I’m back at SRUJAN. The upper 90° weather of Pune felt balmy compared to the extreme summer heat of Vidarbha. This week’s average high: 120°F.
Although I’d like to write more, I’m sitting in a dark office on the campus of SRUJAN and don’t know how much longer
a. my computer’s battery will last and,
b. my eyes can stand to stare at a computer screen in the dark.
So this will have to be a short and sweet post, bringing you up to date on my latest adventures in India.
I haven’t posted in awhile, which means you know nothing of the religious ceremonies that I witnessed during my last stay in Mulgavan. Nor have you heard about how I met merchants who were promoting their Bt cotton seeds by walking around Mulgavan and leaving pamphlets and flyers on the steps of farmers’ homes. I recently watched Bitter Seeds, Micha X. Peled’s last installment in a trilogy about globalization. The documentary is about cotton farmer suicides in India. In one scene merchants from the same seed company come to the town that the documentary takes place and hand out a pamphlet that looks almost identical to the one that Radhika and I received from the Ankur seeds representatives. The beauty of living in Mulgavan and doing my fieldwork at all hours of the day and night is that at 7:00p.m. when the light is fading and I’m writing in my journal about the day, seed merchants wander up to me. These are the people who provide farmers in Vidarbha with 99% of the information they have about farming. And guess what? 100% of the time their advice is buy our product. Hmm…
I’ve spoken with nearly a dozen different farmers. Most of them own around 5 acres of land. Every single one of them borrows money in order to buy seeds and all the other necessary inputs for farming. Some of them borrow from local self-help groups. Some of them borrow from banks, private and government. And many of them borrow from private moneylenders. Every farmer who borrows from private moneylenders pays a 50% interest rate on their loan. 50%! (When I mentioned this to the Ankur seed salesmen, they said no, I must be mistaken. The highest interest rate they’ve heard of is 25% (still awful!). As they were leaving, one of them mentioned that his father is a money lender. Figures.)
I made a list of highlights from the field to post on my blog, but I forgot the notebook with said list in my room and in order to retrieve it I’d have to go down two flights of stairs, jump from the building to the ground (about a four foot drop), walk several meters, duck under some barbed wire, and then riffle around in the dark for said notebook. Ah, the adventures that load-shedding (i.e. government power cuts) lead to. Any ways. There are more highlights. But for reasons previously noted, they will remain in my notebook until another time.
Last week I took a break from the field (and the heat!) and visited friends in Pune and Mumbai while also sorting out visa stuff at the Foreign Regional Registration Office. Although I didn’t get an extension for as long as I’d hoped for, I am officially allowed to stay in India until August 31. I’ll be headed back sometime in August to try to get another extension through March 2013. We’ll see.
I’m learning so much about this region and cotton farming. Stepping away from Eastern Maharashtra for a week or two was a great way to remind myself of this. On the train back to Nagpur the evening light illuminated farmers finishing their day’s work in their field, boys playing cricket, cows wandering back home across land that was not nearly as hot and dry as the land where I have been for the last 3 months. Farmland in Western Maharashtra looks happier—greener, more abundant, more dependable. The fields were covered with crops in mid-season or ready for harvest, crops that can’t grow in the dry summer months of Vidarbha save for on a few rare irrigated fields. Corn fields. Sugar cane.
I made it back to Nagpur yesterday morning and this morning took the bus to Pandharkawada. Tomorrow morning Radhika will join me and we’ll head back to Mulgavan. I’m beyond excited. The farmers are busy buying seeds (and borrowing money). The season is beginning! The rains will come in a week or two. Hopefully sooner rather than later. It’s hot. I’m looking forward to the cooler days the rains will bring! Until next time…