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How a rural distress helpline in Telangana is preventing farmer suicides

Set up in 2017, Kisan Mitra provides counselling to distressed farmers and acts as a bridge between them and the government.
The Kisan Mitra team
Shruthi, who heads the team of counsellors at Kisan Mitra, is among the many volunteers in the organisation who are lending a helping hand to the distressed farmers of Telangana. Kisan Mitra, a non-profit organisation, is a rural distress helpline that acts as an intermediary between the government and farmers.

Set up in 2017, the helpline strives to provide financial security to farmers and makes sure entitlements reach their pockets on time. Apart from securing an economically stable future for the farmers, the volunteers at Kisan Mitra also provide counselling to farmers who are on the verge of suicide and handle distress calls from farmers who are depressed and need a ray of hope in their lives.

Why are the farmers distressed?

Telangana is one of the states worst hit by the agrarian crisis. Thousands of farmers have killed themselves  since the inception of Telangana and the state stands second when it comes to farmer suicides in the country. So what exactly is worrying the farmers in the state?
Harsha, one of the founder members of the organisation, tells TNM that it’s the lack of proper implementation of schemes that is drowning the farmers in the state under massive debts.
“Kisan Mitra was floated as a subsidiary of the Centre of Sustainable Agriculture after a number of farmer organisations brought to our notice the farmer distress in the rural parts of Telangana. So over the years, what Kisan Mitra has been able to gauge from its activities is that there is no dearth in the monetary schemes for farmers introduced by the government but there definitely is a lack of interest on the government’s side to ensure proper implementation,” says Harsha.
He goes on to add, “For example, a cotton farmer is entitled to a sum of Rs 30,000 per acre from the government. But the vicious cycle of debt begins when the farmer fails to get the amount on time. For him to continue work on the fields, he borrows money from money lenders at exorbitant interest rates. Some farmers will also submit their land deeds as mortgage. By the time the government money reaches him, he might have already paid multiple installments of the interest money.”
And this is where organisations like Kisan Mitra come into the picture.
“We ensure that the entitlements from the government reach the farmers on time. For this, we begin with creating awareness on what the government schemes are, what are the viable means of investment and also insurance, about which most farmers have least knowledge about,” Harsha explains.
Calling for help still a stigma
Of the hundreds of calls that Kisan Mitra receives in a day, most are distress calls made by men. But Shruthi, who heads the counselling team, says there’s a long way to go before men feel that it’s all right to talk about mental health and not give in to the societal pressure of proving one’s hyper-masculinity.
“To begin with, none of the farmers suffer from any psychological issues. It’s various factors joined together that drives a farmer to suicide. In rural areas, mental health is still a taboo to be discussed. It was only last year that a farmer killed himself after suffering from extensive crop loss. His wife knew of his mental condition but was threatened to not to talk about it to anyone. One day, as he got a cue that his wife was meeting the village head for some financial help, he consumed poison and ended his life. Such is the stigma associated with mental health in our country,” Shruthi shares.
And for the same reason, Kisan Mitra conducts awareness programmes not just for male farmers, but also for women who are in a better position to advise and counsel their husbands.
Shruthi, who was working as a psychologist in Hyderabad, left the job and joined the Kisan Mitra team in 2018.
“It’s mostly the small income farmers who fall into huge debts. While many maybe at the verge of suicide, some may also be just seeking solutions to their problems. For farmers who need immediate counselling, we send our field coordinators to help them. If we think a particular farmer needs monetary help, we make arrangements to ensure he is eligible to some sort of monetary scheme under the government. This may not be a direct government intervention but an alternate mechanism where we ensure that the farmer has enough money to buy food or is able to send his kids to school,” Shruthi explains.
Kisan Mitra currently operates out of three districts – Vikarabad, Mancherial and Adilabad. While its field volunteers are limited to these areas, it receives calls and provides counselling to farmers from across the state. Of the 9000 plus calls that Kisan Mitra has received till date, Harsha says they have been able to resolve over 5000 cases and the rest are still pending for some level of intervention from the government.
The organisation also has its presence on WhatsApp, where it tries to disseminate more information on organic farming and provides knowledge on best farming practices.
“We also visit hospitals and meet farmers who have survived suicide attempts. There are many reasons that can lead a man to desperation. Kisan Mitra is currently trying to zero in on these triggers and help victims cope with them,” Shruthi adds.

