Tarai farmers hit by higher production costs and poor earnings

Sujit Mainali / January 12, 2016

Farmers in a Parsa filling paddy in gunny sacks in December.

Farmers in a Parsa village filling paddy in gunny sacks in December.

The cost of production in agriculture has increased due to the ongoing protests in the Tarai. Also, the market and the prices of agricultural products have suffered.

The price of diesel was Rs 82 per liter before the protests and border obstructions started [from September], but farmers are now paying double or even more in the black market.  Rise in the price of diesel has pushed the irrigation costs.

Naresh Patel, a farmer from Bairiya Birta VDC–7 of Parsa district says the farmers in his village irrigate their land using water tankers. “Rainfall was weak during the rice cultivation season, so we irrigated our fields using the water from the nearby river with the help of water tankers,” he said.

Protests had not started during the rice planting season so he did not have to pay high prices to the water tankers. But once the protests began and fuel started getting scarce, the tankers started charging more, according to farmers.

Jitendra Prasad Chaurasiya, a farmer from Bahurba Bhatta VDC-3 in the district said, “Once the rice saplings are planted, the field should be irrigated twice or thrice. The first time [when there was no fuel shortage] they charged normal price, but for the second and third times, farmers had to pay higher prices – up to Rs 400 per hour. A tanker takes 18-20 hours to irrigate a bigaha [0.68 hectare] of land,” he said.

The farmers have already harvested the rice and sowed wheat, but the protests, border obstructions and resulting shortages still continue.

Shiva Devi Patel, a farmer from the Bairiya Birta-7, Parsa said that 20-25 days after sowing wheat, the field needs to be irrigated. “Irrigation will most likely be costly for wheat as well,” he said.

According to the District Agriculture Development Office, Parsa, 23,883.5 hectares out of the total 52,165 hectares of arable land in the district has irrigation facility.

Saharum Raut, the chairman of the Struggle Group for the Protection of Farmers Rights-Parsa, says that Gandak canal under the Narayani Irrigation Project is the main source for irrigation in Parsa district. “But this canal goes 14-15 km inside the Indian territory and returns to Nepal through Bhaisalotan, Sahudara and Inarwa. During droughts, Indian farmers use the water of the canal, but come flooding season, they release the water toward Nepal. So Nepali farmers always suffer,” he said.

Birendra Prasad Sinha, a senior agricultural official of Parsa informed that the government has been distributing water pumps to farmers every year under the Small Irrigation Programme.  “Around half of the arable land of the district is being irrigated by the Gandak cannel and these water pumps,” he said.

Tilling costs increase

Nowadays, very few farmers in the Tarai use oxen and water buffaloes to plough their fields. Using machines is cheaper and efficient. “In our village, I think only 2-3 pairs of oxen remain,” farmer Jitendra Prasad Chaurasiya said.

“Before the protests, a cultivator machine [a farm implement equipped with shovels, blades, etc, used to break up soil and remove weeds] used to charge Rs 800 per hour. Now they ask Rs 1200-1300. A rotavator [a machine with rotating blades that break up soil] used to charge Rs 1200 per hour now asks about Rs 2000 per hour,” he further said.

Farmer Naresh Patel said there are fewer such machines so they are not available on time even if a farmer agrees to pay higher prices. “Just yesterday I sowed wheat. Immediately after sowing wheat, one must plow the field, otherwise the birds eat all the grain. But I could not find a tractor immediately. I don’t know if any seed is left now,” Patel said while his field was being plowed the next day.

Fertilizer problem

For fertilizers, Tarai farmers depend on the government agencies and the Indian markets across the border. According to senior agricultural officer Sinha, the government had enough fertilizer in stock, so they did not receive any complaint from farmers this season.

But there are many farmers who do not rely on the government for fertilizers.

Chaurasiya is among those farmers who procure directly from the local markets. “I could not find fertilizer in the local market due to the strikes and blockade. So I had to purchase from the black market. A 900-rupee sack cost me up to Rs 1200,” he said.

