May 24, 2019
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Farming crisis looms large on India's ongoing general elections

Mathura, India, Apr 20 (efe-epa).- The discontent of farmers, the largest workforce in India, might prove decisive in the ongoing general elections, where the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is looking to win a second term in power.

In the rural areas of the Mathura district in northern India, voting day - earlier this week - had coincided with the harvesting period of the wheat crop, but could not deter angry farmers from queuing up to vote.

Their discontent is at its peak with mounting debts, poor crop prices and an uncertain future.

The agrarian crisis has forced farmers to abandon farming for other low-paying jobs and the farming sector, that feeds more than two-thirds of India's 1.25-billion population, is under serious threat.

"I faced a lot of losses in my crop and my farm has been surveyed (for compensation) a lot of times but to no avail. The farmers have not received anything. Some people say 80, 000 rupees (around $1150) are coming, others say we will receive 15,000 rupees," Radhe Shyam Rawat, a resident of Mathura district's Nagariya village said.

After a year of losses, the 32-year-old farmer with parched, sunburnt skin, is unable to contain his fury against Modi.

Rawat, who had made time to vote despite the harvesting season, said Modi’s term in power was the worst period ever for India’s farmers.

After massive protests in New Delhi and the financial capital Mumbai by thousands of farmers, the government had announced compensations and loan waivers for farmers just before the elections, which are being held between Apr. 11 and May 19.

However, Rawat said that "only some people" had received a paltry sum of 2,000 rupees.

Farmers' sentiment could play an important role in the elections and was one of the key factors which had allowed the opposition Indian National Congress to defeat the BJP in provincial elections in 2018, after they promised loan waivers for farmers.

India is primarily an agricultural country, where around 75 percent of the population depends on the sector - according to the World Bank - which also accounts for 18 percent of its GDP.

"If someone else comes to power, we can only hope that they will help us. Even if Modi comes back, we will keep on asking that farmers should receive some help," Radhe said.

While farmers can avail of loans at relatively low interest rates, the amounts are often very small, leaving them at the mercy of private lenders who charge high interest, and the loans become untenable in case of losses caused by drought or excessive monsoon rains.

Owing to a paucity of storage facilities, small farmers also have to depend on intermediaries, who buy their produce at lower rates, often below the minimum support prices determined by the government.

Thus, farmers such as Radhe are forced to sell wheat at a price as low as 1,840 rupees ($26.5) per quintal (100 kilograms or 220 pounds).

"We have a lot of problems. There are no facilities. The water channels are not cleaned. The (dirty) water stagnates and destroys the crop," said Rameshwar Singh, a farmer, who had queued up outside a polling booth.

By Indira Guerrero

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