Wheat output in Uttar Pradesh could go down sharply in the ongoing rabi season as demonetisation has sucked out most of the cash from the rural economy. Cash-strapped farmers are not able to buy seeds, fertilisers and other inputs as rural banks are running dry.
“The bank in our village gets cash only once in 10-15 days, and even that is so little that we barely manage to get ₹500 each. We are not able to buy seeds and fertilisers,” said Intezaar Ali from Salawa village in Moradabad.
Bhola Pandey from the neighbouring Sandhlipur village is concerned that unless he sows early, his land will turn unsuitable for wheat.
“I have harvested sugarcane and my land is fast losing moisture. I want to plant wheat as soon as possible, but I don’t have cash,” he said.
Cash is out of reach
Unlike vegetable farmers, whose produce are lying in the fields for want of buyers, the farmers who planted sugarcane have supplied most of their produce to the cane factories. Yet, they cannot sow the winter crop for want of cash.
“A number of sugar mills still owe us payment for our last crop. Some money is trickling in, but all of it gets paid into the farmers’ bank accounts and is therefore beyond their immediate reach,” explains Mahendra Singh, the head of four villages in Moradabad district.
Bankers plead helplessness. The Prathma Bank in Khanpur Muzaffarpur, which serves five villages and has 6,000 account holders, has not seen any cash in the past week.
Branch manager J K Singh has collected the passbooks of the farmers who have been lining up at the bank in the hope of securing some cash.
Banks rationing cash
“I ask the head-office for ₹25 lakh in cash and get only ₹2-4 lakh, and that too after 10 days. How am I supposed to satisfy so many account-holders who have been waiting for so many days with so little cash?” Singh says, pointing to the pile of passbooks on his desk.
If and when the bank gets some cash in the next few days, Singh will hand out ₹500 or ₹2,000 to each account-holder depending on the amount he gets.
“I realise that ₹500 is a pittance for the farmers who are into the sowing season, but I want to give atleast some money to as many people as possible,” Singh said.
Where farmers have managed to sow wheat, the absence of fertilisers is affecting the crop, Mahender Singh said, gesturing towards a wheat field where pale saplings have germinated.
Villages around Uttar Pradesh have been facing cash shortage for more than a month since the government withdrew ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes as legal tender from November 8.
Farmers are now resorting to barter and goodwill to keep themselves going.
“I produce my own seeds. I have loaned some to my neighbours so that they can manage to do at least some sowing before the season runs out,” said Rampal Singh, a farmer in Hapur.