“Farming will come to end in this region in next five to six years. There is no groundwater left,” says 32-year-old Mangi Lal. He is one among the young farmers from Marwar’s Chandaliya village, currently farming on 43 Bigahs of land with production crossing hundreds of quintals—but that will grind to a halt soon. “Even at 800 feet, the water is salty, and there is no guaranteed water at that depth. The farmers in Mathaniya village and nearby areas [of Osian Tehsil of Jodhpur district] have either left farming or shifted to some other villages, kilometres away.”
Mangi is not alone, and the dearth of irrigation water is not their only concern.
The farmers in the Marwar region of Rajasthan are an intensely hardworking lot. Despite the scarcity of water and shortage of rainfall, their yields range between hundreds to thousands of quintals. In this belt, the farmers produce peanuts, moong dal and even cotton. The saga of two more crops—onion and garlic—tells how political apathy is forcing thousands of farmers to stop producing the crops they are good at.
Jodhpur has been a fierce battleground between the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party and the surging Congress party. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi have addressed big rallies in Jodhpur. Both spoke about farmers. One put out the stats, the other promised a loan waiver in 10 days. However, the farmers say neither Modi nor Gandhi had even a minute to speak about the real issues facing big and small farmers of this region.
Tuesday was the last day for farmers like Mangi to submit their peanut yields with the cooperative to get the Minimum Support Price (MSP) decided by the government. The MSP for peanuts is ₹48.90 per kilogram. In the market, they’ll have to sell it for anything ranging between ₹36 to ₹42 per kg. That’s a loss of at least ₹12 to ₹6 per kg of the yield.
So what’s making the farmers of Rajasthan—and particularly this region—sell their yields in the open market and incur losses per kilogram of production?
Subash Bishnoi, 30, of Bhikamkor village is a big-scale farmer. He explains: “Not a single farmer here, big or small, can sell their yields to the government beyond 25 quintals. I have several hundred quintals of yields. What options do I have other selling the rest in the open market and incur losses?” Bishnoi had to plead with cooperative officials to get his peanut stock weighed. “As per my estimate, per quintal cost of peanuts would be ₹5,000. The MSP is ₹4,890 per quintal.”
Notably, Bishnoi had to travel 70 kilometres with his harvest to Mathaniya Mandi in Osian Tehsil.
The farmers of the region blame Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s pet project —Bhamashah Yojana—for their plight. According to them, under the scheme, only 25 quintals of peanut yields are accepted by the government at the MSP. For those like Mangi Lal, the situation becomes even more critical. “My brother and I do farming on three plots: a total of 43 Bigahs of land. Each of them is registered in my parents’ name. Now the Bhamashah cards have been issued in my father’s name and irrespective of the fact that there are three dependents, we can only sell 25 quintals of peanuts.”
This brings him into the trap of a loan cycle. In 2014, Mangi had loans under Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) of ₹4 lakh. Four years later, it shot up to ₹18 lakh. This is when he had been a successful farmer.
Mano Ram Bishnoi, a 31-year-old farmer, puts it straight: “Raje ki Bhamashah yojna kisano ke gale ka faans ban gai hai (Raje’s Bhamashah cards have become a noose for farmers).”
Babulal Takhad, 46, says the elections are two days away but not a single party has spoken about area-specific agrarian issues. Whether it’s Modi or anyone else, he says all their speeches are like a tape-recorded promise. “Play it in any part of the country, it will sound the same. How does that even address our issues?” PM Modi addressed a rally in Jodhpur on December 3 in support of the BJP candidates.
Takhad says, “Modi had promised in the last election that he will bring water in this region through the canal. Five years are over, where is the project? He took our votes promising that rivers will be connected. Where is it?”
Farmers such Fateh Singh suggest that the concept of forced insurance on agrarian loans be done away with. “This is a nexus between the banks and government employees, and the apathy of governments make it worse. The farmers are forced to pay a premium of five per cent on the loan. The state and Central governments pay 12 per cent each. When it comes to insurance repayment, they rarely to do it in two-three years and the amount is as low as ₹20,000.” He says despite the insurance company representatives recording 80 per cent loss share, the repayment was next to nothing.
