ME: Namaskara, my name is ravi. I am from Bengaluru and heading towards Badami on work. I wanted to talk to you, hope I am not bothering. NAAGAPPA: Namaskara, Nobody stops on this road, it's ok you can talk. I just finished my breakfast. Ask your driver to park his car under the tree.
ME: I like the shirt what you are wearing.
NA: (with a smile) My wife stitched this for me a few years back using my grandson's old school uniform. But now she has got a bad eyesight, so I have asked her not to sit on the sewing machine anymore.
ME: How many acres is this land and is it yours?
NA: Its 4 acres and I have taken this on a lease from my landlord.
ME: How much do you have to pay him?
NA: I have to give him 30% of my earnings. He is a nice man.
ME: Is this BT cotton?
ME: What could be the cotton yield for you this year?
NA: I don't expect it to be more than 5 quintals an acre this time. It's half of what they normally say.
ME: Who are 'they'?
NA: The seed suppliers. Last year the yield was good but just before the bloom this entire region had a pest attack. All of us lost a lot of money. We were angry with the shop owner for not giving pest-resistant seeds. Instead of refunding, he advised us to buy more pesticide. So this time when I went to buy seeds, the shop owner told me that he cannot give any
ME: How much does the seed cost?
NA: There are a lot of varieties, the one which I have used here costs 800 rs for a packet (450 gms) and I need 1 packet per acre. The cost can go up to 1500 rs a packet.
ME: Is there a pest problem this year also?
NA: Less, but I have sprayed insecticide. This time there is no rain hence the yield is less.
ME: So, what do you do for water and how much does the insecticide cost?
NA: Some amount of Malaprabha river water comes to us through a canal. This year the canal is getting repaired, hence no water. I had to hire a pump set for 2 days and got the water from my neighbor's farmland and paid for the water also. Don't ask me about the insecticide, I have spent a lot of money. This time my son-in-law helped me with it.
ME: Ok, what's the buying price you are expecting this year for this variety of BT cotton?
NA: A known person (middlemen) in the village buys it from me. I expect at least 4500 rs a quintal but I am not sure.
ME: Is that the MSP? (minimum support price)
NA: I don't know about that.
ME: Don't you go to the APMC yard to sell your cotton?
NA: No, I am not used to it. Moreover, I cannot afford the transportation cost. I get cash in my village itself from this known person and I have taken some loan from him as well.
ME: Are you a part of any farmers co-operative or a self-help group?
NA: No, but my landlord is. I have attended meetings earlier but I do not understand what these officials say, maybe because I am illiterate.
ME: Are you happy?
NA: I was happy last week. My grandchildren were at home for the festival.
ME: That's so nice, but I meant are you happy growing BT cotton.
ME: What if the government or any farmers society promises to compensate you with the price difference? I know that organically grown cotton yield would be less.
NA: Earlier all of us used to grow Jayadhara and reuse our seeds. My ancestors used to predict rain pattern accurately but we cannot predict that anymore. If good payment is ensured then most of us will grow Jayadhara. BT cotton is for the pocket and Jayadhara is for the soul.
ME: I have a camera in my bag. Do you mind if I take your photo?
NA: Are you going to make me famous?
ME: I wish I could, but no. I am not a journalist. Some of my friends may like to know what you just told me, and hence I want to write.
NA: Ok write. But what do you do?
ME: Nothing important. I design clothes.
ME: Do you know how much you have already spent on growing BT cotton in this 4-acre land, as it might help you know your profits?
By then it was time for both of us to get back to our work. He plucked a branch of the plant which had cotton flower and gave it to me and I offered him a couple of bananas which I was carrying and he took them reluctantly. Before leaving, I wished him luck and in return, he screamed at my driver to drive carefully. I guess that's how he preferred blessing me.
This is not a post to solve Naagappa's plight alone, as we all know we are surrounded by many like him. This is neither an investigative journalism nor an effort to find all the answers to solve a complex problem which most of our farmers face today. I came back with more questions than answers and I will continue to ask more of it. Inhaling future and exhaling past is a part of life, and it certainly induces hopefulness. We have to be hopeful for someone like naagappa, and that's the least we can do.
What we really need to hope for is.....for farmers to own their seed, to have smaller cotton farmers collective with a better bargaining power, a policy change from the khadi institutes to procure locally grown indigenous cotton, an agriculture university which has robust training and seed bank facility, a government which incentivises the farmer and looks into crop insurance, a design community which does not reduce fair trade - sustainability - organic cotton to irresponsible hashtags/ fashion weeks, social enterprises which challenge the existing system and create sustainable linkages, a society which believes in supporting farmers cause and pay a better price for the products and make farmers like naagappa happy, and that is possible.
Next time, when you are zipping through the highway of your life, stop by, pause, engage with a farmer and show him/her your solidarity.