Waiving off Agricultural loan

Press Information Bureau
Government of India
Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare
24-July-2018 15:54 IST

Waiving off Agricultural loan

The Union Government, at present, is not considering any loan waiver Scheme for farmers, as such, waivers may impact the credit culture of a State by incentivising the defaulters, even if they are in a position to repay the loan, and thus, create/amplify the moral hazard by discouraging those borrowers who have been regular in repaying their loans. Further, each waiver granted makes it even more difficult to reject any future similar demand.
Reportedly, various State Governments including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Union Territory (UT) of Puducherry have in the recent past announced their own farm loan/debt waiver Schemes to extend relief to the needy farmers. The details of debt/loan waiver announced by these States/UT is given at Annexure.
Loan Waivers announced by various States
Details of States/UTs which have announced Farm Loan Waivers in recent past:

SN Name of State Details
1. Tamil Nadu Government of Tamil Nadu had announced waiver of loans outstanding vide GO No.50 dated 23 May 2016. Outstanding Crop Loan, MT-Agri & LT (Farm Sector) loans issued to Small & Marginal Farmers by the Cooperative Banks as on 31 March 2016 were waived.  Rs.5318.75 crore were waived in respect of 1202075 farmers.
2. Maharashtra The Maharashtra Government announced Debt waiver for farmers vide GR dated 28.06.2017 covering 31 lakh farmers with amount of debt waiver of Rs. 30,500 crore.
3. Karnataka Karnataka government vide Govt. order No CO313 CLS 2017 dated 23 June 2017 announced waiver of farm loans of up to ₹50,000 taken from State-run Cooperative Institutions covering 22 lakh farmers with amount of debt waiver of Rs. 8,165 crore.
4. Uttar Pradesh Government of Uttar Pradesh on April 4, 2017 announced a Rs. 30,729 crore scheme waiving crop loans up to Rs.1.00 lakh for Small and Marginal Farmers. In addition to this, Rs.5,630 crore was allocated for writing off bad loans of around seven lakh farmers, which had become NPAs for banks. This takes the total amount allocated for loan relief to Rs.36,359 crore. The Chief Secretary, Govt. of UP,  vide DO letter dated 24 May 2017 had issued a letter to CMD/CEO of all Scheduled Commercial banks  informing State Govt.’s  decision to implement a scheme for redemption of crop loan debt of Small and marginal Farmers of the state.
5. Jammu Kashmir Jammu & Kashmir Government declared Debt Waiver scheme under KCC   vide Govt order no. 16-F of 2017 dated 23-01-2017.  KCC loans upto Rs. 1 lakh were given 50% waiver in a phased manner.  Total amount waived was Rs.244 crore for 1.15 lakh farmers.
6. Punjab The Punjab Government announced Debt waiver for farmers vide Notification No. 8/259/17-Agri/2(10)/19235 dated 17.10.2017 covering 10 lakh farmers with amount of debt waiver to the tune of Rs.10,000 crore.
7. Chhattisgarh Chhattisgarh Govt. announced Debt relief/waiver vide its notification no. 2838/2015/02-15/30-15F dated 26 December, 2015.   25% of debt waiver was provided for, amounting to Rs. 129.76 crore for 189379 farmers.
8. Union Territory  of Puducherry The Union Territory of Puducherry vide G.O. Ms.10/Coop. dated 12/01/2018 announced the agriculture loan waiver Scheme 2016-17 covering loans of all agricultural and allied activities availed through Cooperative structure as on 31.03.2016.
9. Andhra Pradesh Andhra Pradesh Government announced Waiver of Agriculture crop loan to farmers vide GO Ms.No.164 dated 02.08.2014
10. Telengana The Telangana Government announced Debt waiver for farmers vide GO RT No.69 dated 13.08.2014

