Farmers distress to continue in India even in good year

Yashwardhan Joshi

Farming in India is becoming uneconomic, a blight on the happiness of farmers, a blot on the green landscape of the countryside. Recurrent suicides and now widespread agitations by farmers reinforce the assessment that agriculture is no longer a viable venture that can sustain 70 per cent of the country’s population. Normal monsoon or severe drought, bumper crop or poor harvest, the farmer suffers either way.

Drought and subsequent crop failure were already bad for the distressed farming community living under heavy debt; good rains and bumper crop this year have shown that the going can be no better as over production has resulted in crashing prices. Forecast of heavy showers this monsoon may signal a season of plenty for the farm sector, but it may again turn out to be a season of despair for the farmers.

The farmers are distressed, angry and agitated because they are not getting adequate price for their produce.

They want their loans to be written off. After Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka and now Maharashtra, Punjab have announced loan wavers. With elections due in Gujarat this year end, and in some other States next year, the politics of loan waiver will consume the States like no other issue. But it is this politics of agriculture that has exposed the uneconomic side of farming.

After five farmers were killed in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh in police firing on a group of agitating farmers demanding loan waivers, a former MP and leader of the Bharti Kisan Union highlighted the wretchedness of the farming community when he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “If it is ‘jai jawan’ for our soldiers, why is it ‘die kisan’ for our farmers who are toiling to feed the nation, yet are themselves hungry, deprived, distressed,” Bhupinder Singh Mann asked.

According to M S Swaminathan, father of the Green Revolution, surveys have shown that farming today, especially of food crops, is not remunerative. That is why the younger generation is avoiding farming as a profession. An analysis of the government’s latest National Accounts Statistics reveal that growing grass and selling it in the market may, in fact, be more profitable than cultivating crops such as wheat, rice, pulses and oilseeds.

It has been calculated that between 2011-12 and 2015-16, the total value of cereals and pulses went down by nearly 3 per cent, that of oilseeds by more than 13 per cent and of sugar by 1 per cent; whereas the value of grass increased by about 1 per cent. Output values are declining because the cost of inputs, such as seeds, fertilisers and water, is rising faster for the farmer than the price he gets from the sale of his produce. And with 86 per cent of the land holdings less than two hectares, it has become increasingly difficult for the small and marginal farmers to manage crops such as cereals, pulses and oilseeds.

Projections reveal that this figure is going to increase to 89 per cent with average holding size of just 0.6 hectare by 2040 as land gets further fragmented, and this portends ill for the Indian agriculture.With ever increasing fragmentation of land, small and medium farmers will not be able to own and maintain bullocks, farm equipment or an irrigation system, and will have to depend on larger farms whose numbers will also be decreasing with the years, thus impacting yield negatively.

Then there is the economies of scale. The individual output of small and medium farmers will become too small to reap the benefit of markets, forcing the farmer to sell his produce at discounted prices on the farm itself, another blow to his already shrinking income.

And with most States not allowing leasing of agricultural land, the small and marginal farmer seems doomed to ruin.

Several agricultural experts, including Dr Swaminathan, have proffered various suggestions and models to lift the farmers from their wretched state and the agriculture from the impending crisis. Dr Swaminathan says contract farming, based on a win-win situation for farmers, through organisations such as Nafed and the Food Corporation of India, could help in overcoming the problem of fragmented holdings. He has also called for promoting a credit-cum-insurance policy that would insulate the farmers from losses due to factors beyond their control, and a price stabilisation fund to fix the problem of glut and crashing prices.

Others have suggested changes in inheritance laws to make agricultural land to be inherited by only one descendent and not fragmented among all the siblings; transforming the land tenancy laws, allowing farmers to lease out lands for longer periods without losing ownership; and reducing the perishable and exponentially increasing the processing part to prevent a price crash due to a bumper crop. There should be a national debate and proactive measures taken to save the farmers from economic collapse. (Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues) [IFS]

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