Tulsamma was on the threshold of marriage. Her brothers had planned a
grand wedding for her if they got a good yield of groundnut from their
five-acre plot in Marur village. They had taken an additional eight
acres on lease. That was when the bud-necrosis disease attacked their
crop and devastated it.
overheard her brothers articulating their concerns to their mother --
stuff like, how would they now find the money to get her married? Their
debts already exceeded Rs one lakh and the private money-lenders, whom
many farmers are forced to turn to because of the red tape and
corruption involved in getting institutional loans, were pursuing them
did not want to be a burden on her family. She knew her brothers had
collected the monocrotophos that the government liberally dumped on the
district in a classic case of locking the stable door after the horse
had bolted. On September 15, when her brothers were away, the sensitive
girl swallowed some of the pesticide and died.
crop losses have left us in a financial crisis. This year we were hoping
for a bumper crop. But the pest dashed all our hopes and now our sister
is dead," said a heartbroken Venkataram to Humanscape.
owns three acres of land but, due to adverse seasonal conditions, as
well as pests, she lost her groundnut crop four years consecutively.
"We have incurred a total debt of Rs 30,000 to raise crops for the
past three seasons. We could manage only two meals a day and the latest
crop failure devastated my mother. She could not face the money-lenders
anymore," says Padmamma's son Chidambara Reddy.
owned six acres of land and my husband had accrued debts to the tune of
Rs one lakh, including loans taken from the local Syndicate Bank as well
as the Co-operative Credit Society. He had high hopes of a good crop, as
weather conditions were conducive, and was hoping to pay at least the
interest on the loans he had taken," says Lakshammam, wife of Bandi
Narasimhulu. Bandi Narasimhulu was the first person in Anantapur
district to resort to suicide as a way out of his indebtedness caused by
crop failure. Ramanajaneyulu, 40, of Yerraguntlapalli village in
Tadipatri mandal consumed pesticide and died a few hours later.
According to his father, Ramakrishna, Ramanajaneyulu had run up debts of
nearly Rs one lakh over the past four years.
the village economy in a shambles due to four years' consecutive crop
failure in Anantapur district -- one of the most backward districts in
Andhra Pradesh's Rayalseema region -- this so-called `suicide syndrome'
amongst the debt-ridden groundnut farmers is becoming commonplace. As
was the case three years ago, among the cotton cultivators of Warangal
district. Between September 15 and October 1, as many as 20 people,
including seven women and three children, committed suicide after
consuming monocrotophos, a pesticide liberally supplied by the
government when bud-necrosis had all but ravaged the substantial
groundnut crop in the district.
Unlike in the Warangal case, where Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu
visited the victims' families and announced an ex-gratia of Rs one lakh
to each of the victims of the `cotton suicide syndrome' (official
estimate: 162; unofficial: 350), in this case the state government has
taken a tough and insensitive stand. Minister for agriculture Vadde
Shobanadreeswara Rao said that the government would not pay ex-gratia to
the victims' families, as it would encourage others to take their own
lives. In all fairness, it must be stated here that during the `cotton
suicide syndrome' at least one so-called `victim' was found with
pesticide stuffed down his throat. Impoverished family members had
resorted to this desperate measure in order to get compensation from a
government that had done nothing to help when pests ravaged their crop.
the latest spate of suicides was a result of several factors, crop
failure seems to be the main one. The economic conditions of the farming
community of this drought-prone district have been worsening year after
year due to successive crop failure. This has led to unrest and
frustration among the farmers.
Anantapur, which receives only 52 cm of rainfall per year, ranks second
from the bottom after Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. This summer, Anantapur was
in the grip of a drought, like that other backward district in the
state, Mahbubnagar. The economy of this region is based on rain-fed
agriculture; just seven per cent of cultivated land is under assured
irrigation. About 90 per cent of the dry land (roughly 20 lakh acres) is
cultivated with groundnut mono-crop between the months of July and
November. Frequent droughts, resulting in crop failure, have increased
the debt burden of the farmers to such an extent that even big farmers
have been driven below the poverty line.
impoverished farmers have long realised that the diversion of water from
surplus areas is the only solution to their problem. They are demanding
water for their lands instead of government handouts during crises, such
as input subsidies and, as happened this time, gallons of pesticide.
Ninety per cent of the district's population subsists on agriculture.
There are no other alternative employment-generating programmes.
