Farmers from 10 villages near Jharkhand's capital, Ranchi, have written to the government saying if they do not get help, they will be forced to end their lives.
The letter has created quite a stir in the government, as it immediately ordered financial aid be given to these farmers. But the problem is not limited to these 10 villages as Jharkhand’s farmers stare at uncertainty amid the crisis in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.
The crops are rotting in the fields due to the lockdown. There are vegetables ready to be sold, but if they do not get to the market in time, it can cost the farmers their lives.
Plagued by lack of rain and untimely hail, the already perturbed farmers of Jharkhand now have an added concern – a 21-day lockdown.
The Quint spoke to farmers from different corners of Jharkhand to gauge their situation.
The farmers in the Lohardaga region have been troubled for months. Earlier they suffered due to the riots, and now they are suffering due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Gopal Mahato, farmer, Lohardaga district, Jharkhand said:
"“Earlier CAA / NRC riots had damaged coriander and cabbage crops. Now 25 quintals of carrot is getting spoiled due to the lockdown. I took one quintal of cauliflower to the market but there was no one to buy them. Fertilizer is needed for the next crop. I don’t know what to do? I had taken a loan of Rs 5 lakh loan for my son’s education thinking that I’d repay from what I earn from these crops. Now the banks are troubling me.”" - Gopal Mahto, farmer in Lohardaga, Jharkhand
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Baijnath Mahato, who cultivates watermelons on a 35-acre farm in Ormanjhi near Ranchi, says that he is fearing major losses due to the lockdown.
"“There used to be half a dozen haats (market) in our block every day. Due to the lockdown, vegetables are not reaching the haats. The supply of vegetables to other districts and states too has stopped. The watermelon crop is ready, if the lockdown is not lifted on 14 April, everything will be lost.”" - Baijnath Mahato, farmer, Oramanjhi
"“Before the lockdown in Jamshedpur, 15 trucks of potatoes and 5 trucks of onions used to come daily. Now only 5 trucks of potatoes and 1 truck onion comes with great difficulty. 60 vehicles for vegetables used to come every day. About 20 trucks of vegetables used to come from Barkakana Passenger. Since the Railways have suspended trains due to lockdown, vegetables are ferried somehow in 7-8 bolero cars.”" - Raja K Shaw, Market Committee, Jamshedpur
Haladhar Mahato, farmer in Tamar block, says that after 17 March, the consumption of vegetables witnessed a drop and after 20 March, it came to a standstill. Low footfall of traders has left the farmers worried sick.
"“The primary concern among farmers is where to take vegetables from the fields? And if they manage to reach the Bundu Haat early in the morning, who will buy those vegetables? The lockdown had defined time for opening and closing of these haats. Traders wait for the closing time, when the farmers have no choice but to sell at much cheaper rates.”" - Ranjit Modak, Farmer in Bundu
What Is The Government Doing?
We spoke to the officers about the plight of farmers. But the interaction concluded that the entire focus is on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the woes of the farmers is not in their priority.
"“Coronavirus is the biggest problem ahead of us and saving lives is most important. Still we have provided help to small scale farmers. Big farmers can suffer losses for 10 to 20 days. Some haats are being opened. There is cold storage too. We will give a permit to take the watermelon out.”" - Ashok Sinha, District Agricultural Officer, Ranchi
The Quint contacted Rajiv Kumar, Special Secretary, Rural Development Department, Jharkhand, to know the situation of farmers.
He answered saying he is working on the awareness programme for coronavirus while focusing on livelihood, women and children.
This is the situation when Rajiv Kumar is the Director of organic farming. He is also in charge of marketing. Organic farming comes under the Department of Agriculture. Thousands of farmers of Jharkhand are registered under this.
What Is The Solution?
Farming experts in the state say that the farming community in Jharkhand is already upset. Lack of irrigation, lack of rain, middlemen and now lockdown have added insult to injury.
"“Every month, vegetable business worth Rs 160 crore took place in Jharkhand. Earlier hailstorm, lack of rain deteriorated the agricultural situation and now the lockdown is adding to their woes. The government too has failed to deliver their promises’ which is a reason for farmers’ distress. Today, if there were cold storages as the government had promised, the vegetables would have been saved.”" - Prafull Linda, Farmers Federation
Anand Kothari, president of the Jharkhand Agro Chamber, says that "17.84 lakh farmers in Jharkhand have taken a loan of Rs 7,061 crore. According to this, on an average, each farmer owes Rs 39,580. The government has made a provision of only Rs 2000 crores for the loan waiver in the budget. Currently, it is important that there is a debt waiver for farmers."
(This story was first published on The Quint Hindi.)
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