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Climate changes worsen deprivation in Uttar Pradesh

By Bharat Dogra


Jalaun (Uttar Pradesh) : Three suicides over three days have exposed how distressed farmers in Uttar Pradesh are being affected by prolonged drought, floods, hail and dust storms.

All three deaths were reported from Jalaun district, says Grassroots Features.

On April 12, Mangal Singh Rajput, a farmer from Karmer village, hanged himself. He had become indebted because of adverse weather conditions. His hopes were dashed when unexpectedly fierce storm winds blew away a substantial part of his harvested wheat crop.

The next day, Bhoop Singh shot himself after a mining contractor's men destroyed his farmland and standing crops.

On April 14, Sidhgopal Kushwaha, the only earning member of a family in Jaisarikala village, committed suicide by consuming a dye. He had suffered multiple calamities including drought, hailstorm and fierce storm winds.

Annual rainfall has decreased but whatever rainfall takes place is concentrated in a smaller number of days. Untimely rainfall, not conducive to good crops, is becoming more common.

For example, the winter rain, instead of coming around Makar Sankranti, now comes much later when it is not favourable for farming.

Anil Singh, the director of Parmarth, a voluntary group in Jalaun, said: "It is quite clear that adverse weather conditions demand a much stronger intervention of the administration to protect farmers and food-security. But the administration is yet to wake up to this challenge."

A recent study of Madhogarh and Rampura blocks of Jalaun district concluded that worsening starvation and deteriorating food security as well as stress on farmers can be controlled if higher allocations for farming and ecological rehabilitation, with special emphasis on water conservation, are combined with egalitarian policies focused on helping the poor.

This study, undertaken as a part of the Hunger Monitoring project by Action Aid and Parmarth, has also shown the harmful consequences of the spread of new water-intensive crops and labour-displacing machinery.

The overall aim of the Hunger Monitoring Project is to spread consciousness of the causes, particularly the newly emerging ones, which can aggravate hunger and food insecurity and to provide timely warnings.

It was found that on an average, only 10 to 15 percent people of 15 villages were able to get a balanced diet of food, pulses and vegetables with a little ghee and milk. As many as 20 to 30 percent people said they usually went hungry as they couldn't even afford roti and salt.

The months from July to October and December to January are the worst as many people go hungry at that time. There has been a significant decline in the consumption of pulses, vegetables, milk, ghee and 'chaach' (milk minus its fat content) in the village.

Earlier chaach, a good source of protein, used to be given free and hence was accessible even to the poorest.

The problems of small farmers are much more acute as they find it difficult to survive even one crisis and are forced to borrow money at high interest rates.

Private moneylenders charge three to five percent interest per month, at times even more. Unable to repay the loans, farmers have to work free for moneylenders or else sell their grain to them at a cheaper rate. Sometimes they even lose their land and farm animals to them.

Poor farmers try to increase their earnings by leasing other people's land but this is usually not on favourable terms. In some cases, the small farmers pay about Rs.2,000 for cultivating one bigha (0.33 acre) of land for one year.

The cash payment is made right at the start of the farming year. If adverse weather conditions lead to the ruining of crops, as has been happening lately, the entire loss has to be borne by the tenant.

Many small farmers are indebted to both moneylenders and government banks. As the weather continues to be unfavourable, the chances of paying back loans reduce, leading to increasing stress and in some extreme cases, suicides.

The scorching month of June has just begun. Already there have been reports of cattle dying due to water shortage. In addition, farm animals also suffer due to fodder shortage caused by the destruction of fodder.

The administration has lost the opportunity to use the employment guarantee scheme to speed up water conservation work, repairing traditional tanks or practicing afforestation.

Munni Devi, a resident of Mallahpura village, said: "We worked very hard to clean the village tank but after several months we still haven't got any wages."

It is not only the administration's callousness that discourages people. "Several times when we worked very hard to raise a good crop, big landlords arrogantly leave their cattle to graze these. Just imagine our distress at seeing our crop destroyed like this," said Somvati.