This Information was given by the Minister of State for Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Shri Parshottam Rupala

With A Single Phone Call Farmers Are Getting Help From Government Officials, Thanks To Kisan Mitra Helpline

From our friends at
Efforts For Good
Deepika Vemuri

May 19th, 2018 / 5:34 PM

Mallappa from Tattepalle, Vikarabad district, Telangana, called on Kisan Mitra helpline multiple times expressing anguish and distress, on 17th May 2018 evening around 5 PM, when things reached a state of desperation, he said he would commit suicide. Mallappa’s younger daughter’s treatment costs a lot of money while the elder daughter does not have a job. On the one hand the bank loan needs to be paid off, but on the other hand, he lacks capital for his sugarcane crop. With no drip irrigation and faulty land records were compounding his problems. All these problems were deeply disturbing him and his family. Mallappa’s story is just the tip of the iceberg.
Every few days we hear many distressing news of farmer suicides. What is causing farmers across rural belt in India to commit suicide? Is it the farm distress? Has agriculture become so unsustainable that farmers see no other way out? Are we there for our farmers? There are several such questions which troubled Center for Sustainable Agriculture(CSA) and they decided to take concrete action through Kisan Mitra Helpline.

How is Kisan Mitra helpline different from others?

There are several helplines where farmers can call in, but most of them are just related to technical agricultural questions. What our farmers need is someone who listens to their problems and helps them by directing them to the right people for a solution. Kisan Mitra helpline is just that and much more. Mr Harsha from Kisan Mitra’s core team says “Understanding rural distress and issues and attempting to solve them one issue at a time, as well as making wider policy corrections has shaped what Kisan Mitra is today”.

Kisan Mitra helpline centre

Kisan Mitra Helpline was set up to understand the problems faced by farmers of Vikarabad district in the state of Telangana and to reduce farmers distress. Vikarabad is one of the backward areas in Telangana state. This helpline was launched on the occasion of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar Jayanti, on 14th April 2017 by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture with the support from the district administration, Vikarabad.

The district administration has made the Agriculture Department the nodal agency responsible for coordinating the complete process of this helpline with the help of all related departments at the district level. Centre for Sustainable Agriculture takes the lead in the running the Kisan Mitra helpline and handling of farmer’s distress calls. A team of five people have been appointed to manage the incoming calls, and one individual was appointed to oversee field-level coordination and interactions with farmers.
Talking to The Logical Indian, the Vikarabad district collector M/s Divya Devaraju explains the ideation and execution of Kisan Mitra. She says, “ Kisan Mitra is an outcome of a brainstorming session one day in Vikarabad Collectorate with different stakeholders working on farmer suicides.  It was felt that we are often reacting to farmer’s problems after they occur. Distress doesn’t occur in a day. A small land record issue here, a bank loan issue there, availability of subsidised seed elsewhere are often left unattended to, which lead to piling up of issues and finally distress.  Hence we thought can we proactively track the problems of farmers and solve them by taking to a logical conclusion. This was the birth of the idea of Kisan Mitra. Govt Order Ms 421 of the State Government in 2004 stipulated that there should be a farmer distress helpline in every collectorate. We simply took the mandatory requirement of the helpline and tried to make it more comprehensive. It is also an effort to make all stakeholder departments like revenue (land), agriculture, banking, electricity, agriculture marketing etc., aware of the issues of the farmers and work in tandem towards a solution.”

Vikarabad, collector Divta Devarajan interacting with one of the farmers family members who took his life.

Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Kisan Mitra’s team launched an awareness campaign which included flyers, posters, events such as suicide prevention week etc., while the agriculture department took up the initiative of wall writings in every mandal office to create and raise awareness among farmers and their family members. In addition to this, the field coordinator also visited many villages personally to interact with the community and distribute pamphlets and flyers about Kisan Mitra. The Kisan Mitra team and the district administration also reached out to various local print media outlets to reach a broader audience.

