Garlic glut brings death and distress in Kota belt
Under huge debts, farmers across the region had invested in sowing garlic this year only to find a glut in the market with a bumper crop.
Cross the courtyard, there is garlic in two rooms. And there is more. Two weeks ago, Meena had gone to the field at 5 am telling his wife he would be back soon. He was found a few hours later foaming from his mouth. He had consumed poison in the field. Like Meena, five farmers have committed suicide since April this year in Hadoti region of Rajasthan. It is a problem of plenty that they are facing.
Under huge debts, farmers across the region had invested in sowing garlic this year only to find a glut in the market with a bumper crop. “When the farmer was sowing it, garlic was selling at Rs 70 a kg but when he started harvesting the crop in March prices fell to Rs 3-4 a kg. Taking it to the mandi would mean incurring a loss,” says Aniruddh, Meena’s brother.
Meena had Rs 18 lakh loan on Kisan credit card, Rs 1.5 lakh from cooperative banks and Rs 4 lakh from other banks. He thought garlic, which is a water-intensive crop but fetches a better price than mustard, chana dal or wheat, would help him in paying off the debt. “He owned 16-17 bighas of land. He took 53 bighas on rent paying Rs 6 lakh a year. He sowed garlic on 20 bighas. He couldn’t take the shock when the prices crashed,” Aniruddh said. In the village of about 900 persons, all 153 families have an average of Rs 9 lakh debt.
The problem with the crop is storage. As the heat increases, garlic loses moisture and shrinks and goes bad within 4-5 months. Garlic was sown on approximately 1.09 lakh hectares in Hadoti region covering four districts of Kota, Bundi, Baran and Jhalawar. The yield is 70 lakh quintals. With farmer protesting across the region and Assembly elections in five months, BJP government stepped in to announce that it would start buying at mandis. It set a target of 15 lakh quintals but has bought only 2 lakh quintals so far at Rs 32.57 per kg.
At the mandis, the process of buying the farmers’ produce has been very slow. Rohit Kumar, a farmer from Bachhihera area of Kota, said, “The government has started an online system of registration to buy farmers’ produce. Every farmer gets a token number and then when his turn comes to sell, he is informed on his mobile phone. But the pace of buying is very slow. Every day they are buying maximum from 40 persons.”
In Kota, the government started registration number from 20029000 and till now has reached the token number 20030853 – which means 1,853 farmers’ produce has been acquired in Kota at Seth Bhamashah Krishi Upaj Mandi. Since the registration went up to 20042000, there are at least 11,000 farmers in queue.
Farmers are seething. At Bhamashah mandi, there are daily fights and arguments over weight and if the produce does not match parameters set by government. Hadoti Kisan Union general secretary Dashrath Kumar told ET: “The market intervention of government usually has a self-correcting effect on the prices. But since the pace of buying is so slow, it is hardly having any impact. The pace is so slow that at this rate the government would need almost a year to buy the present produce from the farmers. The last registered farmer in Kota has a wait of 270 days ahead of him.”
The farmers now fear that as garlic loses moisture, it would not even qualify to be bought at the mandis. “There is a set parameter – 25 mm – set by the government. Garlic would shrink and not qualify to be bought,” said Aniruddh. The villagers haven’t heard of BJP government’s farm loan waiver. “We have only read so far. We don’t know if we qualify,” said Dulichand of Jhopadiya village near Kota adding, “Even if we qualify, it is just Rs 50,000. It is like adding a small pot of water in an ocean.”