PLIGHT OF CHILLI FARMERS: Shed Apathy & Act to Save Farmers in AP & Telangana: AIKS

THE All India Kisan Sabha, in a statement issued on May 10, has condemned the extreme insensitivity of the BJP-led central government, the TDP-led Andhra Pradesh government and TRS government in Telangana towards the plight of the chilli farmers in the two states. It is notable that the farmers had expanded cultivation of chilli on the advice of the Andhra Pradesh state government to not go in for cotton cultivation citing pests and climatic problems. Despite the drought situation, farmers invested in a big way leading to bumper production of the crop. Huge expenses were incurred for irrigating the chilli crop in drought conditions forcing farmers to spend about Rs 25,000 per acre on water alone. 

In Andhra Pradesh, chilli was cultivated in about 4.65 lakh acres as compared to 3.9 lakh acres last year and production shot up to about 93 lakh quintals when compared to around 80 lakh quintals only last year. In Telangana the production is around 40 lakh quintals of which over 30 lakh quintals of chilli are yet to be purchased. This being the case, the BJP-led central government’s much hyped Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) for Fair Average Quality (FAQ) variety is applicable only to 8.83 lakh quintals in Andhra Pradesh and 3.37 lakh quintals in Telangana. The BJP government’s decision will ensure purchase of less than 10 percent of the total produce under the MIS and at a price lower than the price farmers are already getting for FAQ variety.

The price announced is only Rs 5,000 per quintal while the going rate is already around Rs 7,000 per quintal and farmers will only be able to recover investment if a minimum of Rs 10,000 per quintal is assured. The cost of production itself ranges from around Rs 7500 per quintal to Rs 10,000 per quintal. The Rs 1,250 handling/transportation charges also does not meet the actual expenses. The Chandrababu Naidu led TDP government’s promise of additional Rs 1,500 per quintal for up to 20 quintals also falls short of expectations.  It has to be noted that the sale price of export quality Teja variety of chilli had crossed Rs 13,000 per quintal last year. Price of chilli-334 one of the varieties plummeted to Rs 1,500 per quintal while costs of production are as high as Rs10,000 per quintal. Given that it was a drought year and irrigation costs escalated  while productivity fell from around 25 quintals per acre to below 15 quintals per acre, the prices of Rs 3000 per quintal plus the Rs1,500 per quintal bonus will not even meet fifty percent of the costs of cultivation. The bonus price announced by the state has also not been passed on to farmers by traders who are under-pricing, leading to heaps of chilli bags remaining dumped at the Guntur Mirchi Yard, Asia’s biggest Chilli market.

AIKS demands minimum of Rs 10,000 per quintal to Rs 15,000 per quintal depending upon the variety and additional handling/transportation charges of Rs 3,000. Steps must be taken on a war-footing to purchase all produce of the farmers. The BJP government has gone back on its election manifesto promise of providing minimum support price at least 50 percent above cost of production according to Swaminathan Commission recommendations. The BJP government’s talk of a Price Stabilisation Fund also has only remained on paper. AIKS had demanded that the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana cover yield and income loss to address crop loss as well as fall in incomes due to price crash and to cover tenant farmers. On all these counts, it failed miserably while insurance companies cornered huge profits.  AIKS also demands scrapping of the present insurance policy and evolving of a pro-farmer policy. AIKS has called upon its units in the two states to organise protests uniting the peasantry by building broad issue-based unity.

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