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How palm oil from Malaysia fired the Patel agitation in Gujarat

Dhirubhai is in dire straits. He can no longer recover his investments on the groundnuts he grows on three acres of land along the Junagadh-Verawal road in Gujarat.

In a good year, he grows 100 kilos of groundnuts – or peanuts – for every Rs 4,000 he invests. The minimum support price – or the price at which the government buys the crop – is Rs 4,400. But the middle-aged farmer said government officials buy only from “vyapari aur mota rajkarmi” (traders and big farmers). Smaller farmers like him sell to private oil mills at very low rates. Last year, he got just Rs 3,500 for every 100 kilos of groundnuts – lower than both his investment and the minimum support price.

Blame it on rising edible oil imports — especially palm oil. And therein hangs a story. Do read.

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Cauliflower sells for Rs one a kilo in Bihar as demonetisation depresses demand

At first glance, it looks like any other day at the mandi in Bettiah.

Trucks stand next to the concrete arch that leads into the fruit and vegetable market in this small town in northern Bihar. Inside the mandi samiti, as the precinct is called, hawkers sit with baskets bursting with vegetables. The shops seem well-stocked.

But the abnormality shows up when you ask traders and hawkers about the impact of the government’s decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Vegetable prices have collapsed, they say.

Cauliflower or phool gobhi, said Mahfooz Alam, a wholesaler at the mandi, was selling for Rs 12 a kilo just before the announcement on November 8. “It is now selling for one or two rupees.”

The prices began to fall within 2-3 days of the Prime Minister’s announcement on November 8, said Muhammad Islam, a fruit trader.

Baingan (aubergine) fell from Rs 15 per kilo to Rs 2-Rs 3. Patta gobhi (lettuce) has slumped from Rs 15 per kilo to Rs 5. And saag (spinach) has dropped from Rs 10 to Rs 2.50 per kilo.

These are jaw-dropping falls. What explains them?

Demonetisation has left India’s food markets frozen – and the future looks tense

As demonetisation enters its second week, traders in Patna’s Maroofganj mandi are seeing something unprecedented.

In the last seven days, the supply of new stocks in this wholesale market, which supplies cooking oil, spices, rice, wheat and pulses to shopkeepers across Patna, has plummeted. The supply of cooking oil, for instance, is down by 80%. Talk to traders selling spices, grains or pulses and you hear similar numbers. “Do you see how quiet this market is?” said an accountant at a rice shop. “Till 10 days ago, you would not have been able to walk down this street.”

In the same period, orders from shopkeepers have fallen steeply as well. Most of them cannot buy as much stock as before, said Abhijit Kumar, who runs a wholesale shop for spices, because they have only Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes – both derecognised as legal tender by the government.

The strange thing is: despite the contraction in both supply and demand, commodity prices are stable.

A tsunami of debt is building up in Tamil Nadu – and no one knows where it is headed

G Venkatasubramanian trots out some astonishing numbers. Over the last 15 years, he and his fellow researchers at Pondicherry’s French Institute have been studying debt bondage among families in 20 villages in Tamil Nadu. Half of these settlements are in the coastal district of Cuddalore, and the others are in the adjoining district of Villupuram.

Their study is throwing up some puzzling changes in how much these families borrow – and how. In 2001, the average annual income of these families was Rs 16,000. Average debt was Rs 10,000. Come 2016, annual income has risen five-fold to Rs 80,000. Average debt, however, stands at Rs 250,000. This is a 25-fold increase.

How these families borrow has changed too. Earlier, only land-owning communities – Mudaliars, Chettiars or Reddiars – lent money. But now, said Venkatsubramanian, the Scheduled Castes are increasingly lending and borrowing among themselves. “A family will borrow Rs 50,000 and lend Rs 25,000,” he said. At the same time, communities that once looked down upon moneylending are entering the trade. The Nadars of southern Tamil Nadu, for instance, have begun lending in central and northern parts of the state.

What we talk about when we talk about Punjab

Between October and January, Scroll.in’s Ear To The Ground project reported from Punjab.

The idea, as in Mizoram and Odisha, was to create a snapshot of the state. How are its people doing? What are the largest processes shaping the state?

When Scroll.in moved to Punjab, it was late October. The state was simmering. Farmers were angry and upset. The cotton crop had been hammered by a whitefly attack. The other kharif mainstay – basmati – was fetching lower rates than the grains sold to the Food Corporation of India. Over preceding weeks, torn pages from the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Saheb, had surfaced in some villages. There was much anger against the state government for not preventing this desecration. Protesters had blocked roads and railway tracks. In response, the state police had opened fired, killing some protesters.

Travelling around, however, it soon became evident that this anger against the government has been building for a while.

How climate change has sparked political and social unrest in Punjab this year

my first article on punjab is out. it looks at the recent whitefly attack on the state’s cotton crop and traces it back to worrying behaviour by the mid latitude westerlies and the collapse of extension work in the state.

These workers at Amritsar’s grain market are smiling only for the camera

The anaj mandi at Amritsar will not forget 2015 easily.

For the first time, the state’s long-grained basmati rice, famous for its fragrance, is selling cheaper than the humble parimal variety procured by the Indian government for its public distribution programme. Just two years ago, the variety favoured by local farmers, labelled ‘1121’, fetched about Rs 4,200 a quintal. This year, it is selling at Rs 1,700.