In recent days, I have been reading a few intense debates on organic vs chemical/GM farming. But, after having some long discussions with a few farmers, I get the feeling that the question they grapple with is a different one:
To continue with farming, or to sell the land and live off the interest from deposits. To be, or not to be.
Right now, they seem to think that the latter makes more economic sense for them. “Our yields have grown; farming has grown but farmers have not grown (விவசாயம் வளர்ந்துருக்கு, ஆனா விவாசாயிக வளரவே இல்லை),” said one farmer-cum-officer from Agricultural Department. But yet, some inner sense holds them back and they continue to feed us, city folks.
Even though, I know that a major chunk goes to the middlemen, I suddenly don’t grudge that Rs.70/kg for onions, as much. That, one of the farmers said, has helped him partially compensate the losses he suffered with turmeric. That, another one said, helps to make up for the onions that are rejected because they are a shade lighter (in color) or a size smaller. And they know, this is not going to last. And they know, more of them are going to harness their herd mentality to sow more onions and face losses next season.
“We don’t need any help with the production – we will manage it well enough. Help me with the selling. Farmers are the only people who can’t fix the prices for their produce,” said one farmer, quite angrily.
What made me really despondent was when I heard this – “My mother always sells off the best tomatoes and brinjals; she keeps the bad ones for us, cuts off the rotten part and uses the good portion. Why lose any opportunity to save some money?”
Finally, “when we sometimes get everything right, we get a few visitors – one elephant is enough to destruct most of the crops that are ready for harvest, and they are invariably followed by dozens of wild boars, which dig the ground and pluck out even the roots. And if one wild pig dies on our field even by accident, we had it – we have to spend unto 5 lakhs to get out of the legal mess. These lovely peacocks – if they eat a few fruits we’ll be glad; they are after all the vehicle of Lord Muruga – but they always take a bite off every fruit. Even the small rabbit – searching for water, it bites off tubes used for the drip irrigation. The deer selectively eats only the grains with such human precision.”
One young man, quiet thus far, took me on his bike to drop me off at a nearby bus-stop. “Sir, don’t listen to all these old hands. They have turned too negative. I have been into farming for the last couple of years – I am gradually shifting to organic farming. Compared to my electrical contracting job, it has less mental stress and gives me joy. And I am confident that I will somehow make money – not as much as before but enough to keep me going.”
An IIT-IIM grad-turned-natural farmer told me last month, “Our farmers, more than even our soldiers, are the bravest in the country doing the riskiest jobs.” I agree.