Un­sea­sonal rain causes heartache for In­dian farm­ers


April is usu­ally a time of cel­e­bra­tion for mil­lions of farm­ers across north­ern In­dia. The win­ter wheat crop is ready to be har­vested, and there’s money to clear past debts and plan fu­ture plant­ing.

This year, how­ever, un­sea­sonal rain and hail­storms in March de­stroyed mil­lions of acres of farm­land in the re­gion, caus­ing heartache for debt-rid­den farm­ers, and lead­ing dozens to kill them­selves.

In the state of Ut­tar Pradesh alone, more than three dozen farm­ers have taken their own lives, ac­cord­ing to the state gov­ern­ment. The largely agrar­ian state — In­dia’s most pop­u­lous, with 210 mil­lion peo­ple — has de­clared a state of emer­gency to seek funds from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to com­pen­sate farm­ers.

“Nor­mally this time of the year, we are a happy lot. Our gra­nary is full and we clear all our dues by sell­ing our pro­duce,” said Vinod Ku­mar, an Ut­tar Pradesh farmer. “This year we lost ev­ery­thing. We are left with noth­ing. Nei­ther food for us nor fod­der for an­i­mals.”

The rain- stricken swath of north­ern In­dia — across Ut­tar Pradesh, Pun­jab and Haryana states, and into vil­lages on the out­skirts of New Delhi — is largely the bread­bas­ket of the coun­try, pro­duc­ing most of In­dia’s wheat. The dam­age has been wide­spread, the ef­fects some­times dev­as­tat­ing.

The rains, and the strong winds that ac­com­pa­nied it, were so un­ex­pected that farm­land was of­ten flooded within hours. Stalks of wheat that were nearly ready for har­vest were ei­ther sub­merged un­der wa­ter or flat­tened by the wind. Farm­land grow­ing pota­toes and onions, both sta­ples in the In­dian diet, were also dam­aged.

Nearly 70 per­cent of In­di­ans still live in vil­lages, and farm in­come is cru­cial to the econ­omy. But the av­er­age farmer still lives and earns from sea­son to sea­son.

With dreams of a good har­vest, most small- and medium-scale farm­ers bor­row money from lo­cal lenders, of­ten at ex­or­bi­tant in­ter­est rates, to buy seed and fer­til­izer and hire trac­tors to plow the fields.

At best, a poor har­vest can mean that a farmer and his fam­ily must care­fully ra­tion their food. At worst, it can mean debt so crush­ing that sui­cide seems the only way out.

The rea­sons for sui­cides among In­dian farm­ers vary from re­gion to re­gion. But since the ma­jor­ity of the farm­ers are small or medium scale, most are highly sen­si­tive to the va­garies of the weather.

So it was with Mo­ham­mad Sabir of Wazir­pur vil­lage in Ut­tar Pradesh. He was so shocked to see the de­struc­tion of his wheat fields that he hanged him­self from a mango tree on his farm in early April.

“A calamity has struck Ut­tar Pradesh,” the state’s chief min­is­ter, Akhilesh Ya­dav, said in a re­cent state­ment. He said rain had de­stroyed crops in 44 dis­tricts, af­fect­ing 750,000 farm­ers.

Ut­tar Pradesh’s Chief Sec­re­tary, Alok Ran­jan, said 41 farm­ers in the state had killed them­selves in the last two weeks. Iron­i­cally, most were from wa­ter- starved ar­eas and had bor­rowed money to pay for elec­tric pumps to ir­ri­gate their fields, giv­ing them wheat that was nearly ripe. So when the rains fi­nally came to their parched land, they brought more de­struc­tion than re­lief, since rain will cause al­most-ripe wheat to rot.

Ran­jan said the state gov­ern­ment had set aside 5 bil­lion ru­pees (US$81 mil­lion) to com­pen­sate farm­ers for their losses. It also has asked the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to as­sist with an­other 10 bil­lion ru­pees.

In Pun­jab, more than 850,000 acres of farm­land, mostly wheat but also veg­eta­bles, have been im­pacted by the weather. Haryana, where at least three farm­ers’ sui­cides have been re­ported, has had hun­dreds of thou­sands of acres of ready-to-har­vest crops de­stroyed.

Ear­lier this month, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi asked the agri­cul­ture min­istry to quickly al­lo­cate funds for farm­ers from the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Re­lief Fund. The agri­cul­ture min­istry has asked states where potato and onion crops have been dam­aged to mon­i­tor prices to keep them from spi­ral­ing.

But even as the state gov­ern­ments at­tempt to con­trol the dam­age faced by the farm­ers, the amount of com­pen­sa­tion has an­gered many, par­tic­u­larly in Ut­tar Pradesh.

Some farm­ers re­ceived an ini­tial pay­ment acre.

“Is this the com­pen­sa­tion?


less than US$1 per

It is just a joke,” said Ram Lakhan Chaudhry, a farmer in Bara­banki vil­lage.


(Top) In this Tues­day, April 14 photo, In­dian farmer Gu­dia Ya­dav 50 reacts af­ter see­ing her wheat crop that was dam­aged in un­sea­sonal rain at Malaca vil­lage, on the out­skirts of Al­lal­habad, Ut­tar Pradesh state, In­dia. (Above) In this Tues­day photo an In­dian farmer shows mus­tard crop dam­aged by un­sea­sonal rain at Malaca vil­lage, In­dia.

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