Agriculture itself cannot support such a high population on a full-time
basis, while non-farm employment opportunities barely exist in the
district. The present development response of the government and the NGO
sector, therefore, is piecemeal and lacks vision.
more proactive response is what is required for this drought-prone
district, with the twin problems of poverty and drought treated both on
a short-term and on a long-term basis. The lack of such a holistic
approach, by a government which claims to have a Vision-2020 document as
its blueprint for the future, has given rise to a feeling of frustration
and anger among the people. Irate farmers have vented their anger at
officials and, at the slightest provocation, have even turned violent.
incident that took place in Tadimarri village recently, clearly
illustrates the militancy building up among the farmers whose anger was
further fuelled by discrimination in the payment of insurance claims for
last year's kharif crop. Several hundred farmers first attacked and
ransacked the Mandal Revenue Office and the Mandal Praja Parishad Office
at Tadimarri village, about 30 km from Anantapur. They then went to the
Gram Panchayat Office where boxes of pesticide were stored for free
distribution and set them on fire. As the stocks blazed, Marineni
Ramanna, a 55-year-old farmer, slipped and fell into the inferno. He
succumbed to his burns two hours later at the government hospital.
farmers were incensed about the fact that while some had been given upto
79 per cent of the compensation (Rs 10,000 per acre is the amount),
others were given as little as 0.18 per cent. The amount varied from
mandal to mandal; in fact, only 45 of the 63 mandals had been covered
till then. Incidentally, environmentalists had warned against the
spraying of pesticides at this stage, as the crop, which was spread over
19 lakh acres of the district, was beyond being salvaged.
bud-necrosis disease, which normally affects around one to three per
cent of the crop, this year affected 30 per cent. By the time it was
discovered it was too late to do anything -- the thrips virus had become
virulent. Scientists at ICRISAT and AP Agriculture University told the
government that spraying the crop with pesticide would be useless as it
was over 45 days old. Several voluntary organisations also faxed a
letter to the chief minister from Anantapur, on September 17, suggesting
that the distribution of pesticides be stopped. Apart from not being
able to save the crop, the pesticide would only endanger the
from the voluntary organisations met district collector Somesh Kumar who
informed them that 1.5 lakh litres, as against six lakh litres, of
monocrotophos had already been distributed. Finally, Chief Minister
Chandrababu Naidu himself conceded, in the Andhra Pradesh legislative
assembly, that the spraying of pesticides would not control the
bud-necrosis and that it could spread to the unaffected crops causing
further damage. Naidu admitted that 2.4 lakh acres of crop were affected
in the Anantapur district, with a few incidences of the disease reported
from the districts of Kurnool and Chittoor.
devastation has painfully brought to light the price the farmers had to
pay when officials, who were supposed to be working alongside them in
the fields, were busy in development activities as part of the Mahila
Janmabhoomi programme conducted in the first week of August. Janmabhoomi
is a community-development programme started three years ago by Naidu,
in the state. The agriculture department has a sanctioned strength of
2,000 agriculture officers though only 1,300 posts have been filled. And
nearly all the officers, during three critical weeks in the groundnut
crop's cycle, were busy preparing, organising and reporting on the
Mahila Janmabhoomi. Despite this being brought to the notice of the
state cabinet, the minister made participation compulsory.
has so far been a minor disease in the state. Even the agriculture
scientists were quite unprepared for the scale of the attack," an
agriculture official told Humanscape. Ironically, although individual
farmers may have been wiped out financially, as far as the average yield
is concerned it is expected to remain the same as that of last year.
"This is because, this year, against the normal 1,000 kg per
hectare, the expectations were that the farmers would get 2,500 kg. Even
if the losses are taken into consideration, the farmers should still be
getting the normal yield," the official claims. For the next year,
the officials hope to encourage farmers to plant bajra and jowar along
with the groundnut, as inter-crops, as they act as natural repellents of
K Gopal Iyer of the department of sociology, Punjab University,
Chandigarh, who was in Anantapur on October 4 and 5, at the instance of
the central government, told Humanscape that he saw the cause of the
suicides as deep-rooted frustration coupled with humiliation arising
from ever-increasing debt in the rural areas. This has largely been the
result of crop failure, a consumerist culture that has propelled farmers
to switch to commercial crops, mainly groundnut, lack of non-farm
employment opportunities and exploitation by money-lenders.
excessive dependence on agriculture and lack of alternative employment
for the rest of the year are also cited as major reasons for the farmer
unrest and frustration. Rescheduling crop loans, at the time of crop
failure, is of no help to either the farmer or the banker as it simply
postpones the inevitable and increases the debt burden. Dr Iyer's advice
was that farmers should think about alternative crops to replace the
mono-crop groundnut, at least on a minimum area of 30 per cent.
According to him, all these problems would persist unless irrigation
potential in the Anantapur district was created.
(The Transforming Word)
Lionel Messias is a journalist based in Hyderabad.