Bengaluru: The harsh drought conditions have severely affected the lives of many farmers in the country, leaving them with little choice but to part with their valuable possessions. The buzzing bullock market of Raichur district in North Karnataka shows the clear picture of their plight.
Hundreds of bullocks tied to flat, hot rocks on display in the market, thousands of farmers jostling for space; many cool off with watery buttermilk and others with ice-candy. Most sit next to the bullocks for the shade that the bodies of the animals provide from the scorching sun and wait for prospect customers.
Others walk around, confidently inspecting the “stocks” in the market, they lift their tail, inspect the damage to the hooves and even confidently ask questions and the asking price. Go closer and potter about in the market for a little over 30 minutes and you’d realise that no one is really buying. The ones inspecting are either just getting a sense of the market or killing time.
About two weeks ago, 40 year-old Ramesh Chalwadi from a small village named Dinni spent Rs. 1,500 on transport and took his pair of bullocks to the market. This was his second attempt at selling his bullocks. The first time around as well, he returned with the bullocks in toe because the price of Rs. 40,000 being offered by the one off opportunist buyers was exactly half of what he had paid to buy the pair last year. When this team of journalists spoke to him, he had said that he would try his luck at the market again the following week.
Mallikarjun, a farmer from Rampur village, also in Raichur district, was walking away from the market with Rs. 47,000 that he had received after selling his pair of bullocks. He had bought them for Rs. 50,000. The 50 year-old Shittarama, from the same village, was at the market as well, just to get a sense of the price he can fetch for his bullocks.
The common link between Ramesh, Mallikarjun, Shittarama and hundreds of other farmers thronging the market is successive droughts resulting in failed crops and massive debts.
Owner of a 3 acre farm, Ramesh decided to sow BT Cotton in the last season expecting a bumper yield like almost every other farmer in the district expected and even managed to receive in the past few years. He also took up a one acre farm on lease for Rs. 15,000 for the 6 month-long season to grow sunflower.
“Like most other farmers in the region, I took up a loan of Rs. 1 lakh to spend on seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. I didn’t go to a private money lender who would charge a standard interest of three per cent a month (over 36 per cent per annum) on the loan amount. I managed to secure it from Syndicate bank at less than nine per cent an annum,” he says.
The crop, however, failed. As opposed to an expected minimum of about 45 quintals of cotton, Ramesh’s rain-fed farm, yielded only one quintal, which by local market rates would fetch him nothing over Rs. 4, 000.
Considering the gravity of the situation, the Karnataka government has directed the banks and financial institutions to not put pressure on the farmers for repayment. The institutions, however, haven’t paid heed.
“About 15 days back, the bank sent me a notice asking me to repay the loan. I visited the bank a couple of times to speak to the manager, but they keep saying that the official is travelling or on leave or unavailable,” he rues.
Mallikarjun’s jowar crop failed leading to a debt of Rs. 40,000. What added to his worries was the death of two of his bullocks due to heat. “It takes Rs. 300 a day to feed the remaining two. With a failed crop and a debt, it isn't possible to keep them so I sold the pair of bullocks for Rs. 47,000. I had bought them for Rs. 50,000,” he says.
In comparison, Shittarama’s debts are four times higher than Ramesh and Mallikarjun put together. He had sowed jowar in his 20 acre farm and as opposed to a 100 quintal harvest last year, he harvested only 10 quintal. “I have a debt of Rs. 6 lakh and the condition of the village is not good. The water we drink is green in colour despite filtering; 20 people have left the village already and four bullocks have died.”
In a situation like this, the three options in front of Ramesh and almost every other farmer in the district are to sell their land, migrate to a big city and become a labourer or sell their prized pair of bullocks.
The supply in the market is suddenly too high and in a failing rural economy, the demand is too little and consequently the prices are criminally low.
However, with the supply in the market being too high in a failing rural economy leading to low prices, merely selling the cattle is not going to be enough for most farmers to settle their debts and have enough to survive the rest of the season. Migration, selling of land or another debt from a private money lender to gamble on another bumper BT cotton crop next year or a combination of all three is what they are likely to opt for.
The experts, however, predict that the drought situation is only set to worsen and there’s not a doubt that the crops, especially BT cotton, is all set to fail again next year.
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