BBC News – Why a problem of plenty is hurting India’s farmers

Farmers are on the boil again in India

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 8 June 2017. In western Maharashtra state, they have been on strike for a week in some seven districts now, spilling milk on the streets, shutting down markets, protesting on the roads and attacking vegetable trucks.

In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, curfew has been imposed after five farmers were killed in clashes with police on Tuesday. Last month, farmers in southern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh staged protests and burnt their red chilli crop.

The farmers are demanding waivers on farm loans and higher prices for their crops. For decades now, farming in India has been blighted by drought, small plot sizes, a depleting water table, declining productivity and lack of modernisation.

Half of its people work in farms, but farming contributes only 15% to India’s GDP. Put simply, farms employ a lot of people but produce too little. Crop failures trigger farm suicides with alarming frequency.

The present unrest is, however, rooted in a problem of plenty.

In Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the farmers are on the streets because a bumper harvest fuelled by a robust monsoon has led to a crop glut. Prices of onions, grapes, soya-bean, fenugreek and red chilli, for example, have nosedived.

In most places, the governments have been less than swift in paying the farmer more for the crops, the government sets prices for farming in India and procures crops from farmers to incentivise production and ensure income support.

So why has a bumper crop led to a crisis in farming ?

Some believe that the price crash is the result of India’s controversial withdrawal of high value banknotes, popularly called demonetisation, late last year.

The ban, surprisingly, did not hurt planting as farmers “begged and borrowed” from their kin and social networks to pay for fertilisers, pesticides and labour, Harish Damodaran, rural affairs and agriculture editor at The Indian Express newspaper told me.

So more land was actually cropped, and bountiful rains led to a bumper crop. But traders, Mr Damodaran believes, possibly did not have enough cash to pick up the surplus crop.

“Although the chronic cash shortage has passed, there is still a liquidity problem. I have been talking to traders who say there’s not enough cash, which remains the main medium of credit in villages. I suspect the price crash has been caused by a lack of cash.”

Exaggerated fears

A prominent trader in Lasangaon, Asia’s biggest onion market in Maharashtra, a state which accounts for a third of India’s annual production, told me that concerns over shortage of cash leading to crop price crashes were “exaggerated”.

“There has been a good crop for sure, but a lot of traders have picked up crop, paying cash, issuing cheques and using net banking. Some of the glut and wastage has been due to the ongoing strike, when trucks of vegetables have been attacked on the highways,” Manoj Kumar Jain said.

Still others believe the main reason for the ongoing crises actually rooted in India’s chronic failure of coping with surplus harvests because of lack of adequate food storage and processing capacity.

“If the rains are good, you end up with a glut of crops and prices crash. The glut only highlights the inefficiencies of the farming value chain and hits farmers,” Ashok Gulati, an agriculture specialist at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, told me.

Take onions, for example. The vegetable is 85% water and loses weight quickly.

In Lasangaon, traders buy the crop from farmers and store the onions on concrete in tarpaulin-covered sheds. If the weather stays right, 3-5% of the stored crop is wasted in storage. But if the mercury soars, more onions dry up, lose weight and 25-30% of the stored crop could be wasted.

In a modern cold storage, however, onions can be stored in wooden boxes at 4C. Crop wastage is less than 5%. Storage costs about a rupee (less than a US cent) for every kilogram of onion a month.

So the government needs to make sure, or even subsidise, to keep the vegetable affordable to consumers once it reaches the retail market.

“We need to make the supply storage chain so efficient that the customer, farmer and the storage owner are happy. Unfortunately India hasn’t been able to make that happen,” Dr Gulati said.

Poor storage

For one, India just doesn’t have enough cold storages.

There are some 7,000 of them, mostly stocking potatoes in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Resultantly, fruits and vegetables perish very quickly. Unless India hoards food effectively, a bumper crop can easily spell doom for farmers.

Secondly, there’s not enough processing of food happening to ensure that crops don’t perish or go waste.

Take onions, again.

One way to dampen volatility in onion prices is to dehydrate the bulb and make these processed onions more widely available. Currently, less than 5% of India’s fruit and vegetables is processed.

Thirdly, farmers in India plant for new harvest looking back at crop prices in the previous year.

If the crop prices were healthy, they sow more of the same, hoping for still better prices.

If the rains are good, a crop glut can happen easily, and lead to extraordinary fall in prices. Farmers hold on to the crops for a while, and then begin distress sales.

