05, Jun 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
In the past few weeks, Bengal has seen a series of hailstorms amidst scorching heat, both of which have accounted for extensive crop damage in various areas of Bengal’s Birbhum district.
Due to the hailstorm, hundreds of farmers who were trying to grow crops like paddy, mango, watermelon, brinjal and cucumber have been suffering severe damage. While the heat contributed to patches of dryland and water shortage, the hailstorm caused standing paddy and sesame crops to break down before they were ready to be harvested. Mangoes and brinjals have started to rot while still being on the plants.
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Bengal’s rural farmers are complaining about the repetition of the same kind of problem, every single year. Most of them are not profitable as the cost of fertilisers are very high and on top of that, natural calamities such as these only increase their problems. Some of these farmers have cultivated crops like brinjal and mangoes after securing loans from local lenders and now they are in trouble because of these extreme losses. Some of them have invested large sums of money and are now not in a position to repay their debts.
When I spoke to Silon Rajbanshi, a marginalised farmer from Birbhum’s Paikar village, he said, “This year I planted eggplants on about two bigha (0.66 acres) of land. But the eggplant has been severely attacked by insects due to the repeated hailstorm. Farming with a loan on a high rate of interest, I’d be unable to make any profit anyway. I have no idea how to repay the loan. The production this year is also less than the previous year. I can’t understand how to pay the water price, tractor cost, chemical fertiliser cost. The price is very low due to pest infestation of my brinjals. Moneylenders don’t want to buy them.”
Many former migrant labourers who were too afraid to go out after the series of lockdowns and the catastrophe that followed, have taken to farming in rural Bengal to run their household. Silon’s neighbour, one such farmer, told me, “I used to work as a mason in Chennai. But after the lockdown, I stopped travelling outside of Bengal for work. I thought I would rent some land and farm, but there is a problem with that too. This year due to the continuous hailstorm there has been a huge loss. How do I pay the money of the land owner? We want the West Bengal Agriculture Department to extend their helping hand to us. Let the West Bengal government buy our crops. Fertiliser prices and prices of various items related to farming are constantly increasing, their prices should also be reduced. Is the Government listening?”
Watch how the crops were destroyed due to hailstorm in Bengal below:
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by aspiring journalist and student activist Ripon Sheikh from Birbhum in West Bengal. In these reports Ripon looks at the people around him – migrant workers, the families they leave behind, agricultural labourers, women who do housework, rural artisans and young people, with a keen sense of compassion.
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.
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