Agri Business

Untimely rain, Bt3 seeds, pest attack leave Telangana’s cotton farmers in tatters

KV Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on November 29, 2017

A small quantities of cotton kept for sale at the Jangaon marketyard in Telangana - Photo: KV Kurmanath

In the sprawling public market yard at Jangaon, Yellavva was the lone cotton farmer who had come to sell her produce. A small farmer, with just a couple of acres, she brought the produce in an auto-trolley, all weighing about two quintals. She sold it to a trader for ₹4,000 a quintal.

Yellavva was the sole farmer at the market because not many turn up at the government facility. “All of them go to private ginning mills where the CCI (Cotton Corporation of India) has set up procurement centres,” the trader says.

While the yard wears a deserted look, farmers make a beeline to private ginning mills that give them quick service so that they can go back home without the uncertainty of whether or not they can sell their produce the same day, at the government marketyard.

“I get nothing much after paying labourers and transport,” Yellavva says.

This is also the fate of thousands of farmers in Telangana. After getting a raw deal last year in other crops, they returned to cotton this year. The cotton acreage crossed a record 46 lakh acres this year in the State against the average acreage of 35 lakh acres.

Hopes dashed

Untimely rain during the picking season, a virulent attack of pink bollworms, and widespread cultivation of Bt3 seeds have left them dejected. Discoloured cotton with high moisture content is barely saleable and rates drop steeply. “Most small and marginal farmers are getting ₹500-600 less than the MSP for every quintal they sell,” said S Malla Reddy, Vice-President of All-India Kisan Sangh (AIKS).

The MSP for cotton for the year has been set at ₹4,320 a quintal (long staple) and ₹4,320 (medium staple).

Malla Reddy alleged that nearly a third of the total area was covered by Bt3 seeds, which were sold illegally in the State. The attack of pink bollworm was virulent as it appears to have developed resistance to the BG-2 technology.

Though there is no immediate official estimate of the extent of the damage, Ravi Kanneganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture said the crop has been damaged in large areas because of this attack. As a result, despite the higher acreage, the cotton output remained almost the same at 30 lakh bales (of 170 kg each) that a normal year gets.

Crop shift

Farmers who suffered heavy losses last year as chilli prices crashed had come back to cotton in a big way. They even cut down on maize and soya areas to shift to cotton, which promised good prospects earlier this year.

Some of them even went for cotton in areas that are not suited for the crop’s cultivation, hoping to ride on the good demand.

Giri Babu, who heads a mutually-aided society run by farmers at Enabavi village near Jangaon, says the expenditure has gone up significantly, leaving farmers with almost nothing after paying for labour.

“The cost of cotton picking is ₹350 per labourer, per day. Besides, you need to hire a trolley to fetch 5-6 labourers from a neighbouring village. That costs an additional ₹700 a day,” he says.

Procurement status

It is estimated that about 60 per cent of the produce has been procured. Small traders are buying cotton from small producers in 1-2 quintals lots, aggregating them to up to 10 quintals to sell to a miller or a bigger trader.

An official of the State’s Marketing Department said that a new initiative by the government has streamlined payments to farmers. “We mandated all payments that happen at the mandis should happen online. We will have the payments directly credited to their bank accounts,” an official said.

But this is little help when there isn’t much to sell.

This is the thirteenth in a series on Farm Distress. The first report appeared on November 16. The previous article in the series appeared on November 29, on the plight of Tamil Nadu farmers.

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Published on November 29, 2017
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