Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Thuvarankuruchi, in Manaparai taluk of Trichy district is in Madurai- Trichy main road. Now with the four lane road in place, that small town is no more in the highway. When was working in a fertilizer company I used to frequent this place during a particular season from Oct to Jan, which is the peak season for agriculture. Thuvarankuruchi and its surrounding villages are known for its Chilli cultivation apart from other crops. Usually the farmers use to grow K-1 and K-2 varieties of chillies. But in the ninety’s the scenario changed. Hybrid varieties got introduced and it was well received by farmers. From 1995, most of the farmers left the K-1 and K-2 varieties, which they are growing for decades and switched to hybrid chillies promoted by different seed companies ranging from Nujuveedu seeds, Namdhari seeds, MAHYCHO and other seed companies. What forced the farmers to this switch is the bumper yield they visualized. The yield which got from one acre of K-1 and K-2, was obtained just from 10 cents.(one-tenth of the area). The seed cost however was high. 10 grams of seed costs more than Rs200 ( I don’t remember the exact price now) and moreover it has to be repeatedly purchased from the retail fertilizer, pesticide and seed shops.

The hybrid varieties required fertilizer once in at least two weeks. Also after just one or two years, the farmers saw that more pests  and diseases were affecting the crop. So they have to spend a lot on pesticides and fungicides. Even weekly spraying became common. But this was not so with the K-1 and K-2 varieties. Farmers switched from one hybrid to other, but yet they have to spend more on cultivation.

There was a innovative farmer, who used to grow 10 different varieties each in 10 cents, pick the best out of it for next season. He was able to do it since he can afford the cost and spend some on research. However, he got better benefits than others since he quickly sensed the problem with one variety and switched over to the other. The other who followed cultivating hybrid Chilli with herd mentality suffered.

Many new Tata 407 vans were purchased for transport of Chilli to Ottanchattiram, the wholesale vegetable market in Dindugal. Farmers used to go along with the Chilli load, sell their produce and get the money. After seeing the money, they used to spend on liquor, food and even prostitutes. The hard earned money never returns to the home full. Not only in Chillies, hybrids got introduced in other vegetables too. In short the production  got increased. But the  expenditure too went escalating and the farmers could not earn much as they expected.

Sometimes a hybrid variety which was so good previous year may fail to perform next year, for reasons known only to the seed producers, causing loss to farmers.

I have to mention about a retail dealer who exploited very well the plight of farmers and this is what is happening in most of the villages. Farmers rely on the words of fertilizer dealer, rather than the agricultural department, since the knowledge of the so called Agri graduates is outdated (Unfortunately I am one among them). The fertilizer dealer is updated with knowledge regarding new seed, pesticides and fungicides since it is his business and thanks to the seed, pesticide and fertilizer producing companies. The market was flooded with different varieties of pesticides and fungicides and their combination, which costs a hell ( in different brands). More than 500 brands exists in Monocrotophos alone, which is a standard pesticide used for almost all crops. New and new synthetic pyrethroids occupied the market, thanks to the Multi National Companies. Their intensive campaign, high dealer benefits and new products crushed the local pesticide manufacturer.

Adulteration of fertilizer is done by some fertilizer dealer. But more cheating happens with respect to pesticides. A farmer will approach, the fertilizer shop sometimes even with the specimen of the affected stems and leaves of the Chilli crop.

The dealer (who haven’t got a degree) have a close look at the crop. Then his mind goes on the stocks he is having and the stocks which he purchased out of compulsion (one particular pesticide of the company might have got a high market value and that product is often linked with another product/products that is less received, but produced by the company in larger volumes).  The Chilli plant would have been affected by a fungal disease. But the fertilizer dealer recommends a fungicide + pesticide + bactericide + a mineral mixture spray or a organic product. By this he achieves three purposes. Higher profit for him, pushing a product dumped to him by the manufacturer and also ensuring that the Chilli plant becomes free of the problem at least for another week. Even if had made a wrong diagnosis, this combination always works. By this he ensures the trust of the customer and his repeated visit to his shop. The poor farmer doesn’t know that he is paying out of this pocket on needless expenditure.

I have a real doubt, whether the plight of poor farmers can be rectified. The utter failure of government extension machinery is the main reason for this problem. Field visits, by the officials from agricultural department are a rare sight in villages. Even if they visit, they are not well received by farmers due to their lack of knowledge. Usually the agricultural department has few contact farmers who are big farmers, to whom most of the government benefits goes. If any scheme comes, they are the first one to grab and do not pay the loan stating many reasons. Loan waivers, benefits such farmers.

While I was working in the fertilizer company, I felt that my education was utterly useless. The college syllabus even now is outdated apart from minor changes. There is no real effort to improve agricultural education. If this is the plight of the university, think about the plight of the farmers. Can their knowledge really grow? Most of the farmers at least 80 % of them are illiterates or less literate. They go by the word of the fertilizer dealer and the hype created for the product by the MNC’s. 

Adding to this is the water problem (depletion of ground water and delayed release of water from dams due to less rainfall) and the problems in marketing. Sometimes the fertilizer dealer himself has a tie up with the farmer. He gives the inputs at credit and gets the output at a lesser price. He even charges interest for the loan given.

Don’t think that you can become a fertilizer dealer, after reading this article. Again, it had huge cut throat competition, and if you are capable of cheating more than others, then only you can survive. Marketing dharma. 

Well, Is there a solution to the problem? Our policy makers does not know the ground   reality and even if they know their hands are tied. Now the fate of Indian farmers is in the hands of MNCs. Farmers are giving up the practice of maintaining traditional varieties and depend on external source for all inputs. Even organic agriculture has become a business.

A dedicated effort to educate the farmers (for that high quality people should be engaged) through high tech extension service is needed. Our media (Tv , radio and newspapers) which  gives sensational and unwanted news can be compelled to concentrate on providing a daily program on agriculture, taking care that this was not exploited by the MNCs to promote their product. Successful and innovative farmers ( not the one who showed a one time success) are there who can be used to deliver the messages.
The message delivered should be interesting to all the viewers.

The job of the extension service can be entrusted to good NGOs with high reputation in the field.

And this alone is not sufficient. Major reforms in agricultural policy, research and education are the need of the hour. 


Cow does not give milk. It has to be extracted drop by drop. This is a management saying by Promod Batra. Our farmers are milked by multinationals.


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