Exploitative set-up fuelling distress

A chemical-based, machine-intensive, monoculture model of agriculture has been imposed on the farmers. Ironically, solutions are being sought from this model, which exploits nature as well as people, say Umendra Dutt and Rupsi Garg

Farm distress and debt relief have become major socio-political issues in recent times. Over the past decade, we have got used to reading about the spate of farmer suicides across India. Diverse suggestions have been given to address the problem, including loan waiver, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report, and adequate and assured income. However, there is a need to think beyond these three aspects. Thousands of crores of rupees are being spent by the government on farmers’ welfare — insurance, credit, disaster compensation, procurement, MSP, different kinds of subsidies (fertilisers, machines, new technologies). The government is trying to promote Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) as well. Despite all this, there is no optimistic scenario for increased net income of the farmers. People ask for a minimum income security for the farmers to have a dignified life. It could take into consideration food, shelter, clothing, education, health and other factors. 

The government has launched several  projects to ensure income guarantee to the farmers, but these have been unsuccessful in providing relief. Instead, these have increased dissatisfaction. A chemical-based, machine-intensive, monoculture model of agriculture has been imposed on farmers. Ironically, solutions are sought from this model. This model of modern agriculture has exploited nature as well as people. It is responsible for the indebtedness of farmers to a great extent.

Five major reasons for farm distress:

1. Increased cost of cultivation

2. Environmental unsustainability of 

current practices of intensive agriculture

3. Farmers unable to get remunerative prices

4. Increased cost of living and aspirations

5. Government’s support system is inaccessible to common farmers; schemes are not deliverable on the farmers’ doorstep. Farmers have to deal with multiple government departments and tackle corruption as well as nepotism 

Due to these reasons, lakhs of farmers have quit or are quitting farming. Those farmers and farm labourers who have shifted to other sectors for jobs are finding it very difficult to adapt. Our economy has not been able to generate new employment opportunities to meet the demands of the growing population. So, farming is a sector that can help a lot of people survive.  

Among the suggestions to address farmers’ distress, the Swaminathan report is considered to be the silver bullet. However, major emphasis is being laid on MSP (minimum support price) in this report. The method of evaluating MSP is not appropriate in the first place and calculation of the real cost of cultivation is done in a biased manner. Also, MSP is not being given on all crops and it is not uniform across the country. Assured procurement of the crops at MSP is very rare. Cost of cultivation estimation should be farmer-friendly. In order to do this, at least the regulations of the Ramesh Chand Committee should be implemented.  In place of MSP, assured remunerative price (ARP) should be announced on maximum crops and for all farmers in the country. If prices fall below the ARP, the government should make timely intervention with a proper mechanism. Why should the government listen to the farmers only when they sit on dharna and stage protests? There should be a proper channel and system by which all these farmers’ issues get addressed.

In every state, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices should be established to work out the actual cost of cultivation and assured income for the farmers. For the past couple of years, there is speculation that a Farmer Income Commission will be set up. Farmers who have been practising ecologically sustainable agriculture should be recognised and given support on priority because they don’t seek any subsidy. Instead, they help in slowing down the climate change process. It is the government’s duty to support organic farmers. These days, many corporations and MNCs are brought into agriculture while completely ignoring the local context. There is a need to strengthen local farmers’ institutions, including FPOs.

The FPO-formation process should be simplified for the benefit of common farmers. The government should provide facilities to the farmers on a large scale for organic farming. Government institutions, especially NABARD, that deal with farmers’ issues should become pro-farmer, open to new ideas and more transparent. 

To ensure that institutional systems are responsive and accountable to farmers, the government must put in place a farmer income security system through an Act in accordance with Article 21 (right to life). Farm distress is a national issue; cultivators quitting farming is a national concern; and farmers committing suicide a national shame. A socio-political national consensus should be built on the issues of farmers’ unrest and their income. Consumers, researchers, academicians and the civil society should support farmers.

The Green Revolution should not become a historical episode that can be forgotten. Lessons should be learnt from it or farmers will remain trapped in the vicious cycle. This model has created problems of dependence on external inputs, poisoning of the food production system and farmer suicides. The flawed model of agriculture has to be challenged and changed.

Seven sources of growth

A quantitative framework for doubling farmers’ income by 2022-23 over the base year of 2015-16 has identified seven sources of growth:

1 Increase in productivity of crops

2 Increase in production of livestock

3 Improvement in efficiency of input use (cost-saving)

4 Increase in crop intensity

5 Diversification towards high-value crops

6 Improved price realisation for farmers

7 Shift of cultivators to non-farm jobs

  • According to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the number of cultivators declined from 16.61 crore in India during 2004-05 to 14.62 crore during 2011-12. This number needs to fall further to 11.95 crore by 2022, which will involve shifting 2.4 per cent farmers each year to non-farm jobs. Besides allied activities like bee-keeping, forestry on farmland, etc, can also contribute to growth in farm income.
  • If the number of cultivators keeps declining at the same rate as experienced during 2004-05 to 2011-12, it will reduce their number by 13.4 per cent between 2015-16 and 2022-23. This implies that the available farm income will be distributed among 13.4 per cent less farmers, as per ‘Doubling Farmers’ Income: Rationale, Strategy, Prospects and Action Plan’, a report brought out by Niti Aayog in March 2017.
  • Even after five decades of the Green Revolution, high-yielding varieties (HYVs) cover only 69 per cent of the total area under cereal crops. In the case of important crops such as rice, HYVs are grown only on 62 per cent of the area in the country, even as some states have 100 per cent coverage. High-yielding varieties cover 90 per cent of the area under wheat at the national level. 

The authors are associated with Kheti Virasat Mission, Jaito (Faridkot)

Target for initiatives to double farmer income

Source Base level & year Target 2022-23

Quality seed (million tonnes) 3.03 (2014-15) 7.97

Fertilisers (million tonnes) 25.58 (2014-15) 36.24

Irrigation (million hectares) 92.58 (2012-13) 110.40

Area under more than one crop 40% (2012-13) 53%

Area under fruits, vegetables (million hectares) 16.75 (2013-14) 26.38

Area under high-yielding varieties 69.3% (2014-15) 90%

Source: Niti Aayog report, 2017

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