As if the drought which hit Vidarbha's farmers wasn't enough, the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) announcement of the Fair Remunerative Price (FRP) for the region's primary crops : cotton, soyabean, paddy and tur has come as a major shock to farmers who are calling it "neither fair nor remunerative."
CACP has recommended an increase of barely Rs100/quintal for cotton taking it to Rs3,700, Rs360/quintal for soyabean taking it to Rs2,560 and Rs60/quintal for paddy taking it to Rs1,310. It has recommended that tur prices be maintained the same as last year - Rs3,850.
What has added insult to injury for the debt-ridden farmers of suicide country is what they call "an obvious tilt in favour of sugarcane." CACP has raised sugarcane FRP from Rs1,750 last year to Rs2,500 a tonne. "The Western Maharashtra lobby in the state government ensures Vidarbha gets step-motherly treatment. It now seems CACP too is going that way," quipped Kishore Tiwari of the farmers' advocacy group Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti.
The CACP's first makes FRP recommendations in April, following which states send their own recommendations. Based on average country-wide production costs, FRP is announced to ensure prices don't fall lower than that.
Interestingly Maharashtra's agriculture department figures for the cost of production/quintal of cotton is Rs5,900, up from last year's Rs5,268. Yet the FRP being offered is Rs4,000/quintal. Figures for production/quintal for soya (Rs2800), paddy (Rs1500) and tur (Rs4000) too are much higher. Yet, state agricultural secretary Dr Sudhir Goyal insists, "The price being offered to farmers is fair."
While conceding that the farmers were facing hardships, Maharashtra agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil lobbed the ball into the Centre's court. "We've asked the Union government to consider the farmers' demands."
"This FRP is not commensurate with constant inflation over the years, the volatility in fuel and power prices, and steep increase in fertiliser costs, among other inputs, not to mention the minimum wages for farm labourers which have just been increased by the government," explained Tiwari who added, "At current levels the current FRP won't even recover part of the increased production cost."
Farmer groups' leader Sharad Joshi too wondered why the Opposition did not feel like raising this issue once. "Farmers raise loans and put everything they have to gamble against the weather every year do not get enough returns to even break even. Middlemen and traders who do not wager anything keep on getting richer by the year," he lamented.