Subsidies and debt waivers cannot resolve the agrarian crisis, according to a study by the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE). The study ‘Agrarian distress: Why Vidarbha and Marathwada alone’, which aims to identify the causes behind the farm crisis in these regions, says top priority should be given to watershed strategies while planning mitigation measures.
The researchers say as Marathwada is a water-stressed region with many districts receiving less than half of normal rainfall, top priority should be accorded to watershed strategies and water-saving technologies to effectively deal with the problem.
Maharashtra records the most number of suicides among farmers, mostly in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions. Statistically, suicides per lakh hectare of net sown area is 26.35 in Vidarbha and Marathwada. For the rest of Maharashtra, the corresponding figure is 7.25.
“Our main aim was to identify the causes of distress among the farmers in Vidarbha and Marathwada,” Sangeeta Shroff, Professor at the GIPE, told The Indian Express. The study has been published in the peer-reviewed Artha Vijnana, a quarterly journal of the GIPE.
In 2016, Vidarbha and Marathwada together accounted for 73.86 per cent of suicides among farmers in the state.
Shroff along with researchers Jayanti Kajale and Prashant Bansode collected primary data from 50 households, which had reported suicides in 2015-16, on various issues such as cropping pattern, cost of cultivation, sale price of produce and extent of indebtedness. “Besides agriculture we also looked at income from other sources,” Shroff said.
The cropping pattern of these households showed that soyabean and cotton were the major crops and constituted 62.78 per cent of their gross cropped area. Taking together both kharif and rabi foodgrains, they constituted 33.63 per cent of gross cropped area with cereals constituting 20.40 per cent and pulses 13.23 per cent of the area. Some farmers cultivated horticultural crops.
Net returns to farmers indicated farming was unremunerative and unviable.
Farmers made losses from all crops except gram and horticultural crops. Maximum loss was from kharif jowar followed by bajra. Looking across all crops, the net returns were negative: Rs 27,301 per acre and Rs 32,716 per household, the study says.
“Agriculture has become a risky economic activity and crop failures due to consecutive droughts with low prices make farmers defaulters in the credit market,” Shroff said.
Researchers analysed the credit status of the 50 households and found that besides borrowing from formal sources, they also took loans from non-institutional sources, forced to do so because of crop failures.
For instance, in Marathwada, unseasonal rains and hailstorm in February-March 2014 damaged crops like rabi, jowar, wheat, gram and vegetables. There were dry spells in September 2014 when farmers lost 0.4 per cent of the area under soyabean. In 2015-16 there was deficit rainfall and farmers were unable to feed cattle. Suicides in Marathwada increased from 15.97 per cent in 2013 to 35.1 per cent in 2015.
“In case the crop was insured the amount received was not enough to repay the loans,” Shroff said.