Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - Page 12 News List

India’s desparate farmers

Poor monsoon rains have wreaked havoc on India’s farmers, but the government has yet to declare a national emergency

By Muneeza Naqvi  /  AP, Kathura, India

He already has to pay off loans of 300,000 rupees (US$5,400), a fortune for a poor farmer.

“Now I will need to borrow more money to feed myself, but lenders will hold back,” he said.

With nearly 70 percent of India’s population living in rural areas, farming is vital to the economy. A poor monsoon is expected to further dampen already disappointing growth this year, according to Citigroup economist Rohini Malkani.

Poor agricultural output could result in growth as low as 5.4 percent in the current fiscal year, down from the bank’s earlier estimates of 6.4 percent, according to the economist’s August report.

“If drought conditions worsen, headline growth could come in lower at 4.9 percent,” she writes.

The federal government and many state governments have hesitated to declare a drought for fear of causing panic and because it requires them to assess each farmers’ losses and compensate them. Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh state, which have not been given declarations of drought, are losing patience.

“What will it take for the government to declare a drought?” asks Narwal. “Will all the farmers have to die first?” Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said Cabinet ministers would meet later this week to discuss the impact of the poor monsoon.

In Kathura village, however, Pankaj Aggarwal, the top district official, brushes aside talk of a drought, saying that the few recent days of rain will revive the crops.

Meanwhile, farmers lament the lack of government investment in irrigation and other infrastructure that could protect farmers from the vagaries of the monsoon.

“Where are the irrigation canals, the irrigation pumps, the electricity supply that the government keeps promising the farmers?” asked Dharmendra Malik, a farmer and activist in Uttar Pradesh.

“You have food grains in your stocks so you’re not worried, but that doesn’t mean you abandon 600 million of your people who tend the fields,” he said.

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