As of March 30, 2018, Kisan Mitra has worked on 3,022 cases in Vikarabad district. 740 of these cases were from farmers seeking information related to agriculture requiring technical knowledge and were diverted to the Kisan Call Centre(the govt helpline) and the Agricultural department. The remaining 2,282 of cases were from farmers with issues regarding non-agricultural matters requiring more considerable intervention or attention from the different government departments amongst other interventions.  Kisan Mitra also beganoperations in Adilabad district a couple of months ago. Since inception, they have tackled 289 cases. 216 cases were issues that needed intervention. They have also started operations in Mancherial from 29th March 2018.
Coming back to Mallappa’s case, Kisan Mitra sent their field coordinator Sangameshwar to visit the farmer within 2 hours.They met the farmer at the MRO office directly so that his grievances can be taken to the MRO instantly. In addition to this, Sangameshwar also visited the family and collected further details of the distress and reported it back to Kisan Mitra team on the same day. Kisan Mitra team then immediately swung into action and sent emails and SMSes to the district collector and other administrators the very next day.
Peddemul’s Mandal Revenue Officer (Tahsildar) responded immediately and called Kisan Mitra Field coordinator to the office to understand the issues that the farmer was facing and planned for a swift action on 18th May and by 19th morning, the farmer his family members were given the modified land record copies. Peddemul Horticulture officer invited the family members and oversaw the application process for Drip irrigation end to end. Following this, on 20th May, Sub-collector invited the Malanna, MRO and Kisan Mitra Field Coordinator and his daughter who had finished her degree and she was given a job locally.

Mr Doma Srinivas of Doma village says that he cannot imagine his life without Kisan Mitra. “Kisan Mitra not only saved my father’s life and gave me hope but also showed me a path forward in life,” he says. Mr Doma Srinivas was working odd jobs in another town when he was informed that his father had announced his intention to end his life in a local kisan sabha. By this time they were facing several financial difficulties as a family.
Agriculture was not proving to be a sustainable way of life for them. They had crop loans, and the bank was not helping them as colossal interest had accrued. Mr Srinivas read in the paper about Kisan Mitra and approached them. Kisan Mitra’s team reached out and gave confidence to his father.  In addition to this, they also helped by training him to be a field coordinator so that he can take care of his family members as well as help other farmers and their families. Mr Srinivas is negotiating with the bank for a one-time settlement and is hopeful of a good life ahead.

