, hundreds of them blocked national and state highways in protest.

In March, farmers in Jalandhar, Punjab, dumped potatoes on National Highway 1 to protest the low prices. And in May, farmers in Chandigarh demanded that government agencies release payments to them for the wheat they had procured. Paddy procurement in the state was also reportedly poor in October. In Muktsar district, farmers claimed that rice mills and commission agents were paying them less than the minimum support price for their paddy, claiming that it was not moist enough.

Rajasthan

The crop at stake here is garlic, particularly in Kota district, where the Congress has demanded that farmers receive the minimum support price for their produce and is backing protests in this regard. The Hadauti region, where Kota is located, produces 90% of India’s garlic. The area under garlic production is reported to have doubled this year.

Leery of the agitation gaining ground, the state government has set up five procurement centres in Kota under the Rajasthan State Co-Operative Marketing Federation to purchase garlic at the minimum support price of Rs 3,200 per quintal until July 12.

The nationwide agitation took a violent with the death of five farmers in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh on June 6. (Credit: PTI)
The nationwide agitation took a violent with the death of five farmers in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh on June 6. (Credit: PTI)

Uttar Pradesh

This is the state that is thought to have set off the nationwide protests after Chief Minister Adityanath fulfilled the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign promise of farm loan waivers in April. However, farmers in the west, particularly on the Haryana border, remain disgruntled because of low potato prices and have begun to protest. The government has procured only 1,000 tonnes of the crop instead of the promised one lakh tonnes, a Times Now report quoted a representative of the Rashtriya Lok Dal as saying.

Assam

Potato farmers in Assam could not recover their costs this summer, the Telegraph reported. Prices collapsed to Rs 2 to Rs 3 per kg in a year when low rainfall in the winter led to a bumper harvest. The lack of cold storage facilities left farmers with no option but to sell their potatoes at the low prices. Many of them reportedly dumped their produce on the highway in Barnet district in protest.

Meanwhile, adulterated seeds affected the paddy harvest, reported the Assam Tribune. Heavy rain and hailstorms in April, when the paddy matures, added to the losses.

Jharkhand

Hoping to stave off protests, the Jharkhand government has promised to give loans at interest rates of 1% to all farmers, provided they repay the loans on time. Farmers in the state are furious because the National Federation of Farmers’ Procurement, Processing and Retailing Cooperatives of India, hired by the state government to procure paddy in 2016, is still to clear dues amounting to Rs 28 crores.

Further affecting farmers’ liquidity, at least 16,000 krishak mitral or agricultural consultants, who serve as links between the state’s agriculture department and farmers, went on strike for a week in May to demand a better honorarium at a time when farmers needed to buy seeds for the next sowing period.

Gujarat

Like the other states, Gujarat, too, has seen a fall in prices for major crops that had bumper harvests. Groundnut prices in the market, a report in The Hindu said, are below the minimum support price, at Rs 552 for 20 kg against the promised government rate of Rs 844. The prices for cotton and pulse are also low, though they have not yet dropped below the minimum support price.

There have been other signs of unrest in the state. Soon after the Central government’s demonetisation decision, farmers in the state dumped milk and vegetables on the streets of Surat and Anand to protest the exclusion of cooperative banks from collecting old notes.

More recently, in June, farmers flooded state agriculture minister Babubhai Bokhiria with phone calls seeking advice on what crops to sow, after the head of the Congress’ information technology cell put up his personal number on Facebook and asked farmers to call him. Last year, Bokhiria was alleged to have asked a farmer during a telephone conversation, which was later made public, if he had asked him before sowing groundnuts.

Madhya Pradesh

While the farmers’ agitation began in Maharashtra, it was in Madhya Pradesh that it turned violent with the death of five protesting farmers in police firing in the western district of Mandsaur on June 6.

Farmers here, as in the other states, have seen a series of bumper harvests but without the prices to match in the market. Rates for soyabean, the main crop in the region, have been depressed for almost two years. Wheat, onions, potatoes, fenugreek and ajwain have also not sold well. Al of this triggered anger and a 10-day protest as farmers across the state refused to take their produce to any market.

Chhattisgarh

Farmers in Chhattisgarh want the state government to fulfil its election promises by increasing the minimum support price for paddy to Rs 2,100 per quintal and by paying a bonus of Rs 300 per quintal on procured rice.

In January, farmers in Raipur distributed one lakh kilograms of vegetables for free to protest low prices for their crops post-demonetisation. The following month, the government promised to build more cold storage facilities – but nothing has come of this assurance so far. On June 12, Chief Minister Raman Singh also promised to issue interest-free agricultural loans worth Rs 3,200 crores in the coming year.

Odisha

The latest to join the nationwide stir, farmers in this state took to the streets in protest on Thursday. Their anger seems to be centred around the paddy crop. Paddy procurement for the rabi season has stopped in Kalahandi after custom millers went on strike for three days to protest the state government’s decision on June 12 to stop paying them handling charges of Rs 4 per quintal, reported The New Indian Express. The government has yet to procure two lakh quintals of paddy.

Farmers dump milk and vegetables in Parbhani, Maharashtra. (Credit: PTI)
Farmers dump milk and vegetables in Parbhani, Maharashtra. (Credit: PTI)

Maharashtra

The agitation in the western state that seems to have inspired agrarian groups across the country to follow suit began with a call to farmers to boycott all agricultural produce markets in the state until the government announced a loan waiver.

Their distress came on the back of a bumper harvest after at least two drought years in the state’s western regions. After demonetisation affected the prices of onions and tomatoes, tur dal is now selling at rates below the minimum support price. Major kharif crops such as soyabean, sugarcane and cotton are also not fetching good rates in the market.

Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka

In April, chilli farmers in Telangana’s Khammam district burnt their crops to protest low prices after a bumper harvest. The state has had a bumper tur dal harvest as well.

In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, tobacco farmers boycotted auctions on June 12 to protest the imposition of goods and service tax on their produce, which they fear will lead to lower prices.

But instead of conciliatory action, the governments in the two states have responded by cracking down on the farmer protests and any other show of dissent, the Hindustan Times reported.

Meanwhile, Karnataka saw farmer protests in March after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s budget denied them a loan waiver. The state’s northern areas have been affected by drought for six cropping seasons now.

Tamil Nadu

Farmers from this southern state have perhaps been protesting the longest. In March, their representatives traveled to Delhi and held a 40-day protest at Jantar Mantar in dramatic fashion – eating dead rats, stripping, sitting with the skulls of deceased farmers. Their main demand was compensation for paddy crops damaged by the drought – which is said to be the worst Tamil Nadu has seen in 140 years. Crops in 50 lakh acres are estimated to have been destroyed due to record low rainfall.

Tamil Nadu farmers protest in Jantar Mantar, Delhi, in March-April. (Credit: Sajjad Hussain / AFP)
Tamil Nadu farmers protest in Jantar Mantar, Delhi, in March-April. (Credit: Sajjad Hussain / AFP)
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