Antarjan Mallick grows cotton and other crops in one acre of his land in Rajanapalli village at Sankhemundi administrative block in Ganjam district of Odisha, around 200 km from Bhubaneswar, the state capital.
The 45-year-old farmer said that cotton fetches him more price than other crops like maize and oilseeds. Yet he has been losing interest in growing the fiber crop that is often being referred as white gold because of its huge demand and high remuneration.
Mallick is not alone. Many cotton farmers like him are shifting to other crops. Ganjam district has been steadily witnessing a drop in the total area under cotton cultivation due to lack of a ginning mill near procurement center and other issues.
“Cotton fetches higher price but absence of marketing and transportation facilities coupled with increasing pressure from money lenders has been forcing small and marginal farmers like us to shift to other crops even though it is not profitable,” Mallick said while showing the white cotton in his field.
Arun Mishra, the secretary of Regulated Market Committee (RMC) at Dighapahandi said that cotton production area in the district has dropped to 854 hectares from 2,000 hectares five years ago. The production has also witnessed a sharp fall and even 5,000 quintal target is hard to achieve, whereas the production was 12,000 quintal five years ago.
Lack of ginning mill
Farmers pointed out that the absence of a ginning mill was a deterrent. It is where the cotton fiber is separated from the seed and dust particles. The ginned cotton, referred to as lint, is then processed into bales.
“In other districts, the ginning mills are located at the procurement point and it helps farmers to sell their produce at one point,” said Bibhisha Dolai (70), a farmer from Brahmanapanka village in Patrapur administrative block. “But in Ganjam there is no ginning mill at the procurement point in Dighapahandi.”
“We have to travel around 80 km to a ginning mill located in Gunpur area of Rayagada district,” Dolai told VillageSquare.in. “It increases the transportation cost substantially leading to severe loss.” Farmers said that Ganjam district also had a ginning mill in Aska town, but has been lying non-operational for the past five years. They alleged that the government has not shown any interest to revive it.
In Ganjam district, cotton is generally grown in five administrative blocks, namely, Patrapur, Sanakhemundi, Sorada, Digapahandi and Sheragad. The sowing of cotton seeds in Ganjam starts from 15 June and lasts till 7 July.
“The harvesting usually begins from the first week of November and continues till the end of December. The plucking can be done four times during this period,” Prasanna Kumar Swain, a Behrampur-based subject matter specialist on cotton, told VillageSquare.in.
Cotton is classified into short, medium and long staple depending upon its staple length. “At present around 700 farmers are growing cotton in the district, whereas there were more than a thousand farmers a few years ago,” he said.
“Farmers depend hugely on cotton because it’s a rain-fed crop and the district lacks adequate irrigational facilities for other crops. It requires moisture for a short period but water logging for a longer period can destroy the crop,” said Swain.
Minimum support price
The government has fixed a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 5,825 per quintal for procuring cotton that started from 16 December last year. But farmers said that the price is not enough because of the higher transportation cost.
“We hardly make any profit because Rs 5,000-odd is spent in growing one quintal of cotton. The cost involved in shifting it to the ginning mill leaves us with no returns,” Raghav Dolai (36), a farmer from Brahmanapanka village told VillageSquare.in. “Government should bear the transportation cost.”
As per the norms of Cotton Corporation of India (CCI), cotton is procured at ginning mill, excluding the cost of its transportation. “As per the policy, the CCI has never borne the transportation expense of cotton and it is procured at the mill point. There has been no change in the rules for Ganjam so far,” S. Sudhakar, senior commercial officer at CCI, Dighapahandi, told VillageSquare.in.
Apart from transportation issues, the exploitation of money lenders – locally called sahukar – is also cited as the reason for farmers losing interest in cotton cultivation. “We depend heavily on private money lenders, as we do not have the required finance for farming,” said Sukesh Das, a farmer of Rajanapalli village.
“They provide us with raw material and other farming inputs and also buy the seed cotton from us but the prices are decided only after the yield. The money lenders often pay less saying that the cotton is of inferior quality and giving other vague reasons,” Das told VillageSquare.in. “It results in heavy losses to farmers.”
“We still strike a losing deal with money lenders as it saves us from the hassle of travelling far off to the ginning mill and incur transportation expenses,” he said. “The money lenders buy the cotton directly from the fields that is convenient for us. But losses after losses have been leaving us with no alternative but to move away from cotton.”
A section of farmers pointed out that they are also moving to maize and other crops due to lesser harvesting time. “Maize takes just 80-95 days to harvest,” said Mallick. “We do not make much profit in maize also but lesser harvesting times enables us to grow more crops.”
Land on lease
The situation has reached such an extent that farmers are forced to lease out their lands to farmers of neighboring Andhra Pradesh. “At least, we receive some monetary benefits by leasing our land as the absence of government support has made it difficult for us to grow cotton,” said Suresh Kumar Jena of Sunantara village in Seragada block.
“Farmers from the neighboring state arrive here prior to monsoon and give us some money for leasing the land and take the produce back to their state for sales. We could have earned more money than leasing our lands but the situation prevents us to do farming,” Jena told VillageSquare.in.
“It is not just transportation and private lenders but farmers fail to meet the desired quality because of inadequate training,” said Rabindranath Dakua, a senior journalist who has been covering the plight of cotton farmers for many years. “Cotton is pesticide intensive crop and is grown in monoculture but farmers here do integrated farming and grow other crops that risk them getting affected with chemicals.”
“The construction of the ginning mill has already been initiated inside the procurement center at Dighapahandi and is expected to be completed by early next year. The administration is serious about the issues and all steps are being taken to solve the problems faced by the farmers,” Arun Mishra, secretary of RMC assured VillageSquare.in.
Gurvinder Singh is a journalist based in Kolkata. Views are personal. Email Gurvinder at firstname.lastname@example.org