In water-stressed Andhra, farmers sign pact to share ground water

KumKum Dasgupta, Hindustan Times, Anantapur
Ram Chandru Reddy, a 67-year-old agriculturist, has been farming his three-acre plot at Kummaravandla Pally, a hamlet in Anantapur district, for as long as he can remember.
“Farming is in my blood. But I nearly gave it up couple of years ago because of water crisis,” says Reddy, who grows rice, groundnut and red gram. “But the crisis was averted because we decided to share groundwater”.
Anantapur is the second-most backward and drought-prone district in India. Over the past six months, 22 farmers have committed suicide in Anantapur.
Till 2010, the water shortage was manageable. “We did not have to dig deep; we used bullocks to draw water from wells to irrigate our lands,” recalled Venkat Ramana Reddy, a 50-year-old farmer.
Post 2000, the region’s semi-arid weather, deep hard rock aquifers, perversely incentivised power and monetary subsidies, and absence of any formal legislation or social regulation to govern extraction led to competitive borewell digging, all of which led to a rapid fall in groundwater levels. The water shortage led to tension between borewell and non-borewell owning farmers, even as cultivation of water-intensive crops continued.
Read: India’s groundwater crisis
India draws more groundwater each year than the US and China combined; with 89% of groundwater extracted used in the irrigation sector. With rain the most significant source of groundwater recharge, any change in the rainfall pattern influences the groundwater level.
India has a rough estimate of how much groundwater it has but there is no micro-level data and this hampers groundwater management at a localised level.
“The national aquifer mapping programme can help generate granular data for groundwater and make it available for public policy. The idea is to show groundwater is not an infinite resource that can be pumped out endlessly,” said Mala Subramaniam, CEO, Arghyam, a Bangalore-based non-profit. “Second, gram panchayats should be equipped with the basic understanding of hydrogeology and traditional knowledge to help them manage the groundwater efficiently”.
Instead of blaming the monsoon and fate, farmers at Kummaravandla Pally joined hands with the government and WASSAN, an NGO, to tackle the crisis in 2010. After a situational analysis, 25 farmers formed a collective – Kolagunti Ummadi Neeti Yajamanya Sangham — to “share groundwater with each other” to sustain their crops.
Watch | How farmers from Anantapur found a solution to the groundwater crisisAds by ZINC
This led to the concept of networking of borewells to secure rain-fed crops of all farmers, irrespective of borewell ownership. By linking all borewells with a network of pipelines and outlets, all farmers can now access groundwater. To ensure compliance, the farmers signed a MoU in the presence of district officials.
The agreement’s institutional norms include the following clauses: The committee would have farmers with and without borewells; a joint account would be opened in the names of these members; equal contribution towards share capital, irrespective of borewell ownership; annual contribution towards the maintenance fund, on per acre basis at Rs 100 per acre; one farmer would be elected for monitoring the schedule for water distribution/allocation and also collect contribution from each member.
Read: Six charts that explain India’s water crisis
There are non-institutional norms for sharing too. No new borewells should be dug for 10 years without the permission of committee; the irrigated area under borewells will not be increased but the critically-irrigated area can be ; in the critically irrigated areas, water should be given for sowing, flowering, pod development, and crop harvesting; crop budgeting exercise must before sowing ; the System of Rice Intensification, which uses less water, should be practiced for paddy cultivation; micro Irrigation system (drips and sprinklers) should be used to conserve water; and any repairs to the borewells during critical phase (June to November) will be borne form the maintenance fund. During the rest of the year, borewell maintenance will be done by the owners.
FINE PRINT: The Borewell Sharing Agreement
Farmers with or without borewells can join, if they contribute equally towards share capital
Members have joint accounts; annual contribution towards maintenance fund is Rs 100 per acre
One farmer elected to monitor water allocation and collect contribution
No new borewells for next 10 years, irrigated area to remain the same as 2009
Critically irrigated area can increase, but water provided for four key crop phases
Crop water budgeting exercise a must before sowing
If paddy is cultivated, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) should be practiced
Micro irrigation system such as drips and sprinklers to be used to conserve water
The farmers got financial support from the government for pipeline network and regulators for connecting existing borewells, sprinklers and drips systems. For promoting diversity in agriculture, the National Food Security Mission and the agriculture department provided red gram and groundnut seeds were provided free.
Government schemes such as horticulture plantation in five acres of land; water and soil conservation works under the MGNREGS and NADEP compost pits for non-pesticide management are used by the farmers.
The agreement led to a new way of agriculture in the 72 acres of land of 25 farmers. Since 2010, the cropping pattern has changed, leading to diversity of crops, reduction in costs of cultivation; improvement in value of produce and profit.
According to a study by the Department of Rural Development and Social Work, Sri Krishna Devaraya University, Anantapur, the use of pipeline system instead of field channels has increased water use efficiency. Critical irrigation helped in preventing crop loss, and raised productivity of groundnut. Groundwater levels have been sustained since 2009 , while the area under agriculture and critical irrigation improved, shows data.
Thanks to the success of this borewell pooling, the Andhra Pradesh government is scaling it up across the state via the Indira Jalaprabha Scheme.
In Telangana, several villages in six districts — Mahbubnagar, Ranga Reddy , Warangal, Medak, Karimnagar and Adilabad — are piloting this participatory groundwater management programme.
The author tweets at @kumkumdasgupta

Farm Income Insurance Scheme to Provide Protection to Farmers Against Natural Calamities is on the Cards

