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It is fact that Indian agriculture is going through an unprecedented depression as ten thousand farmers are leaving their age old profession every passing day and there is corroborative government evidence to substantiate the fact.
If one goes through records of the Situation Assessment Survey (SAS) conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) one would find that more than forty per cent of country’s farmers have said that they do not wish to continue with agriculture as their profession. The dissatisfied farmers include both the most vulnerable and the well-off farmers— the former due to low production, the latter due to higher aspirations.
Even today if we scan images of the agitating farmers in Madhya Pradesh, it was striking to see how many were youngsters dressed in jeans and shirts — they were clearly not all farmers, but also farmers’ sons, unhappy with jobless growth. The country is not only facing a farmers’ crisis today, but also a crisis of farming families, whose children want non-farm jobs.
The agrarian crisis in India is like a ticking time-bomb, and it’s crucial to rectify the mistakes which are contributing to it. Political decisions on agriculture need to be taken while keeping the farmers in mind. The time has come to scrutinize the impact of Privatization and so called market reforms on Indian agriculture and thus the economy as a whole.
If the government continues to put industrial greed before the farmers’ needs, matters are going to worsen a lot. Market interests are important but not at the expense of farmers. Also, the former can’t survive if the latter doesn’t. Farmers are the real providers of food security to everyone. Steps should be taken to remove the middlemen between the farmers and consumers. This would ensure price stability of the essential commodities and the burden of increasing price would be eased on both the farmers and consumers.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 2,195 marginal farmers reportedly committed suicide in 2015 of which 834 were in Maharashtra, while 3,618 “small farmers” undertook such drastic steps, with Maharashtra alone seeing 1,285. More curiously, a larger number of small farmers rather than marginal farmers reportedly committed suicide in States like Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka. Somehow, small farmers are also bedevilled by the agricultural crisis, and this is not the case in just the traditional drought-stricken States.
Agriculture in States like Punjab is typically a monoculture of wheat and paddy. When input costs associated with fertilizers, crop-protection chemicals and seeds rose, along with fixed costs associated with agricultural equipment such as tractors and submersible pumps, agriculture became economically unviable. Prices have risen — of arhar seeds and staple crops like paddy and sugarcane, of fertilizers and plain barley. The old days of farmers handing seeds as family heirlooms to their sons are long gone. While traditionally the blame is cast on the usurious local moneylender, NCRB data highlight that 2,474 of the 3,000 farmers who were reported to have committed suicide in 2015 had loans from local banks, while those who had loans from moneylenders were just 9.8 per cent of the total. Maharashtra reported 1,293 such suicides for indebtedness, while Karnataka had 946. Meanwhile, farmers in Punjab are estimated to have an outstanding debt of Rs. 69,355 crore. Somehow, the traditional moneylender is seemingly more “flexible” than local banks.
Solving this crisis requires an inclusive approach. Our policies should encourage integrated pest management, an approach that focuses on combining biological, chemical, mechanical and physical means to combat pests with a long-term emphasis on eliminating or significantly reducing the need for pesticides. In Vietnam, over 2 million of the Mekong Delta’s rice farmers adopted a “no spray early” rule, curbing insecticide applications within the first 40 days of rice planting. Predatory beetles that commonly prey on rice pests were sustained, encouraging the crop while cutting pesticide use by over 50 per cent.
The local fertilizer industry needs support — timely delivery of subsidies would improve working capital requirements, enabling them to manage costs through internal sources rather than external loans. Delayed payments can cause an interest outgo of Rs 3,500 crore for fertilizer firms annually. State seed policies should focus on encouraging contract farming, along with identification of new genotypes for treating pest and disease syndromes, as well as adverse weather conditions. Precision-farming techniques like Systematic Rice Intensification can help increase seed production in this regard.
The farm equipment policy needs to be retailored with a focus on manufacturing farming equipment and implements that are currently imported. Subsidies should be rerouted to ensure lower collateral requirements, longer moratoriums and payback periods for farmers seeking to buy equipment and entrepreneurs seeking to setup Custom Hiring Centres (CHC) for agricultural equipment. Companies with a corporate social responsibility focus on agriculture can be further encouraged to invest in capacity-building initiatives, skill development and the establishment of CHCs.
The government needs to ensure that institutional financing is available and accessible and benefit provision is simplified while disbursed funds are effectively monitored. States should seek to establish early warning signals, monitoring farmers who go past set limits and seek unsustainable loans.
The government must realize that unhappy farmers cannot be made happy through loan waivers. Sustainable agriculture cannot be promoted by subsidizing chemical fertilizers. The country need economically viable, not populist, policies for happier farmers, who would prefer to be in their fields rather than on the streets.
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