Chief District Officer (CDO) Keshav Raj Ghimire also confirmed that the strike has caused disturbance in the transport and distribution of fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are brought to the Birgunj Dry Port from Kolkata port and from Birgunj, they are distributed across the country.

According to Ghimire, the operation of the dry port came to a complete halt for 20-25 days after the loaders, transporters and customs agents stopped work in support of the protestors. “So, fertilizers could not be sent to different parts of the country. Later they returned to work and supply resumed,” he said.

Records maintained by the District Agriculture Development Office, Parsa shows that this year both production and productivity of rice declined in the district. Last year, the district had produced 169,000 metric tons of rice, but this year production declined by 37,000 metric tons. Similarly, productivity has dropped by 0.68 metric ton per hectare.

Seeds could not distributed

The Parsa district office of the National Seed Company Limited has been distributing seeds to farmers from its 13 outlets in the district. According to senior agricultural officer Sinha, the seeds could not be distributed on time in some places due to the strike.

Raut, the chairman of the Struggle Group for the Protection of Farmers Rights-Parsa, complained that farmers had to pay higher prices for seeds to the staffers of some outlets, where seeds had reached on time.

Grievances of farmers not addressed

The farmers complained that both the government and the agitating parties have not shown any concern to their plight.

Raut, the chairman of the Struggle Group for the Protection of Farmers Rights-Parsa, said that the farmers have been caught in the middle, between the agitating parties and the government, and are facing the brunt of the strike.

“Our production costs have increased markedly but the selling price has not. Moreover, it is difficult to get a buyer for our produce even if we agree to sell at lower prices,” he said.

According to the senior agricultural officer Sinha, some agricultural programs at the local level could not be implemented due to the strike. “We were unable to send our staff to the field due to the fuel shortage. We could not impart technical know-how to the farmers to solve farming problems. The protesters even vandalized our office and set fire to two of our vehicles. Our staff are in a state of shock,” he said.

Pradip Yadav, the district chairman of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, one of the parties in the agitating Unified Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) said that the protesters are sensitive toward the problems faced by the farmers. “This is sugarcane season. So we have not obstructed the movement of vehicles carrying sugarcanes,” he said.

CDO of Parsa, Ghimire, said farmers frequent his office with complaints of the fuel shortage and higher plowing costs. “The government is unable to completely end the fuel crisis immediately. But I am in regular touch with the center and we are working earnestly to lessen the impact of the fuel crisis on the farmers,” he said.

Food grain prices down

The costs of plowing, fertilizers and irrigation increased due to the ongoing strike, but to the dismay of the farmers, the market price of their agricultural produce went down.

In the third week of December, farmer Jitendra Prasad Chaurasiya was packing rice from last year’s harvest to sell in market. He had stored about 40 quintals in the hope of getting better price. But to his disappointment, rice prices fell further this year.

“Last year, it was Rs 2,400 per quintal. And this year it is cheaper by Rs 100,” he said.

He has sowed wheat in his field, but he is not hopeful about earning any profit from the crop. “The prices of plowing, irrigation and fertilizers have increased. I don’t think the yields will cover the cost this time. Despite this, we cannot leave our fields fallow,” he said.

Subodh Kumar Gupta, the proprietor of Mohit Agro Industries in Birgunj which purchases paddy from farmers, processes and sells it in the market, said sheller mill operators like him are out of cash so they are not keen on purchasing rice from farmers. “The warehouses of the sheller mills are full of rice ready to be dispatched to the market. We are not able to send the rice to the market due to the strike,” he said.

Gupta, who is also the vice chairman of the Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said that the farmers not getting fair prices for their produce is not new in the Tarai. “Farmers in India get huge subsidies in fertilizers, irrigation, electricity bills and farm implements. As a result, their cost of production is lower and productivity higher. Our cost of production is already high. When these Indian agricultural products are smuggled into Nepal through the open border, Nepali farmers suffer,” he said.

Click here to read about the subsidy provided to the Indian farmers.

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