Agri Business

Price crash pushes sericulture farmers towards suicide

Vishwanath Kulkarni Bengaluru | Updated on January 23, 2018

Red, red silk: A view of Chandrikes, the make-shift platforms made from bamboo and coconut leaves on which the silk worms are placed to form cocoons, in the interiors of Channapatna taluk in Ramanagara district, Karnataka. GRN SOMASHEKAR

Raw silk duty cut triggers sharp fall

Unable to deal with mounting debts amidst diminishing returns from his three-acre farm, Siddaramu, a sericulture farmer in his mid-fifties at Abburdoddi near Channapatna, committed suicide recently in his silkworm rearing house.

The trigger for this unfortunate incident was the crash in silk cocoon prices and the issuance of recovery notice by the bank, says Chandramma, his wife.

Other crops too failed

Siddaramu, like many other small and mid-sized farmers in the region, practiced multi-cropping, and to his bad luck the alternative crops such as maize and coconut have also suffered in recent years.

While mite infestation and declining water levels have hit the coconut plantations, maize prices have been bearish over past couple of years on excess supplies. “He had raised about ₹3 lakh as loan from the bank, part of which was used for sinking a borewell that failed. Also, a couple of lakhs were raised through hand loans,” said Chandramma.

Siddaramu’s suicide is not an isolated case of small farmers succumbing to the growing financial distress in the region. In neighbouring Mandya, the sugar bowl of South Karnataka, over three dozen farmers, some of whom practiced sericulture have taken to committing suicide, which has reached epidemic proportions in the State.

“Ten of the 11 farmers who committed suicide in Ramanagara district in recent months practiced sericulture,” said C Puttaswamy, a farmer leader. “The situation is very grave. The Government should formulate both short and long term measures to protect the silk worm growers,” said Puttaswamy, an office bearer of Reshme Belagarara Hitarakshana Samiti.

Troubles for the sericulture farmers started intensifying over past three months ever since the Centre reduced the customs duty on raw silk imports to 10 per cent from the earlier 15 per cent, after which prices of both cocoons and the domestically produced raw silk have crashed.

Customs duty cut

Prices of the cross breed (CB) cocoons have dropped from an average of ₹267 per kg in April to around ₹148 in May only to recover later to ₹226 in early August, while the bivoltine variety have slumped from an average of ₹311 to around ₹237 in the same period.

The minimum price for CB variety fell to as low as ₹120/kg. In 2014-15, the average price for CB stood at Rs 274, while for bivoltine it was Rs 285 a kg.

Growers say the prices are much below the production cost estimated between ₹265 and ₹350, depending on the variety.

State's support price

Following a spate of protests and highway blockages by the silkworm rearers across key producing regions, the Karnataka government intervened and announced a support of ₹30 a kg over and above the auction price for the cross breed cocoon, while for the superior bivoltine variety, the support price has been fixed at ₹50.

Also, the State has set up a technical expert committee to study the current crisis, fix the cost of production for cocoons and recommend measures for the revival and stability of the sector.

The committee is expected to submit its report soon. Karnataka accounts for about two thirds of the raw silk produced in the country.

“The Centre should immediately restore the customs duty to 15 per cent and set up a revolving fund of ₹500 crore to intervene as and when the price falls below a threshold,” said C Narayanaswami, Chairman of Silk Association of India, an outfit representing the entire chain of growers and reelers.

Farmers switch over

Dejected over the recent price crash, farmers are not keen in continuing with sericulture and are looking at alternatives such as vegetables.

There have been stray instances of farmers uprooting mulberry plantations across the key growing districts of Kolar, Ramanagaram and even Chikkaballapur .

Published on August 03, 2015

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