Farm Income Insurance Scheme to Provide Protection to Farmers Against Natural Calamities is on the Cards: Radha Mohan Singh

Production and price risks affect the income of farmers, which has adverse effect on their capacity to invest in advance crop varieties, techniques of production and capital formation in farm sector. Inaugurating a Seminar on concept of farm income insurance scheme at Ahmedabad today, Union Minister of Agriculture, Shri Radha Mohan Singh said that agriculture is largely dependent upon monsoon, which leads to uncertainty in production and price of agricultural produce.
Government is considering to launch farm income insurance scheme so that these two important components i.e. production and price can be tackled under single policy instrument. The objective of this scheme would be to protect the farmers by giving them insurance cover for their production and market risks. The scheme aims to ensure continuous production, protection to livelihood and crops, encouragement to multiplicity of crops, which may promote competition from the angle of exports.
Mentioning the sea change in agricultural scenario over the past few years, Shri Singh said that foodgrain production has touched a record figure of 264.38 million tonnes during the year 2013-14. It is a matter of great pride that today we are producing more than our requirement of consumption. Even the States considered to be backward are producing foodgrains in excess. Our godowns have adequate foodgrains and we are in a position to meet any adverse contingency. During the year 2013-14, the country exported agricultural products worth Rs. 2.41 lakh crore. The country anticipates to exceed the targeted growth rate of 4% during the XIII Five Year Plan, he added.
Shri Singh said that we are facing difficulty to deal with storage capacity of our godowns and our procurement agencies like Food Corporation of India (FCI) are facing financial and structural difficulties. As such, mere subsidy cannot ensure guarantee for appropriate income to our farmers. Appropriate management of agricultural produce and improvement in processing technology can ensure good prices to farmers and they can also contribute to it.
The Minister said that Government of India is implementing since 1985 crop insurance to protect farmers from adverse affect of natural calamities at national level. Based on experience gained from implementation of farm insurance schemes, consultation with State Governments and stakeholders, a revised scheme is being considered which may be more conducive to farmers’ needs. During 2003-2004 rabi season some states and districts had started a scheme under which farmers were entitled to get compensation in the event of their getting lesser income from their production than guaranteed income. However, this scheme was applicable in case of rice and wheat only and it could not be implemented further, he added.
The present government has invited suggestions from all states to protect the income of farmers by way of giving a concept paper for insurance scheme so that difficulties experienced in the past could be overcome. Ministry officials have held discussions on 14th August, 2014 with all State Governments, Shri Singh said.
He expressed the hope that deliberations held in the seminar would firm up solid suggestions which would be helpful in preparing a practical and durable farm income insurance scheme.
GG:CP: insurance (4.9.2014)

After Bihar tragedy, FAO urges cut in hazardous pesticides
30 July 2013
(Reuters) – Developing countries should speed up the withdrawal of highly hazardous pesticides from their markets following the death of 23 children from contaminated food in India, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization said on Tuesday.
The children in Bihar died earlier this month after eating a school meal of rice and potato curry contaminated with monocrotophos, a pesticide considered highly hazardous by the FAO and the World Health Organization.
“Experience in many developing countries shows that the distribution and use of such highly toxic products very often poses a serious risk to human health and the environment,” the FAO said in a statement.
Monocrotophos is banned in many countries but a panel of government experts in India was persuaded by manufacturers that the product was cheaper than alternatives and more effective in controlling pests that decimate crop output.
Although the government argues the benefits of strong pesticides outweigh the hazards if properly managed, the food poisoning tragedy underlined criticism such controls are virtually ignored on the ground.
The FAO said many countries lacked the resources to properly manage the storage, distribution, handling and disposal of pesticides and to reduce their risks.
“Highly hazardous products should not be available to small scale farmers who lack knowledge and the proper sprayers, protective gear and storage facilities to manage such products appropriately,” the FAO added.
Monocrotophos is currently prohibited in Australia, China, the European Union and the United States, and in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the FAO said.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak, editing by Silvia Aloisi and Elizabeth Piper)