“You need to allow future prices through contract farming, not cropping based on last year’s prices,” says Dr Gulati.

Radical measures

Clearly, farming policies in India need a radical overhaul.

Punjab, India’s “granary”, is a perfect example.

At a time when India does not suffer food shortages, water-guzzling wheat and rice comprise 80% of its cropped area and deplete groundwater.

Rising production of cereals has meant that government has been giving paltry rises to the farmers while buying paddy and wheat, eroding their profitability.

“They [the policies] are distorting the choices that farmers make, those who should be finding ways to grow vegetables, which grow more expensive every year, are instead growing wheat we no longer need,” says Mihir Sharma, author of Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy.

But the best that the governments here do is to quickly raise crop buying prices and alleviate the farmers’ suffering.

Faced with a crop glut at home, the newly appointed BJP government in Uttar Pradesh was smart enough to promptly raise the procurement price of potatoes, and announce a controversial farm loan waiver, and quell a simmering farmers’ revolt .

The government in Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the same party, failed to act in time. Now it says it will pay more to buy off the surplus onions. The more things change, the more they remain the same.


Gent Gurdwara – Tram 4 from Oefenplein to Hundelgemsesteenweg

Gent Gurdwara
08 May 2017

Gurdwara – Kortrijksepoortstraat

Gurdwara – Kortrijksepoortstraat

Divan Hall – School visit

Divan Hall – School visit

Kortrijksepoortstraat – Just outside the Gurdwara

Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara
Kortrijksepoortstraat 49
B-9000 Gent – Oost-Vlaanderen

Tram 4 from Oefenplein to Hundelgemsesteenweg
14 May 2017

Park & Ride Moscou – Oefenplein

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue – Takht Sri Hazur Sahib Management Board: President seeks suspension of four prominent members

Sikh24 Editors

Nanded-Maharashtra—India, 13 June 2017. President of Takht Sri Hazur Sahib Management Board Sardar Tara Singh has written a letter to the Revenue Department of Maharashtra seeking suspension of four board members including ex-SGPC president Avtar Makkar.

The other three members are SGPC members Bhupinder Singh Minhas from Mumbai and Gurdeep Singh Bhatia from Indore, along with Raghuvir Singh Virk (appointed by Chief Khalsa Diwan).

On being contacted by Sikh24, an official of Takht Sri Hazur Sahib Management Board has confirmed the development. He informed that President Tara Singh has taken this initiative keeping in view the regular absence of these members in Management Board’s meetings.

Sikh24 has learnt that an Act passed in 1956 equips the President of Takht Sri Hazur Sahib Management Board with power to recommend suspension of Board members if they remain absent continuously for three meetings.

The Management Board of Takht Sri Hazur Sahib is comprised of 17 members.

Quota for Board membership is as follow:

Members to be appointed by SGPC 4

Members to be appointed by Chief Khalsa Diwan 1

Sikh Parliamentarians 2

Members to be appointed by Maharashtra state government 2

Members to be elected by Sikh sangat 3

Members to be appointed by Hazuri Khalsa Diwan 4

Member to be appointed by Sikh sangat of Hydrabad 1

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Pakistan: Muslim university is the first to host a church in Pakistan

Catholic employees and students will soon be able to worship on campus

La Croix, 08 June 2017. In a corner of the University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF), a large banner at the entrance of a Christian area is emblazoned with the photos of a Catholic bishop and a picture of Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Additionally, the banner says “Let us make a house for the Lord”.

While most Pakistani universities host mosques, UAF will be the first to allow a church on its campus. An area has been set aside near the quarters of 70 Christian university employees, most of them working as sanitary workers, gardeners and support staff.

For Farrukh Habib, UAF music teacher, this is a dream come true.

“This will be the first Muslim university to have a minority place of worship. Now our children can access catechism right on their doorstep. Christian students are happy too. We thank both the university administration and the diocese”, Habib told

“Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the largest student union in the country usually oppose cultural activities in other universities but here they respect us,” he said.

More than 400 Christians in UAF celebrated when Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad, together with the Muslim Vice Chancellor of UAF, laid the church foundation stone on May 16.

Faisalabad Diocese will contribute 300,000 rupees (US$4,500) toward the project whose total cost is estimated at 7.6 million rupees. The university has allotted over a square kilometer for the church construction.

