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Farmers across South Asia up in arms

Jun 05, 2018

The sight of Indian farmers spilling their produce on highways might be an unusual one, but the farm crisis spreads across much of the region.

Rising farm costs and a pittance for their produce, often delayed are manifesting in unusual ways across South Asia. Farmers in India have taken to the streets, a farmers’ strike, they call it – refusing to send their produce to the marketplace.

Farmers in Pakistan too are out on the streets and in Afghanistan, they have resorted to farming opium, arguing that the price they get for producing food is way too bleak.

In Nepal, farmers have put padlocks on the gate of a sugar mill for failing pay them their dues.

The latest farmers’ strike in India comes as suicides by debt-ridden farmers have failed to move planners, policy makers and politicians alike. The promise of the impending monsoon being a good one has not helped assuage grievances as farmers feel that what is due to them instead is appropriated by elites and agro-business middlemen. Farmers also complain of being untouched by a plethora of benefits and the various schemes announced by the government.

It does not matter if the government has introduced new reforms such as promotion of digital governance, trade and connectivity in whole sale markets along with crop insurance programmes.

Galloping farmer indebtedness is traced to a number of factors, mainly farmers being paid a fraction of their input costs and state-run banks refusing them loansand their consequent dependence on moneylenders (who charge as high as a 60 per cent annual interest).

As the Hindustan Times newspaper says, “It is not very difficult to understand why they are doing this. India’s agricultural sector has been on a proverbial wild goose chase in trying to find a solution to its systemic crisis. Our ruling establishment, both the current and previous ones, has only sold promises, reports and occasional palliatives such as loan waivers to the farmers.”

Elsewhere in South Asia, the United Nations is concerned about Afghanistan becoming a haven for opium which has the support of smugglers and gun-runners alike. Farmers, on the other hand, argue they lack money to pay for food for the family – this is accentuated by a worsening economy and poor security. They have switched to cultivating opium after a long gap of time. (A Reuters report highlighted Afghanistan narcotics trade to the tune of some US $ 3 billion.)

In Nepal, there have been protests against the Everest Sugar Mills because the Mill did not pay farmers for the crop. Delayed payments by the mill owners have impacted 25,000 farmers in the districts of Mahottari, Sarlahi and Dhanusha in the food-producing southern Terai plains, according to the Kathmandu Post newspaper.

According to an agreement reached between the farmers and the sugar mills, the farmers should have received the payment in 30-40 days of them delivering their produce to the mill, but the company failed to pay up for over 125 days, making farmers vulnerable to financial risks.

This has also led to sugar manufacturers questioning India’s role in this regard as government has given allowance to Indian sugar imports, adversely affecting the market. According to the Kathmandu Post, the company has borrowed about US $ 550 million from the Nepal Bank and Rashtriya Banjiya Bank to ensure that farmers receive their dues and is finding it tough to manage its finances.

Pakistan's farmers seem to follow their brethren across their international border with India. The Kisan Board Khyber Pakhtunkhwa President, Rizwanullah Khan, has also threatened to bring farmers and stage a sit-in in Peshawar if the farmers’ demands for fair and timely remuneration was not accepted amicably.

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