Assam's Sugarcane Farmers Fight Pandemic & Floods Without Govt Support
Sugarcane farmers, unable to turn in a profit under the prevailing market conditions, are living in extreme poverty.
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Rusty sugarcane crusher machines, generators, filters, and big boiling pans used for producing jaggery are lying unused since the last several months in Assam's Hojai district. The crumbled condition of small jaggery plants owned by local sugarcane farmers paint a bleak picture of the dilemma farmers are facing amid the pandemic, in addition to other serious concerns.
I visited some sugarcane fields to hear what farmers had to say.
Bahar Uddin, a sugarcane farmer, wakes up at 5 am every day and reaches the sugarcane fields right after breakfast. Each day is filled with with hardships and what makes matters worse is that he rarely sees any profit from sugarcane farming. As the 55-year-old farmer toils in the fields, his struggle to survive is clearly visible.
A 45-year-old sugarcane farmer, Birendra Biswas, says that the pandemic-induced economic turmoil, floods, and elephants have seriously hit sugarcane farming. From preparing seed canes and cultivating the land 4-5 times to finally plant the cuttings, the process is intensive. When elephants eat the crops, all the hard work is laid to waste, he says.
“We have to invest at least Rs 6,000-7,000 per bigha for sugarcane farming. If elephants enter the farmlands or the fields are flooded, the crops are often damaged. We are not getting any help from the government. The government wants a digital India while killing the farmers.”Bahar Uddin, sugarcane farmer
‘Unable to Sell Jaggery In Markets’
It has become evident that these sugarcane farmers are unable to sell jaggery in the open market due to COVID-19 restrictions, eventually compelling them to sell their produce from home at a lower price. Bahar elucidates how the pandemic brought a disaster into the lives of sugarcane farmers.
“Last year, amid the lockdown restrictions of over 9 months, farmers sold jaggery from home instead of in the market. The selling price came down from Rs 1,000 in market to Rs 500-600 at home. The farmers somehow managed and again started farming. Then came the issues related to elephants, floods, and again the lockdown," says Biswas.
Juber Ahmed, a 45-year-old sugarcane farmer agrees that making profit from sugarcane farming amid the pandemic is a matter of past. Juber is struggling to feed his family while continuing his farming activities amid the hurdles.
The Landless Labourer of the Sugarcane Fields
According to the 2011 census, India has 14.43 crore landless agricultural labourers. The issue of these landless agricultural labourers was widely raised during the peak of farmers protest on the outskirts of Delhi. Now, amid the pandemic, the landless labourers engaged in sugarcane farming are facing extreme poverty. In Hojai district, while most of the landless labourers keep working as daily-wage workers, some of them are into crop-sharing, too.
Indrajit Das, a 43-year-old landless labourer engaged in sugarcane farming, says even crop-sharing makes no difference to him as he has to share the produce with the land owners. In comparison to their investment in sugarcane farming, the returns are unfair and not as profitable.
Being the sole earner for three others in his family, Indrajit reveals that he got no help from government and that he is struggling to fulfil his family’s everyday needs.
Birendra Biswas struggles to provide for his family of six for the same reason. Birendra has no land of his own and depends on sharecropping and daily wage labor for his living.
“The fields are full of grass. It costs Rs 1,400-Rs 1,500 to clean the grass. Then, we are able to get 10-15 boxes of jaggery from the harvest, of which half goes to the landowner. With other expenses and lockdown conditions, we can’t make a profit.”Birendra Biswas, Sugarcane Farmer
Amid the pandemic, as the farmers struggle to survive, they question both the state and central governments for not doing enough to resolve their issues.
(The author is a freelance journalist. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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