May 1, 2012 – Not just corporates; farmers too love to profit. Having decided to grow guar this season, I decided to travel to Rajasthan to interview a farmer growing guar, a crop that has been raking it in, thanks to global demand. I arrive at Hetramwala, near village Mayhiawali, in the late afternoon and set about getting a feel of the farmer’s pulse. I meet Vijay Singh Bhambhu, who owns five acres. Vijay Singh’s parents settled here more than 50 years ago. He lives in the same kachha house that his forefathers made. It has a charm that is near impossible to find now-a-days.

I asked Vijay Singh who is also director of the Panchayat Samiti in the Congress government of Rajasthan, about the state of its farmers. He is good-hearted, simple farmer and quite disillusioned with his own government for many reasons. The primary angst is over the curtailed supply of canal water. He is supposed to get around seven minutes of water per bigha once every week but gets erratic supplies for less than 26 weeks, which is half the mandated time. Even this water is not available when required. There are other problems associated with water; drinking water is a problem; so is drainage.

His second grouse is that politically influential people manage to get water on demand. Rich farmers manage to store two months of erratic drinking water supply in their tanks while small and marginal farmers have to carry it on their backs over long distances. There has been no repair of water tanks for many years.

The third worry is that animal husbandry, which used to be profitable, has turned red. The price of fodder has increased manifold while the price of milk had been stagnant at between Rs 15 and Rs 20 per litre. Clearly, dairy farming is no more profitable.
There are other infrastruc
tural issues: roads are very bad and have not been resurfaced for many years. Assistant agriculture officers visit the village twice a year but are of little assistance. While I talk to Vijay Singh, other villagers gather around and join in the conversation. They all agree with Vijay Singh. The price of diesel has recently gone up by Re 1 in the two adjoining districts of Hanumangarh and Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan. They find this discrimination in price unacceptable. The price of diesel in neighbouring Punjab is Rs 4 per litre more than in Rajasthan and diesel is smuggled into Rajasthan from Punjab. They ask if there was a similar case of dual pricing within any other state. I say that do not know of any such instance. Things were not so bad when Vasundhara Raje Scindia was the chief minister.

It takes a lot of persuasion to wean upset farmers from such a discussion that gets increasingly interesting. They surprise me with the information that the adjoining village of Ganeshgarh has voted to recall a directly elected sarpanch. The right to recall elected members of parliament is the amongst the demands of Anna Hazare. It has already been put into practice in this Rajasthan village. An elected representative can be recalled after two years of election by 75 per cent majority.

Electricity has never been a problem here. Household electricity is available at the rate of Rs 4.5 per unit for 17-18 hours per day while water for the tube well is available for five hours for Re 1 per unit. The Rajasthan government is paying a bonus of Rs 100 per quintal over and above the MSP price of Rs 1,280. The farmer needs to show his land girdawari/land crop documentation to get the bonus. This is to prevent Punjab and Haryana farmers from selling their produce in Rajasthan.

The cost of land in Hetramwala is between Rs 8 lakhs and Rs 10 lakhs per bigha. Just just four kilometers away, on the banks of the Gang canal, the price is between Rs 18 lakhs and Rs 20 lakh per bigha. The underground water of the hamlet is a little brackish while the tubewells adjoining the canal have sweet water that seeps from the canal due to the sub-standard lining. While one cannot take canal water, one can dig a well and access the sweet water. Consequently, the rent of the land is Rs 8,000 per bigha for land without a tubewell and Rs 16,000 per bigha where there is sweet water from the tube well. The rent has gone up by Rs 2,000 per bigha because of better prospects from sowing guar.

Vijay Singh is not going to sow his normal crop of Desi Narma (non-hybrid) cotton because he could not economically control the Lal lat (Pink Ball worm) attack last year. This may have due to long spell of humid weather and unseasonal rains. The sarson (mustard) that he sowed in January 2012 was not very good either because of the exceptionally long spell of cold weather.

Vijay Singh tells me that the last year the farmers were thrilled to sell guar at prices less than Rs 5,000 per quintal. After six months they felt cheated because gaur was selling for more than Rs 30,000 per quintal. Most of the profits were made by the middlemen and the millers while the farmers were helpless bystanders.

Making the local headlines now, however, is Seth B. D. Agarwal with his largesse for guar farmers. He is the managing director of of Vikas WSP, India’s largest guar gum manufacturer and currently working with U.S. multinationals, Economy Polymers and Chemplex, to distribute 2,000 tonnes of free seeds worth Rs 62 crores to more than 2.5 lakh farmers this season.
When comparing cotton with guar, it is easy to realize that cotton requires to be watered seven to eight times a season and requires five to six pesticide applications. Guar requires to be watered twice and the pesticide usage is not more than double, depending on humidity levels. Further, being a leguminous crop, it improves soil fertility by nitrogen fixation. By using 500 grams of seed per bigha, one can get up to 3½ quintals of guar yield per bigha. Guar can be harvested by a machine in a day, thereby saving precious time for timely sowing of the next crop.

Cotton that has to be hand-picked takes time and costs a lot. Even if one nets Rs 5,000 (current price Rs 30,000) per quintal for guar, it better than cotton at Rs 8,000 (current price Rs 4,000) per quintal after considering all factors. It takes no economist to understand that there will be less cotton sowing this year compared to last year. The irony is that because of low prices, there will be a drop in sown acreage for cotton and crops such as jeera (cumin). Prices of these commodities will sky rocket next year.

Is anyone paying attention to these little signals that the countryside is emitting?