Village farmers struggle to make ends meet

A farmer in Rampur Mathura uses a pair of oxen to plow a field before the rain sets in | Photo by Matthew Masin

A farmer attempts to hitch two oxen to a plow and simultaneously answer his ringing cell phone, trilling a pitchy, electronic Bollywood beat.

The farmers in Rampur-Mathura, a village two hours from Lucknow, India, are subsistence farmers. They own the land and not much else. Having oxen to help pull plows and other pieces of equipment is considered a luxury as they cost more than 17,000 rupee or less than $400.

In India, especially the province of Uttar Pradesh, programs have been created to aid struggling farmers. But because of corrupt officials, little of the allotted money ever gets to the people, said Sateyndra Singh, a village leader in Rampur-Mathura.

One program promises a fixed price for wheat, while another promises 100 days of labor during the rainy season when farming is impossible and still another guarantees a fixed price for synthetic fertilizer.

According to the farmers of Rampur-Mathura, the government’s program for guaranteeing the fixed price of wheat is particularly corrupt.

The going rate for 100 kg of wheat is 1,175 rupees, or a little more than $25.

“If you take in 100 kg of grain, the person at the scale will take out three kilos, and say ‘This is my commission.’ Then they will take out another 2 kilos because they say there is mud in it. Then they will take out one kilo, because they say that is how it works here. If you don’t like it you can take your truck and go,” Singh said.

“The government that is trying to make it fair is stealing. The government is in itself, corrupt,” continued Singh.

The farmers, as a result, can’t make a profit.

Wheat prices are supposed to be standardized but are not. Payments for sugar cane are often doled out six months after the harvest has been completed. And rice is sold through a middleman.

The farmers in this area live off less than 100 rupees a day, or about $2.25. To survive, they grow their own food. If they were to try to move to Lucknow for labor work, they would have a harder time surviving because of food costs.

People in this area don’t save, not in the American sense of the word. They don’t have bank accounts, or 401K’s, or mutual accounts. Retirement is non-existent in this part of the world.

Instead, money is put away coffee-can-style for future expenses and is generally accounted for before it is even received.

“You can’t save by earning. You can only save by saving,” Singh said.

At the end of the day, farmers, their families and their hired hands will go to their houses in the village and wake up the next morning as poor as yesterday, with no ability to break the cycle, and no government aid to help them.

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