Goodbye cotton, hello soyabean

The rational farmers of Maharashtra

Just how does P Sainath position facts that show how Maharashtra’s farmers are capitalising on the opportunity created by rising global foodgrain prices? Oh, by saying that they are replacing one type of volatility (planting cotton) by another (soyabeans).

After pointing out how farmers are reaping the benefits of growing soyabeans, he goes on to point out the risks of growing soyabeans, and the dangers of planting the same crop season after season. As if there are crops that somehow defy these risks.

Mr Sainath, unsurprisingly, fails to underline three really important points: first, that given a chance, farmers can help themselves by taking advantage of available opportunities. Second, information about prices, weather and market conditions enabled this. And third, following from the above, just letting them do what they like (and not placing value judgements on what they should grow) is the best solution.

Related post: Rising foodgrain prices present an opportunity for Indian farmers

12 thoughts on “Goodbye cotton, hello soyabean”

  1. “Goodbye Cotton, Hello Soyabean” is an immensely sane policy for another reason: soyabean farming requires far less water per acre than cotton or sugar cane, both of which consume very high amounts of water compared to most other crops. Maharashtra being a drought-prone state, it made no sense in the first place to rely on cotton and sugarcane crops.

    But of course Sainath is a man with a hammer …. and a sickle.

  2. It takes a special kind of genius to precipitate a farm crisis in India with its year round sunshine and vast expanse of arable land – double per capita compared to China. It takes even greater genius to misdiagnose and twist oneself into logical knots reporting on the crisis. What else can we expect from poverty porn pedller like Sainath?

  3. I think you have erred here. The risks part cover less than 1/4 of the article. Nowhere in the article does Sainath expresses that in his opinion that Cotton is better than Soyabean. But there is appears to a beleif atleast in the first part of the article that Soya would somehow make farmers safe from the very risk factors that farmers face in cotton. We never know when Brazilian or Argentina come out of the problems. Do our farmers track what the weather and crop conditions in Brazil are expected to be before jumping for Soya? Its the same for wheat. A lot of analysts report that high food prices are in part driven by drought conditions in Australia. I would expect a lot of Indian farmers to go in for wheat the next season because of the current high prices. What would happen when the prices crash because of a better crop in Australia? Better know what are the risks invovled, be it farming or equity.

    Regarding dangers of planting same crop again and again: its a well known phenomenon(at least in my school syllabus. I am not sure if any recent study has proved otherwise). The way to overcome it is crop circulation or changing crops every couple of seasons.

  4. Dark Lord,

    The rumour was that our history teacher used to give us marks depending on the length (in inches) of our essays. That was a very bad method of assessment, if those rumours were indeed true. So don’t get too hung up about how much of Mr Sainath’s essay is devoted to the risks. My opinion is based on my (subjective) reading of Mr Sainath’s article.

  5. Dark Lord,


    Do our farmers track what the weather and crop conditions in Brazil are expected to be before jumping for Soya? Its the same for wheat. A lot of analysts report that high food prices are in part driven by drought conditions in Australia. I would expect a lot of Indian farmers to go in for wheat the next season because of the current high prices. What would happen when the prices crash because of a better crop in Australia? Better know what are the risks invovled, be it farming or equity

    This is what the futures market is for. To reduce price uncertainty for the farmers. Our government, in its infinite wisdom decided to ban its use. Of course, the Indian government is not the only government which thinks “speculators” are to blame for price rises: witness the two US presidential candidates attack on this same nebulous yet apparently omnipotent class for price rises in gas/petrol.

  6. Nitin,
    >>first, that given a chance, farmers can help themselves by taking advantage of available opportunities.
    The whole point about Sainath’s suckability is the fact that he inherently assumes that farmers are dumb, and therefore he needs to “fight” for them or whatever. The whole thing about “you don’t know what’s good for you, I do, so just listen.”

  7. okay, whatever, I think this post was written just to satisfy the urge to discredit someone, without any meaning. In fact, Sainath IS emphasizing that if farmers are left to grow crops as they want is the best solution. But I guess teh “urge” took over. Yawn!

    Corporate Surf, You must be kidding, right? … I hope you are

  8. Has mr Nitin Pai ever visited maharashtra’s farmers himself so as to he can decide himself what they need to do and what are the important points for them? I did not think so either.

  9. Dear Shuvro,

    It is absurd to expect policy-makers/analysts to personally visit Maharashtra. Has Sainath visited every single farmer in every single village? How then can he generalise? We must work with facts, statistics and empirical evidence.

  10. > It is absurd to expect policy-makers/analysts to personally visit
    > Maharashtra.
    > Has Sainath visited every single farmer in every single village?
    > How then can he generalise?
    > We must work with facts, statistics and empirical evidence.

    You don’t expect policy-makers to personally visit Maharashtra, how then can they generalise? Why you don’t ask that question?

    Sainath has visited more farmers and villages than most policy-makers and commenters like yourselff. If you are able to comment, and you are doing it, so he can also.

    Please find better grounds to attack him than this.

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