Farmers have walked for six days to reach Mumbai . PIX: EPA via BBC

MAHARASHTRA, INDIA – Farmers in the western Indian state of Maharashtra have ended their protest over loan waivers, prices and land rights after meeting state ministers.

Ministers said disputes still pending over tribal farmers’ ownership of land would be settled within six months.

They also said the government would expand the loan-waiver scheme to benefit all farmers.

The farmers had said the government was yet to implement the waiver it had promised them last year.

Tens of thousands of protesters, including children, women and the elderly, had converged in the state capital, Mumbai, after walking 167km (103 miles) from Nashik district.

It took them six days to reach Azad Maidan – a ground that is frequently used for protests and concerts – in the early hours of Monday.

The protest was led by a national farmers’ organisation affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Why were they protesting?

Apart from the loan waivers, farmers said they wanted to be paid at least one-and-a-half times the cost of their crops. The government sets prices for farming in India and procures crops from farmers to incentivise production and ensure income support.

The protesters also wanted tribal farmers, who mainly cultivate in forests, to be allowed to own land.

Farmers’ leader Vijay Javandhia told BBC Marathi that “agricultural income has swiftly declined in the country”.

“Income in cotton, grains and pulses is declining day by day. That’s why the rural economy is gradually running out of money,” he said.

Sakhubai, a 65-year-old woman farmer from Nashik, said: “We need our land and this is our prime demand.

“I have injured my feet due to excessive walking, but I will continue to protest until our demands are met.”

Dharmraj Shinde, one of the organisers of the march, said “we are fighting for our land”.

“The government should give us ownership because it’s our right as tribal people,” he said.

Senior journalist P Sainath, who has covered farming issues for decades, told BBC Marathi that the government must listen.

“Consider how difficult it is for tribals who are fighting for forest land rights, consider how difficult it is for extremely poor women who are around 60 or 70 years to march from Nashik to Mumbai in such a hot climate,” he said.

“And they are away from their work for five days.”

What are the issues Indian farmers face?

For decades now, farming in India has been blighted by drought, a depleting water table, declining productivity and lack of modernisation.

Half of India’s population works in farms, but farming contributes only 15% to the country’s GDP. Put simply, farms employ a lot of people but produce too little.

Crop failures also trigger farm suicides with alarming frequency.

Indian farmers also struggle with surplus harvests because the country lacks adequate food storage and processing capacity. -BBC


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