"I watch the news, listen to the radio, check my SMS and even my son who works in the media, yet I had no information, no warning," these are the words of Bhanu Kumar Sharma, a farmer from Rajasthan who was among the many who suffered serious damage in the unseasonal rains of last week.
Sharma, from Bharatpur district, who had planted wheat in eight of his 16 acre-farm claims he has lost almost 5 acres worth of crop.
"I had just finished cutting my entire wheat crop, and was drying it in the field before the threshing process, when the weather turned. The rain and winds came out of nowhere and I was caught off guard. If I had some prior warning, I could have stored the harvested wheat indoors or used plastic covers. The winds along with the rain made it even worse as a lot of the wheat got scattered across the area in the fields nearby. The crop that remains is rotting due to the moisture. I could have taken precautions if I had some information prior," said Sharma.
Sharma is among the few farmers who are aware of information services being provided to farmers, but said he was not provided any SMS or calls warning him of the unseasonal rain and squalls of last week.
Categories of Indian Farmers
According to The Reserve Bank of India, farmers can be broadly categorised as:
'Marginal Farmer' is a farmer cultivating, owner or tenant or share cropper, agricultural land up to 2.5 acres.
'Small Farmer' is a farmer cultivating agricultural land of between 2.5 acres to 5 acres.
'Other Farmer' — also sometimes known as large farmer — is a farmer cultivating agricultural land of more than 5 acres.
Going by this definition, Sharma can be categorised as a large farmer. FarmGuide also spoke to other farmers in the rain affected districts of Bharatpur and Dholpur only to discover that none of them had prior information of the unseasonal rain.
Bhagwan Singh from Weir tehsil in Bharatpur told FarmGuide that he had lost about 75% of his wheat crop to the rains. He had planted wheat in his 8 acre farm and said that about 6 acres has been damaged by the rains. Singh is now unsure of how he will repay the loan that he had taken. When made aware of the insurance cover that banks provide to all loanee farmers, he said this was the first time he had heard of this and he usually waits for officials to assess crop damage. He is also unaware of the SMS or call based information services that are available to farmers from the government and telecom service providers.
Another farmer Babulal, who owns a 4 acre farm in Dholpur's Rajakhera tehsil, said: "No officials had come to assess the damage in his tehsil (till Friday, April 13)." Though Babulal did not lose most of his harvest of wheat, he still needs the insurance cover for the losses that he suffered as he has a loan to repay. Asked about the government's crop damage reporting service — Kisan Call Centre, Babulal said he was unaware of it and is, like the other farmers in the area, just waiting for officials to turn up and assess the damage.
Going by this trend, we can sum up that the awareness about information services and crop damage reporting is poor. If large and small farmers are not aware of the services that are available to them, the situation could be far worse among marginal farmers.
According to a recent Economic Times report, farmers in north India have lost up to a quarter of their crop to unseasonal rain and hailstorms.
Many wheat and mustard farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are concerned that the crop that has even survived the storms and rainfall would deliver inferior quality grain, which sells at a lower price. Farmer bodies say the losses are heavy, but officials say the damage is limited to some pockets.
"Some districts might have suffered 20–25% loss, but a better picture will come in the next 10–15 days," Shoraj Singh, director of agriculture department, Uttar Pradesh told the Economic Times while adding that authorities were assessing losses. Sudhir Panwar, president of the Kisan Jagriti Manch, said: "Preliminary reports suggest 20–25% loss in almost all the regions but in some areas of Mathura, Aligarh, Etawah, Saharanpur and some parts of Bundelkhand entire crop is damaged and loss varies between 70–80%."
However, Bhartiya Kisan Union — (Rajewal) president Balbir Singh Rajewal told the media channel more than half of the 35 lakh hectare under wheat cultivation was hit.
The entire situation brings out the need for making farmers aware of the services available to them, and raises question on the ground-level implementation of these services.
It is said that awareness can be the greatest agent of change.
Now, if farmers are not aware of the crop loss reporting services like Kisan Call Centre or the Kisan SMS portal for information on the weather, then they are left with no option but to rely on officials turning up in their village. This is time consuming and impractical. The officials will take 10 to 15 days to assess the damage.
All agriculture sector participants — the government, banks, insurance companies and telecom providers — need to reassess their strategy. There is no point of launching various services, if the end user is not even aware of it. Even when there is awareness, there is no authority to check if these services are being implemented and provided to farmers on time. Natural events like unseasonal rains cannot be avoided, but farmers can take the necessary measures to reduce the damage to their crops if they get information on time.
"Could have taken precautions with prior information," the words of the distressed farmer Bhanu Kumar Sharma should act as a reminder to all agriculture stakeholders on the importance of creating awareness and disseminating information services in time. Information services has the power to reduce, if not eliminate, agrarian distress.
To add to the farmers misery, Indian Meteorological Department has in its April 16 forecast said that scattered thunderstorm accompanied with gusty winds in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Delhi NCR, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Sikkim, Odisha, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Telangana and parts of Karnataka can be expected from April 16 to April 20.