Book Review Ramrao- The story of India's Farm Crisis on

The prevailing agrarian distress has a context with many factors: a giant interlinked global economy; commercialization of farming and life itself; a rural population unable to withstand the new economic order in absence of safety nets; an upwardly mobile new affluent India disconnected from its villages; and struggling poor even in the urban spaces. Thirty years of liberalization, privatization, and globalization have helped a class of Indians live the dream life, but for vast sections of the peasantry and rural populations, this has been a tumultuous and deathly period, like a never-ending recession..

From the book

Why I picked this book?

People living in cities have minimal knowledge and idea about our rural counterparts, especially about people engaged in agricultural activities. We have a vague idea about farmers’ daily lives and struggles and in most cases that too is shaped by what we see in movies and serials, which unfortunately is not the correct depiction.

I decided to read this book to get an understanding of the challenges and hardships faced by farmers and to know why despite working so hard and using all the modern technologies the common farmer remains in debt year after year. To get an understanding of why farmers take to the extreme step of taking their own lives, what is the role of government, and what is the impact of the monopoly of large corporations in farming.

the book

Ramrao – The Story of India’s Farm Crisis as the name suggests, the book tells the story of various issues and hardships faced by farmers in the cotton belt of Maharashtra through the life of a cotton farmer Ramaro. The author met Ramrao in 2014, after he survived an attempt to take his life, consuming pesticide meant for his farms.

The book is an example of fine reportage of rural India, facing a big time of agrarian crisis. The author documents the hardships faced by farmers of the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, which are usually the drought-prone areas of Maharashtra.

Ramrao is a small-time farmer, who grows cotton on his farm and sometimes takes the farm on lease from others to grow crops. Most of the crops he grows are dependent on rain and any delay or absence of monsoon can ruin the crops. Too much rain is also a problem and detrimental to the crops. Even if the crop turns out good then there are external factors that may decide the price and one may not get the benefit out of selling crops.

Farmers need to sell their crops on time to have cash in hand for the procurement of seeds, pesticides, and other inputs to prepare for the next crop. Generally, they don’t have cash and reach out to private money lenders for money at a high-interest rate. Banks won’t give them loans as they have already taken a loan and did not repay it because they did not get money from their produce. It’s a vicious cycle for the farmers.

If the crop did not grow as expected (there are numerous reasons, pests, drought, insects, wild animals, floods), the farmer won’t get money for his produce, he won’t be able to repay his existing loan and now need money for cultivating his next crop. Again, he reaches out to moneylenders for money and the debt continues.

At this stage, many farmers are unable to handle the stress and pressure and take their own lives. In recent years the incidence of suicides has increased manifolds.

In 1995, the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) began to keep a record of accidental deaths and suicides in India. Farmer suicides are closing in on 20,000 in Vidarbha, 60, 000 in Maharashtra and 4,00,000 in the rest of India. The most recent report available on former deaths is for 2018. The NCRB didn’t release the subsequent annual reports on time. For 2015 and 2016, the reports were published in November 2019 after the methodology was tweaked to make the figures low. In 2017, the government shut down NCRB and later merged it with the Bureau of Police Research and Development.

From the book

Another challenge is the monopoly of large corporations over the seed market. Monsanto (now Bayer) currently has a monopoly over India’s Bt cotton seed market. The Indian public sector has no presence in the GM seed markets. Farmers were moved to Bt. Cotton from the traditional cotton seeds as Bt. Cotton gives more produces more cotton as compared to traditional cotton and is also worm resistant. However, after 3-4 years even the Bt. Cotton (seeds were costlier than regular seeds) was prone to worms and the farmers were at receiving end. They were spraying more pesticides and insecticides and thus incurring more input costs but not getting decent produce.

The author captured the life of Ramrao from 2014 till the book was published in 2021. After reading the book one wonders will the average farmer of this country ever live a happy life and will ever this profession be profitable for him. The situation is complex with various factors involved in it and one is kind of clueless about what the possible solution could be to help the farmers and people involved in farming.

A very well researched book that gives us a picture of rural India and the lives of the farmers. This book is a portal to the world that most of us living in the cities take for granted.

About The Author

Jaideep Hardikar is a Nagpur-based senior journalist, writer, researcher and a core member of the People’s Archive of Rural India. He has worked with DNA and The Telegraph among other publications. He has reported extensively from Vidarbha on farmer suicides and the cotton crisis. The recipient of a number of journalism fellowships, he is also the author of A Village Awaits Doomsday.

Our Verdict

Ramrao – The Story of India’s Farm Crisis is a book for everyone who is interested to know about rural India, farmers and the agrarian crisis that India is going through. It is all the more important read for the upcoming journalist who wants to report on rural India. Read this one to better understand the Indian villages, farmers their lives and the challenges and hardships they face.

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