Nirmal Parihar’s story explains how the lack of political will can break the backbones of strong and hardworking farmers. At 35, Parihar is a man of strong determination. He uses a smartphone and email for important official communications. When farming became impossible in Mathaniya, he bought 30 Bigahs of land 80 kilometres away, in Bapini village, and then took another 150 Bigahs with three tubewells on lease. “My average harvest per tubewell is 100 to 125 quintals,” Parihar says.
He grows peanuts, moong dal and garlic. The losses for peanut is still being counted. In the last season of moong dal, his harvest was 80 quintals of which 25 quintals was accepted under the MSP and the rest he had to sell in the open market. “The MSP for moong dal was ₹69.75 per kg and the market price is ₹50 to ₹52 per kg.” One can calculate what he had to go through because of the government’s policies.
The real story is of the garlic menace in the region. Parihar had 500 quintals of garlic yields. Three hundred quintals have been sold in the open market already. The market offers him ₹2 per kg. The stock of 200 quintals is still lying in his farmhouse and out of desperation, he is ready to even sell it for ₹1.5 per kg. Why? “Even if I sell it at ₹2 per kg, I will have to bear the transportation cost. If someone can pick it up from my farmhouse, I will sell the stock of 200 quintals of garlic at ₹1.5 per kg. ” Compare this to the price of garlic in a supermarket to calculate just how little farmers receive.
At that price, farmers like Parihar won’t be able to recover a penny invested in farming. It would, to an extent, only cover the cost of cutting garlic from the fields.
“The government is forcing us to stop the agriculture of onions and garlic. I have already stopped the production of onion and will reduce garlic from this season,” says 23-year-old Mehendra Punia. A staunch BJP supporter, Punia still points out problems with the party’s politics as it doesn’t address their local issues. His suggestion is, “With loan waivers, you can resolve the farmers’ issue only once. Give us the right MSP and acquire our stock, then you won’t need to offer loan waivers for farmers of this region.”
Punia takes this correspondent to his farm to show the stock of garlic still lying with him. He said there are no warehouses or cold storage facilities nearby, which means the only way to store garlic is through tradition formulas. “I can save the garlic for another month. After this, the entire lot will on back in the farms—at least it will be used as fertiliser.”
The list of issues is long. Jasraj Tak, a garlic trader, says even if farmers in this region try their best, they won’t get the right price for their yields. “The crop of this area cannot compete with the Kota region garlic and Nasik’s onion. Our farmers produce good quality onion, but it cannot stay for longer compared Nasik, which is exported. Our garlic produce looks way smaller than Kota’s.” He says what they need is “closer Mandis, processing units and cold storage in this belt”.
Mathaniya Mandi Cooperative’s in-charge, Rajendra Sharma, points out that for the first time in the last 32 years of his career, the government acquired garlic from farmers offering MSP. “The government is yet to acquire onion in this region. As per their policy, the diameter of the onion should be 1 cm at least.” Sharma adds that only 10 per cent of the region’s garlic yields was acquired at the Mandi.
However, there is little or no hope from the political leadership. Despite the fact that Congress’s Ashok Gehlot belongs to the region and wields a stronghold, he has failed to make this a poll issue, or maybe didn’t think that was required. “They march for farmers and meet those who commit suicide in other parts of the state but don’t fight for us. The farmers in this region don’t commit suicide but losses are getting higher,” Mangi said.
The threat of no viability of farming continues to increase with every passing year in this region as the water crisis intensifies. The present government policies and lack of agrarian infrastructure make it worse.
“Who else, the government is responsible for this state of farmers,” said Kheta Ram Punia, 55. He proudly claims that in the entire state of Rajasthan, he is the biggest cultivating farmer. And yet his response to the present state of affairs is: “I have stopped onion production. I will reduce my garlic production as well. I have 2,000 quintals of garlic stock left. Next month, I will run a tractor over them. That would be cheaper than transporting it to Mandis and throwing it away for free.”