“What price do you get for garlic here?” Rahul Gandhi opened with a question, at a public rally in Rajasthan’s Jhalawar district on 24 October. Amid shouts from the audience, Gandhi raised two fingers—“Rs 2,” he said. “The farmer does not get water, electricity, the right price for crops. He has to pay crop insurance. He is unable to recover his own money.” The Congress president’s words ring true for garlic farmers across the state, who have borne the brunt of an agrarian crisis and crash in crop prices since last year. Babu Lal, a farmer from Chadhana village, in Rajasthan’s Bundi district, told me, “The price I am getting for my garlic is not enough to cover the cost of the seeds, sowing, labour and other inputs.”
In October and November, I travelled to two agricultural belts in Rajasthan—the Hadoti belt in the south east, where I went to the district of Kota, and in the Bikaner division in the north, where I visited the Churu and Hanumangarh districts. Across these districts, my conversations revealed that the farmers’ distress in Rajasthan is fuelled not only by the crash in garlic prices, but also by the fluctuations in prices of other crops, the inadequacy of the state’s policies to support agriculture and the government’s failure to fulfill its electoral promises. All of this assumes significance as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress canvass for farmers’ votes ahead of the upcoming state assembly elections on 7 December.
At a mandi, or agricultural produce market, in the outskirts of Kota, hundreds of bags overspilling with garlic—an essential ingredient of Rajasthani cuisine—were lying under steel sheds, as farmers and labourers offloaded more from trucks parked in the area. Lal had arrived at the market with 40 bags of garlic, cultivated on his two-bigha land—around half a hectare. Each bag contained 50 kilograms of the crop. Lal would break even if he could sell his garlic at a rate of Rs 10 per kilogram, but he said he was unlikely to receive more than Rs 5 per kilogram for it. He added that he had spent Rs 20,000 to produce the crop.
At its lowest quality, the market price for the crop is Rs 5 per kilogram, while the best varieties—with pods the size of a human fist and a pungent smell—may fetch up to Rs 30 for one kilogram. Small farmers would normally earn around Rs 10,000, out of which they have to pay the transport and labour costs, because few are able to cultivate the water-intensive high-quality garlic. “Of the 7,000 bags of garlic that arrive daily only 50 to 100 fetch Rs 30,” Naresh Agarwal, who works at the Maruti Trading Company, an agricultural trading firm in the Kota mandi, said. “The rest are purchased at an average price between Rs 7 to Rs 15.”
Hadoti accounts for 82 percent of Rajasthan’s garlic output of 7,55,350 metric tons, in 2017–18, according to official data of the state government’s agriculture department. It comprises four districts—Kota, Bundi, Baran and Jhalawar—which send 17 legislators to the 200-member Rajasthan assembly. Hadoti is considered a stronghold of the BJP—the party swept the region, winning 16 seats in the 2013 elections, while the chief minister Vaundhara Raje has successively won the last three polls from her constituency of Jhalrapatan, in Jhalawar.