Mar 1, 2011 – Just 22 kilometres from the IT-driven city of Hyderabad, in village Ghamigoda, mandal Shamshabad, district Ranga Reddy, in Andhra Pradesh, lives Satyanarayan Goud. I was visiting Hyderabad to speak at a national congress of the seed industry but took the opportunity to meet fellow farmers in and around the region. The Satyanarayan Goud encounter was as interesting as it was educative. The meagre farm was colourful for there were chrysanthemums in full bloom in a chilly February morning; a striking yellow against the bright morning sun.
Satyanarayan Goud is, of course, a small farmer. What else could he be with just three-fourths of an acre of land? What else could he be – the child of India’s accursed fragmented holdings? Satyanarayan was one of the four brothers whose father owned three acres of land in Ghamigoda. As was customary, the land passed on to the four sons and all that Satyanarayan’s inheritance came up to was three fourths of an acre. That he farms on; happily raising his family of wife and three sons: Parsad, Praveen and Prakash. They go to school, in class 11, 9 and 6 respectively. Circumstances are difficult and inflation is killing, but he must educate his sons for they have no future in agriculture.
Farms sans a future
That is not the story though. The story is that within a span of two generations one family would have divided into 11 families and so would its land. One recalls the late Sanjay Gandhi making abortive attempts to change this hapless state of affairs. He failed because – as is typical with such transformative ideas – the people for whom they are meant are never consulted nor even taken into confidence. Typically again, such ideas are rejected outright without any meaningful dialogue around the merits or demerits. Never mind that the issue of fragmentation has been addressed globally by legislation in many countries that agriculture land may only be inherited by one child.
In India, where there is no such provision, obtain situations like Satyanarayan’s. He realises that the inheritance is more of a bane than a boon and wants his children to be educated and employed in sectors as far removed from agriculture as possible. His children take a bus to school some six or seven kilometres away. Satyanarayan is very particular: it is not to a government school where teachers are conspicuous by their absence that his sons go to. Even though he can ill-afford it, he pinches every penny to provide private schooling for his boys: at an exorbitant Rs 400 per child per month.
Parsad studies commerce, civics and economics. In the evening and on holidays he works on the farm along with his younger brother Praveen. The youngest, Prakash, is allowed to play with his friends and is not asked to work on the field.
In February, his tomato crop had long been harvested and Satyanarayan was growing chamanti, (chrysanthemum). This is a seasonal flower and cannot brave the Indian summer but makes a fascinating winter picture. I ask what seed he uses and Satyanaryan stares at me in askance. He had never bothered to check the brand of the seed. He was told that it is a hybrid variety and that was good enough for him.
Satyanarayan can grow flowers for half of the year. During weddings or in the festival season the demand for flowers picks up and he gets up to Rs 80 per kg. In the off-season the rate comes down to Rs 25 a kg and he is happy with an average collection of Rs 40 a kg. Flower-bearing plants produce for up to 90 days and are then uprooted and planted in the adjoining plot. His land gives up to 100 kg of flowers per week for three months.
His other crop is palak (spinach) the seeds for which he buys from a nearby shop without ever
caring about the brand name or the seed variety or the company making it. The seeds come in sealed packets and he pays Rs100 for a 500 gram packet. Possibly, the retailer sells him the seed packets from a company that offers the maximum commission on sales.
The first pick of palak comes after 25 days and subsequent harvests every 15 to 18 days for up to 10 times. Around 50 grams of harvested palak are tied with a rubber band to make a bundle (kata) and every five bundles sell for Re 1. Once the palak season is over, Satyanarayan grows tomatoes.
Satyanarayan has a 200-feet, two-inch bore-well for which he gets subsidised electricity supply for seven hours a day at Rs 20 a month. The supply alternates weekly between 10 am and 5 pm and 3 pm and 10 pm. The cost of a borewell is Rs 50,000.
Hyderabad is showcased as the seed valley of India. Yet no agriculture officer has ever visited the farmer; never mind that Satyanarayan’s field is a mere 22 km from Hyderabad. There is absolutely no extension service available to a small holder/producer. Therefore, the benefits of any proposed second Green Revolution will not trickle down to the bottom of the pyramid. He has a water storage tank for which he did not take a loan or get a subsidy; nor does he know if any subsidy is available to make a tank. For fertiliser, he uses Godawari DAP and Nagarjun urea along with cow dung as manure. Thrice every year he buys cow dung for Rs 1,000 per trolley. He uses “Nagali”, a wooden plough, because he cannot afford to buy metal implements. Only the patwari comes once a year to take a report of what is growing in the field.
One gets a fair idea of the plight of the farmer in the hinterland.
On the day of my visit there were university students trying to force their way into the Vidhan
Sabha (Legislative Assembly) in Hyderabad agitating for a separate Telangana state. I asked Prasad if he had considered joining the students in the storming of the Assembly. He said “no”, there is work to be done in the field. That, to my mind, reflected the difference between a small holder/producer and a large one. The small holder/farmer is barely keeping his head above water.
Not for him the freedom to agitate; nor for him the freedom to take a loan. Indeed, Satyanarayan has never taken a crop loan because he strongly feels that once a farmer takes a crop loan, there is no way he will be able to come out of the cycle of indebtedness. To survive thereafter he must take loans for his entire life. Instead, Satyanarayan focuses on savings. He manages to earn some Rs 30,000 a year from his meagre plot, which he believes to be his saving. How does he define ‘savings’? “Total sales minus total value of purchased inputs.” There is no concept of net savings in his calculation. Nor with the calculations of the Commission of Cost and Price on Agriculture perhaps!
The Commission of Cost and Price on Agriculture (CACP) has the onerous mandate of recommending a minimum support price to the government, after due consideration of the interests of both the farmer and the consumer. It must base its recommendation on data collected. Sometimes the collectors do not even get the value of agriculture inputs right, let alone calculate the cost of other factors correctly. Many mandarins in the agriculture ministry and some even at the Planning Commission are no better at deriving the cost of cultivating a crop than the poorly-informed Satyanarayan. The CACP has let the farmers down at every step, but that is another horror story waiting to be told.
The family has a ration card and gets 20 kg of rice every month at Rs 2 per kg. It also gets two litres of kerosene for cooking and a litre of meetha tel (cooking oil) at Rs 38 a litre. Besides, it gets half a kilogramme of dal (lentils) for Rs 30 and half a kilogramme of sugar for Rs 13. The rest of his requirements are sourced from the market unlike the more fortunate farmer from the north. Satyanarayan thanks the late N. T. Rama Rao for having started this subsidized food, but he buys milk from the market at Rs 20 per litre. His family does only commercial agriculture and he sells whatever he produces. He cannot afford to grow any crop for self-consumption and would rather consume the food sold at subsidised rates by the government to below poverty line families. To him, that makes economic sense. Therefore, everything to be consumed at home has to be purchased.
One is left aghast: who and what is the government subsidising? Is the government subsidising the farmer or is the farmer subsidising the nation?