Since the past two years, chilli prices have been fluctuating reaching their lowest, becoming a major concern for farmers in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, the largest producer of the crop in the state. As the state is going for simultaneous elections for both Assembly and Lok Sabha seats scheduled on April 11, all that the chilli farmers are expecting is a permanent solution for their impending crisis.
Guntur chilli is famous in the international market for its unique flavour and is exported to numerous countries, including the US, the UK and China among others. While the spice has its own branding value, its farmers are not even getting minimum support prices, especially since 2017. For instance, one company - Golden Harvest - sells Guntur chilli for Rs 210 per 500 gram in the supermarket stores, whereas in the last four crop seasons, its farmers have sold the chilli crop produce for prices as low as Rs 6,000 per quintal (100 kg) against an MSP of Rs 8,000 per quintal.
While the state produced 10.3 lakh tonnes of chilli during 2016-2017, nearly three lakh tonnes are produced in Guntur district alone. That year, the ruling Telugu Desam Party announced remunerative prices of Rs 1,500 per acre for farmers who failed to get even MSP (Rs 8,000 per acre).
While the chilli farmers lost an estimated Rs 2,000 crore that year, the state government paid only Rs 136.81 crore, as per the data from state agriculture department. That is, a loss of Rs 1 lakh per 2.5 acre (hectare) per chilli farmer.
Chilli farmers of Peddodu Makkena Village
Gadde Nageswar Rao, 50, claims that price fluctuations in chilli crop is mainly due to two reasons -- bad seed quality and surplus crop production -- which caused a price fall in the international market. “The government failed to keep a check on seed companies which sold low quality seeds to the farmers in the district. Also, the government did not ensure remunerative prices to all the farmers facing losses,” Nageswar Rao told Newsclick. He said that he lost an average of Rs 1 lakh per acre in his eight-acre chilli field in 2018.
Another farmer, Murali, 56, witnessed similar losses. He claims chilli crop has become like gambling, resulting in huge losses (Mirchi pandinchadam judam laga anipistundi). In 2018 Kharif, Murali invested Rs 60,000-70,000 per acre in his three-acre agriculture land for chilli crop, the yield was only six quintal per acre, for which he got only Rs 6,000 per quintal. That is, Murali faced an average loss of about Rs 1 lakh that season.
According to Y Kesava Rao, State Rythu Sangam President, all such losses were avoidable had government procured the crop from the farmers directly instead of encouraging middlemen.
The state also witnessed numerous protests demanding that the government address the agriculture crisis since 2014.
Guntur Lok Sabha Constituency
As per the Election Commission, the constituency has got 14,330,40 voters. As per the 2011 Census, out of 20,91,075 population, 48.71% is rural and 51.29% is urban.
The constituency comprises seven Assembly segments --Tadikonda, Mangalagiri, Ponnuru, Tenali, Prathipadu, Guntur West and Guntur East.
During the 2014 elections, TDP candidate industrialist Jayadev Galla secured 49.68% vote share in the Guntur Lok Sabha constituency. The YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) came second with 44% vote share.
In the upcoming elections, the key contestants are TDP’s Jayadev Galla, YSRCP candidate Modugula Ramakrishna and B Srinivasa Yadav from the alliance of Janasena, CPI, CPI(M) and BSP. Vallu Jayaprakash Narayana and SK Masthan Vali feilded their nominations from BJP and Congress parties, respectively.
Investment Support Schemes
Weeks before the Election Commission came up with the general election notification, the BJP-led Central government announced investment support scheme for farmers promising Rs 6,000 per year as investment support. In Andhra Pradesh, CM Chandrababu Naidu announced another scheme to ‘Annadata Sukhibhava’ promising farmers to give Rs 9,000 per year. While the farmers started receiving amount in instalments under these schemes, farmer activists are questioning why the two governments failed to implement their 2014 electoral promises such as MSP prices as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.
As per government estimates, there are about 76.21 lakh farmers including 49.83 lakh small farmers and 15.91 lakh medium farmers in the state.
Senior farmers’ activist Kesava Rao told Newsclick that the state’s farming community have always had a deciding role when it comes to elections. “It was with the farmers’ support that Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, founder of TDP, became CM in 1983 and it was the same community that dethroned N Chandrababu Naidu and elected Y S Rajashekar Reddy as CM in 2004,” Kesava Rao said.
While the farmers with land titles have already started receiving the state and Central government’s investment scheme amount directly into their bank accounts. However, in the last five years, Kesava Rao says that farmers who cultivated various food crops, pulses, vegetables, fruits and wood crops have ended up in huge losses in the range of thousands of crores.