Established in 1906 as the first major institution of higher agricultural education in the undivided Punjab, UAF houses more than 20 mosques and has separate hostels for women and men.

The challenges

According to Habib, it was not easy to get the plan approved. “In the 1990s, we submitted a request for a church building but the administration did not agree. There were no lawns in the proposed plan but now a clean environment will also benefit the worshippers,” said Habib.

Back then, UAF employees said the dirt ground near their homes must be transformed as well as the church being built. “We need lawns as a venue to hold church programs as well as arrange marriages in our community,” Habib said.

Bishop Arshad held a ground-breaking ceremony for the campus church in 2015 but the project still stalled. Bishop Arshad said it took him another three years to negotiate with university officials.

“We had to work hard as many officers kept delaying our proposal,” Bishop Arshad said. “Finally, we have great news for the whole Christian community in Pakistan. This is a landmark for the diocese.”

Chapels in government-run health or educational facilities are a rare phenomenon in Pakistan which has suffered terrorism and religious fundamentalism for decades.

Most of the incidents of mob attacks and suicide bombings on Sunday worshipers have been reported in Punjab, home to over 1.5 million Christians.

There are no places of worship for Hindu or Sikh students in 108 state-run universities. As opposed to Muslims, who openly pray in parks and roads, Christians and other religious minorities prefer to pray indoors. However, Christian conventions still encourage the community to make the sign of the cross in public.

Saad Suleman, a doctoral candidate in Veterinary Medicine, said his Muslim friends congratulated him the day the university church was announced.

“Christian students face difficulty in getting combined rooms in the hostels [even though] we have a strong administration who try to avoid religious problems,” he said.

“The vice chancellor gave us permission to hold a Christmas program in 2014. However, it was canceled due to the Peshawar school massacre. We never asked again,” said Suleman.

“The Catholic cathedral, situated three kilometers from UAF, is our usual Sunday destination. Now we have our own church, we will be able to offer regular prayers like other students,” he added.

Dawn – A neutral role for Pakistan

Op/Ed, 13 June 2017. There may be many strands to the latest crisis engulfing the Middle East, but there is only one conclusion for Pakistan: this country cannot afford to get embroiled in conflict in the Middle East.

With Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Qamar Bajwa in Saudi Arabia, the urgent, high-level diplomacy by Pakistan should have a dual focus, i e help defuse tensions among the various state protagonists, each of which Pakistan has friendly relations with, and withdraw from the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance.

The bizarre and patently false assertion by a section of the Turkish state-run media that the Pakistani parliament is considering sending thousands of troops to Qatar underlines the risks involved in a conflict in which the media has become a weapon.

The possibility of false stories and propaganda setting off a diplomatic crisis for Pakistan is very real and the Foreign Office has done the right thing by quickly and emphatically denying the possibility of Pakistani troops being sent to Qatar.

While Pakistan’s leverage may be limited and its diplomatic heft in the Middle East far from obvious, it occupies a unique and potentially useful position as it has friendly ties with all the Middle Eastern and Gulf countries embroiled in the current crisis.

From Saudi Arabia to Qatar and from Egypt to Iran, Pakistan has genuinely friendly and stable ties with all sides, precisely the kind of committed and relatively neutral stakeholder that can act as an interlocutor to help rescue a region from a greater crisis.

But if a crisis-fighting role is not something Pakistan can realistically take on, there must be an emphatic signal sent to all sides: Pakistan values its relations with all countries and the Pakistani national interest requires it to stay neutral in the current crisis.

That should not be impossible, but it would require Pakistan to suspend its military participation in the IMA and withdraw retired General Raheel Sharif from his command of future IMA forces.

Simply, recent events in the Middle East have shattered the assumptions on which Pakistan’s original inclusion in the IMA was premised.

The IMA was supposed to be a counterterrorism force and there was no threat greater than the militant Islamic State group that Muslim-majority countries could jointly fight.

But the Saudi leadership has made clear that it primarily wants to contain Iran and, now, cut Qatar down to size, effectively destroying any possibility that the IMA can ever become a platform for all Muslim-majority countries to come together to fight militancy and terrorism.

Saudi Arabia is and will remain an important ally of Pakistan.

It is the responsibility of friends to stand by one another in times of crisis.

But responsible friends must also be unafraid to speak the principled truth and protect themselves from colossal errors by the other.

Withdrawal from the IMA has become essential.