Distressed farmers put up their wish list

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Demand solutions to price fall, poor yield, debt trap, and wild animal attacks

A string of farmer suicides that rocked the State of late is in focus as political parties in their campaign for the general election seek to highlight the farm distress triggered by instability in incomes because of a steep fall in prices of produce, low production, and increasing instances of man-animal conflicts.

The drastic decline in the yield of produce, including coffee, pepper, rubber, and areca nut, owing to climate change, has put the farmers in a fix. A sharp fall in crop price, due to the import policies of the government, has added to their worries, says K. Surendran, president, Haritha Sena, a farmers’ movement. Stringent measures to curb illegal import of pepper and areca nut from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Indonesia form the only solution to the crisis, Mr. Surendran says.

Revenue recovery

Revenue recovery measures by financial institutions on loans taken by farmers, by invoking the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Securities Interest (SARFAESI) Act, is another threat being faced by the community. According to the data with the organisation, 14,753 farmers in the State, including 8,370 farmers in Wayanad, 4,452 in Thiruvananthapuram, 688 in Palakkad, and 606 farmers in Idukki districts, are facing the threat.

The government should treat all loans taken by farmers by pledging agricultural property as farm loans, he says. “Announcing a moratorium on the recovery of farm loans will not help the farmers as they will have to pay a huge amount as interest and penal interest after the moratorium period. Instead, the government should provide interest-free loans to farmers at least for five years or waive farm loans,” says P.M. Joy, chairman of the Kerala Karshaka Purogamana Samiti. Seven farmers ended their lives in five months in Wayanad and 17 farmers in Idukki during the period owing to financial stress, Mr. Joy said.

Attack by wild animals

Many farmers are in need of protection for their life and property from the attack of wild animals. The death of 996 farmers in Kerala between 2010 and 2018 in wildlife attacks underscores the relevance of this appeal. Another 3,585 persons were injured in attacks.

Power fences and trenches erected to stop straying animals have made no significant change in farmers’ lives, if one goes by the figures of crop loss and injuries. As per Forest Department figures, 38,994 farmers have lost their crops in wild animal attack during the term. In 2018 alone, 168 persons were killed in such conflicts.

O.D. Thomas, a farm organisation leader in Kozhikode, said those settled on the fringes of forests under the South Wayanad division were the worst hit in such conflicts. During the 2010-18 term, 12,004 farmers lost their crops in such incidents there, followed by the North Wayanad division. “In Wayanad district alone, 22,843 farmers lost crops. Kannur and Kozhikode forest divisions had around 4,600 such victims,” he said.

Licence to cull

An amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act by the Centre giving more powers to the farmers on their land is their foremost demand. The legal right to chase away or cull straying animals tops the priority list. They also seek the restoration of cancelled gun licences as a measure for self protection, better compensation in case of death or crop loss, and a change in the hostile attitude of forest officers while probing wildlife cases.

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