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Thousands of Indian farmers march to demand government help

March 12, 2018

NEW DELHI (AP) — Tens of thousands of farmers who marched up to six days from across western India arrived Monday in the country’s business capital to demand loan waivers, fair prices for their produce and other help as India’s agriculture sector struggles from years of declining earnings.

The farmers, the bulk of them impoverished, plan to surround the state legislature of the western state of Maharashtra in Mumbai. Many had walked barefoot in the already soaring March temperatures.

The farmers want the government to ensure they earn at least one and a half cost they incur in producing their crops. Many are tribespeople who have farmed for generations on land they don’t own but are demanding recognition of ownership.

Agriculture employs more than half of India’s 1.3 people, but its shrinking earnings means it now only adds 15 percent to India’s economy.

Indian farming also is largely rain-fed, but flawed water policies, groundwater misuse and unseasonal rain-drought cycles have hit farm incomes hard.

Failed harvests force poor farmers to borrow money at high interest rates for buying seeds, fertilizers and even food for their cattle. They often mortgage their lands and, as borrowings mount, many are driven to suicide.

India’s farmers have long complained that their woes are ignored, and have held protests in the past too.

At a protest last year in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, many carried human skulls they said were of farmers who had killed themselves due to deep debt.

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