India’s farmer under distress

Dr. Sudershan Kumar
In recent times, politics has become a game of appeasement which was very well apparent in the recently concluded elections in several states. Various political parties and their leaders try to climb the ladder of power by announcing various populist measures to appease the masses. These lollipops are mostly in the form of providing free electricity, free water, distribution of smart phones, laptops and many others. The most sensitive and sought after issue recently which was abused for the sake of capturing power was the promise of a loan waiver for addressing the distress of farmers . These were announced without contemplating about its repercussions and if these are implemented, they would have a huge bearing on the country’s economy and budget. Even economists have been skeptical about these measures, especially the loan waiver. According to them, announcing sops without proper planning will derail long term fiscal management entailed by fiscal responsibility and budget management act 2003. This cannot be the solution to mounting agrarian distress. The waiving of loan of farmers without proper planning will not only jeopardize the rural banking sector but it will also not be a long term permanent solution to farmers woes. Because in this country besides banks, majority of small farmers take loan from money lenders at exorbitantly high interest rates as per money lenders’ terms and conditions. These loans are basically permanent debt traps for them, from which the exit is impossible. This vicious circle compels them to commit suicide. As per 2012 report nearly 15367 farmers have committed suicides. This is nearly 11% of the total suicides committed in the country. Therefore one must introspect into the real cause of farmers’ distress and work towards a solution to problems faced by farmers in farming sector.
It is a known fact that immediately after independence till mid sixties, India relied on import of food grains and food aid under PL-480 to meet domestic requirement. The droughts of 1965 and 1966 prompted Government of India for reforming its agricultural policy. The policy planners of that time then laid focus on attaining self sufficiency in food grains. This ushered in a green revolution. Agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan was pivotal in the revolution’s success. Since then India has made an immense progress towards food security. The production of food grains was increased four times resulting in to self reliance in food production. But ironically, the population of the country also grew three times since independence. Thus in spite of all the advances made in the agricultural area, the present day farmer continues to struggle and becomes debt ridden with a myriad of issues related to farming sector haunting them.
These include low scale productivity, rising costs, weather disasters, discrepancies in market cost. Although they use modern agricultural techniques like high quality seeds, agro chemicals, fertilizers, hired labourer etc but in return farmers are not able to generate enough income from the agricultural produce. Besides their other subsidiary expenses further put extra burden on them, which leads to distress. Therefore, the need of the hour is to deeply and thoroughly introspect the problems and look for innovative solutions in totality. Firstly and most importantly we should be well versed with the fact that the agriculture land in the country is shrinking and rising pressure of the population is evident. Subsequently, the small and the medium farmers are in possession of small pieces of farms. .As a result their agriculture produce is low.
Secondly, the availability of high quality seed is crucial for attaining higher crop yields and for sustained growth in agricultural production. Unfortunately high quality seeds are out of reach for small and marginal farmers because of exorbitantly high price for better quality seeds.
Third, the increase in consumption of manures, fertilizers and pesticides for agricultural prosperity is inescapable. But these chemical fertilizers are costly and are often beyond the reach of poor farmers.
Also lastly but significantly, irrigation plays an indispensable and critical role in the growth of seasonal crops. Although India is the second largest irrigated country of the world after China yet only one third of cropped area is under irrigation. Whereas rest rely on tropical monsoons and greatly are affected by uncertain, unreliable and erratic rains, droughts floods etc. Therefore it is utmost important at least to bring half of the area under assured irrigation and for the remaining area innovative irrigation methods be adopted. Moreover, a large part of fertilized land suffers from soil erosion by wind and water. Therefore area has to be properly irrigated and restored to its original fertility. Furthermore lacunas in implementation of policies has led to paucity of mechanization in agricultural operations further contributing in a big way towards farmers’ problems. Small and marginal farmers use simple and conventional tools in sowing, irrigation, thinning, pruning, weeding, harvesting and transportation of crops. Its ramifications being immense waste of human labour and at the same time low yield per capita labour force. Therefore, there is compelling need for providing mechanization tools to marginal and poor farmers. Another aspect which needs utmost concern is the flawed agricultural marketing which is in doldrums. In the absence of sound marketing facilities and poor connectivity, the farmers have to largely depend upon local traders and middle men for disposal of their agricultural produce. This makes them vulnerable towards exploitation at the hands of these people who buy from them in throw away prices and earn a lot of profit.
It is unfortunate that in India farmers get only 10 to 23 percent of the price which Indian consumers pay. Rest goes to middle men, inefficiencies and losses. Whereas farmers in developed economies of Europe and USA get around 64% to 81%. So there is a gross imbalance between the remuneration of agricultural produce in India vis-à-vis other countries. This imbalance needs to be plugged at the earliest to enable farmers to get their dues.
The Government at centre had formed the National Farmer Commission(NFC) to address the farmers’ grievances. This NFC under the chairmanship of M.S.Swaminathan had submitted five reports between 2004 to 2006. Yet the action on these reports is still awaited. The government should advocate stern measures and work together at all levels as part of cooperative federalism
Even today the farmers agonized under various umbrella groups are demanding implementation of various schemes in totality. It is a well established fact that in India agricultural growth rate has increased many fold. Initiation of green revolution and extensive use of technology further facilitated the increase in production of major seasonal crops to some extent. But at the same time contribution of agriculture in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has declined from 53.1%in the year 1950-1951 to 16% in the year 2012.
Therefore the author is of the view that rather than indulging in to the cheap gimmicks of loan waiver for appeasement of a section of farmers one must consider it as a national problem instead of vote bank politics. All farmers should be included and all stake holders should sit together and work for remedial measures in the form of incentives which will be beneficial to the farmers in the long run. They must look in to innovative solutions in the form of various models. Need less to mention here that Defence Institute High Altitude Research One of the DRDO laboratory of life sciences cluster has also worked towards upliftment of farmers in Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir state. This innovation in the arid areas of Ladakh is exemplary as where till mid 1960’s there was hardly any growth of vegetables and other agriculture products and the land was almost barren and climatic conditions were quite harsh and now with the aid of technologies provided by DRDO laboratory, the local farmers and their hand holding has changed the entire scenario. Now these farmers are able to grow 70 types of agricultural products thus turning their fortunes and have become self reliant. The most important aspect is that farmers themselves sell their products through cooperative societies thereby minimizing the roll of middle men and their profits. Hence the dire need is to adopt similar models in each village of the country to enable farmers to get their due share at par with European economies.
Besides the need of hour is to address all issues of farmers through holistic approach and work towards incentives for all farmers so that they come out of clutches of money lenders and are not forced to commit suicide by buckling under the pressure of the debts.


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