Food & agriculture specialist
Nearly 144 farmers from Araria district in Bihar have been waiting to receive the compensation promised under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) for the paddy crop loss they suffered in 2017.
*Onion farmers in Mandsaur in MP are suffering silently for the low prices they are getting this year. Even at a low of 50 paise a kg there are not enough buyers. Most farmers have dumped their produce in fields.
*In Punjab, farmers’ widows are awaiting the promised compensation of Rs 2 lakh each. Elsewhere in the country, too, they continue to seek relief they are entitled to.
*At Itarsi, MP, an irate farmer calls up the Deputy Commissioner to complain about the faulty weighing of his produce at the local APMC mandi. He is arrested, probably because the DC is annoyed at a farmer calling him directly.
There is no end to such glaring lapses or bureaucratic hurdles that farmers encounter almost every day. From the governance perspective, these may seem insignificant to those who live on assured monthly income that is credited to their accounts unfailingly on the first of every month. The suffering that daily-wage workers have to undergo has only to be realised when studies show only 32 per cent of labour charges that were due to them upon completion of the works have been paid on time in the first two quarters of 2017-18. Take the case of sugarcane farmers, who expect payment only once a year when the crop is brought to sugar mills. Even then, till mid-February this year, over Rs 23,800 crore of payments are outstanding. On an average, a sugarcane farmer has to wait for at least two years before being paid.
The hardship that farmers and farm workers experience at every step is baffling. It is difficult to even visualise the trauma and suffering a family has to undergo after being denied the rightful price of the produce, forcing the farmer to throw tomato, potato, onion and other vegetables on the roads. What happens to the family whose standing bumper crop is destroyed by cattle and wild animals? To see the standing crop being damaged by strong winds or untimely rain is nothing short of a hammer blow from nowhere. I have seen people in cities being dismissive about such reports, saying this happens now and then in agriculture. But if their salaries get delayed by a month or two, they resort to loud protests and dharnas.
Much of the agrarian distress is an outcome of a massive governance failure by way of denial of physical, social, natural and human capital that is essential to create a conducive environment for agriculture. When Rajiv Gandhi said only 15 paise out of a rupee reaches rural beneficiaries, he was only referring to the huge loss of economic resources that are pocketed by the bureaucratic chain on the way. In addition, there are innumerable hurdles and obstacles that farmers and workers confront at the time of production, harvesting and marketing of the crop that makes farming a losing and an unattractive enterprise. Even loan disbursement and recovery comes laced with a number of problems. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), almost 80% of farm suicide cases were related to bank recoveries.
Why can’t we come up with a sustainable index on ease of doing farming? Sound and efficient regulations are not only critical for business enterprises, but also are essential for a thriving farming sector, ending extreme poverty and hunger, and at the same time, meeting the targets of sustainable development goals. After all, in a country where 600 million people are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, a set of reforms will not only help remove the bottlenecks, but also create a favourable environment for attracting public and private sector investment, and wooing entrepreneurship in farming. On the lines of the World Bank Group’s doing business index, which was launched in 2003, a similar kind of ease of doing farming index can be prepared that will usher in prosperity and propel millions of farm livelihoods into a profitable enterprise.
India is ranked 77 among 190 countries in the ease of doing business index. Just because World Bank has been pushing it, a number of institutes and universities have been coming up with their own index that have helped business competitiveness. On the other hand, while much of the talk for doubling farm income is bogged down in productivity details, initiating an ease of doing platform, followed by a time-bound action plan, will lay out a strong foundation for revitalising agriculture. More so at a time when the country is moving from jobless to job-loss growth, reviving agriculture is the only way forward. NABARD could be the promoter and numerous agricultural universities/institutes, NGOs, farmer organisations as well as mass movements could be roped in to help develop the index.
About 7,000 big and small steps have been taken on ease of doing business, the then Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said in 2017. Earlier, soon after the NDA government was sworn in, the CII had presented in August 2014 a list of 60 points regarding green clearance norms. In six months, the government came back with an action plan for 29 points. The urgency with which the government has moved on making it easy for business to operate is what is required for reforming agriculture and moving it out of the economic mindset that fails to treat farming as an economic activity. Agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy, and an ease of doing farming index will unleash the immense potential it carries.
After all, if 7,000 steps can be laid out for ease of doing business, imagine the rural transformation if another 5,000 steps are initiated for ease of doing farming. The face of Indian agriculture will change for the better, forever.