24, Jun 2021 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
Governments and seasons, both, change regularly, what does not change, is the fate of the farmer. This is the feeling in rural Bengal, a resignation of sorts, expressed by those who have been losing their jobs, and are getting pushed further into poverty due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lack of policies that can help them survive.
Farmers and farm workers of the country are amongst the most vulnerable communities now. They grapple with the wrath of nature, as well as the apathy of those they elected to govern. A case study I undertook was that of paddy farmers of West Bengal. Paddy cultivation is very expensive, and very exhausting, I learnt.
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First, the land is treated with fertiliser and seeds are planted. Chemical fertilisers have to be applied repeatedly, confessed the farmers I met. They say, the price of chemical fertilisers has skyrocketed and they are not earning any profit, but they have no choice as there are various insects that can infest and destroy the crop. Once the land was tilled and irrigated with instruments pulled by oxen, now various machines are used. It is expensive to get those, and farmers borrow money from the moneylenders to pay for irrigating the fields as well.
However, this year the paddy cultivation season was good, and farmers hoped that soon the yield would be good too. However, all hopes were dashed when there was sudden unseasonal heavy rainfall and hail just around harvest time. The farmers said that they could not even bring whatever paddy had been harvested indoors, as it had not been processed. It rained for days on end in Murshidabad. Most of the standing paddy crop has been damaged by the rains, the farmers said. The crop just flattens under the pressure of intense wind and rain. The farmers are fearing huge loss in paddy production if this continues.
Paddy has been cultivated in 70,698 hectares of land in Murshidabad district for eons. Each season is different, but this year is one of the worst, because of the weather, and overall crisis that the pandemic has unleashed, even beyond the disease itself. More than half of the paddy is now being wasted due to untimely rains, say farmers. They hope that the rains stop soon else they fear that the damage will claim around 70 percent of the crop. Not just paddy, excessive rain is also damaging fodder for cattle, as hay lies rotting on the rain-soaked land.
Other crops damaged by rains too
In Murshidabad, Birbhum and Malda districts, farmers not only cultivate paddy, but also jute, wheat, barley and mango. The continuous rains have also ruined the cultivation of various vegetables including green gourd, chilli and brinjal. Farmers who cultivate these have also suffered losses. These add to the financial crisis that they continue to face due to the lockdown. They were hoping a good farm yield would help solve that crisis a bit. However, there is water logging in the vegetable fields too. Many had switched to cultivating vegetables as they could not afford to invest in paddy this year. Some have taken to cultivating pulses and jute too. The farmers said the pulses and jute are cheaper to cultivate and can be harvested in around 40 days.
However, many farmers still wait to be compensated for the losses they have already suffered. The agriculture department has not yet prepared a list of the total amount of paddy damaged in Murshidabad district, the farmers said. Sources in the department told me that that work is underway to prepare a list of those who have suffered losses. When informed, the farmers said, all that they can now hope for is that help reaches them before they drown in debt.
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by researcher Ripon Sheikh, who is travelling around rural Bengal, tracking and documenting social and cultural movements of indigenous people.
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.
*Feature image: Representational image