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  • A winter of discontent for cash-strapped small farmers in Punjab

    Jan 2nd, 2017

    The fertile land of Punjab is lush with the promise of greener harvests to come, but the mood of the State’s cash-strapped farmers is decidedly downbeat. With most small farmers having taken loans against their land, the sharp fall in the prices of perishable vegetables in the wake of demonetisation has put them on slippery ground, unable to recoup even their production cost. The trade in perishable vegetables, such as potatoes, cauliflower, peas and others — all sown in Punjab — was mostly conducted in cash. With demonetisation, all the links in the production chain, including traders and commission agents, have come under stress, bringing down prices sharply. The wrinkles on Parminder Singh’s wizened face appear to deepen as he shares his tragic tale. “Every piece of land you see in front of you is under mortgage. The big farmers, and those who have other businesses (besides farming), are better off, but for us, every single season matters,” he said. Parminder bears an `18 lakh debt burden, a part of which he took on for his son’s education.Tanveer Singh, a young man in his 30s, has decided to take out his potato harvester to prepare the land for the next crop. “It is late in the season. We were hoping that potato prices would increase once again, but they haven’t. What can we do? If I don’t sow the maize now, I will lose money twice over,” said Tanveer, looking over his land, enveloped in haze on a cold, winter morning. The demonetisation has hit Punjab’s vegetable farmers’ incomes, much like in neighbouring Haryana. Many small farmers claim the prices at the mandi will not even cover their cost of production, let alone reap them a profit. Hardeep Singh from Parthala village, another young farmer who has about 2.5 acres of land, on which he sowed potatoes last season, says he will be forced to run his crop over. “I have invested over `1 lakh in sowing potatoes — for the seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, labour, diesel and other expenses. Now, the price of a sack of 50 kg has come down from over `400 to under `100. It will not even cover the production cost. Plus, I will have to pay labourers to clean and bag the potatoes, then transport them to the mandi. I cannot afford the additional cost,” Hardeep said. In India, the average potato yield stands at about 26 tonnes per hectare (2.47 acre). At `100 for 50 kg, Hardeep stands to earn only about `52,000 from his yield, or about half his investment. In addition, the labour cost of reaping the potato crop is about `30-35 for every 100 kg, the farmers said.“With demonetisation and all the loss that I have suffered, my loan burden will become heavier. The government should forgive our loans, at least those incurred in the past two months,” said Parminder.