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May 27, 2018, 11:17 pm IST
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What ails Indian Agriculture?

What ails Indian Agriculture?

Hari Jaisingh, Jun 23, 2017

UP’s Aditya Nath Yogi government of the BJP set the pace for the populist measure of loan waiver of Rs 36,000 crore for small and marginal farmers. The UP Chief Minister acted in good faith in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public declaration on this count during the State Assembly elections in May 2017.

It may, however, be asked , does this provide the answer to the multiple sufferings of farmers in UP and other states? An honest answer is, No. But then this speaks of a political mindset of our leaders who work on an ad hoc basis without bothering about the roots of problems of the country’s over 70 per cent of the population.

An ad hoc crisis management is the standard practice of the powers that be. One crisis leads to another. One set of ad hoc response leads to another set of ad hoc response. In practice, this is what constitutes the official agricultural policy, notwithstanding occasional high-sounding announcements of plans and programmes.

Seventy years of Independence has not made much difference to the lives of small and marginal farmers and farm labourers. As for the central and state governments, they continue to grope in the dark on the farm front.

What is redeeming in an otherwise grim situation is that the farmers in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka,Tamil Nadu and even in Punjab and Gujarat have begun to assert themselves. Their message is crystal clear to the ruling elite: You cannot take us for granted !

A large number of farmers in distress recently came all the way from their Tamil Nadu villages with human skulls to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to protest against the official indifference to their plight in Chennai and New Delhi. I am sorry to say no central leader came forward to at least hear their grievances. What makes this tragic is the insensitivity of our leaders to the farmers’ sufferings. Those in the Opposition do exploit every “explosive situation” to their advantage, but their own track record while in power had also been awfully disquieting. Herein lies India’s tragedy of farmers!

For decades, farming has been blighted by drought, small size plots, depleting water level, inadequate irrigation network, poor quality of seeds, depletion and exhaustion of soils resulting in low productivity, soil erosion, lack of mechanization, agricultural marketing, poor storage facilities, inadequate transport and scarcity of capital.

This time the problem of most of the farmers was not drought conditions and crop failure leading to farmers’ suicides with alarming frequency, but of a bumper crop fueled by robust monsoon. This has exposed serious functional gaps of the system on various fronts, including marketing strategies and money-lending system.

Following the Yogi path, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, too, opted for a Rs 30,000-crore waiver for 40 lakh odd small and marginal farmers whose loans were overdue. Devendra Fadnavis should know that the spark for the protest was a crash in crop prices, partly caused due to bumper crop but more due to demonetization induced liquidity crunch in produce markets. This is where the state government has to provide right answers for healthy growth of the farming sector. The Chief Minister should also evolve a new thought process so that farmers get adequate money for their crops.

Punjab is the third state after the BJP-ruled states of UP and Maharashtra to waive farm loans up to Rs 2 lakh for small and marginal farmers. Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh of the Congress says that this would benefit 10.25 lakh farmers. The State will also take over institutional loans of all families hit by farmer suicide. The waiver will cost the debt-ridden state Rs 24,000 crores.

In Madhya Pradesh violent farmers’ protests caught the BJP-led State government napping. Over the past one decade or so, Madhya Pradesh did not have an impressive track record in wheat production. Its focus has been on cereal economy which got subjected to climatic and other factors.

The snowballing farm distress hit national headlines on June 6. This was a sad picture of the failure of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government to contain acute agricultural crisis in the State. What made the situation worse was crude play of political cards by various opposition leaders, the Congress in particular.

Farmers say they are caught in a cycle of plummeting crop prices, a demonetization-induced cash crunch and exploitative middlemen. Whether the Prime Minister and his Finance Minister admit it or not, Narendra Modi’s demonetization venture late last year played havoc with the agriculture sector. It led to the price crash of farm produce following withdrawal of high value bank notes.

In fact, in the case of every crop marketed since November – whether soya bean, green gram, pigeon-pea, onion, garlic, red chilly, potato, tomato, fenugreek, grape and pomegranate – farmers were financially hit hard because of price crash. The government attributes this to bumper production. However, the official stand does not pass the test of logic since trading in farm produce is mainly cash-based and the post-demonetization financial gaps only made things worse for the farmers. This is a sad commentary on Prime Minister Modi’s poorly planned and executed demonetization measure. He dabbled in this critical arena without giving a serious thought to the working of rural economy.

I wonder why the Prime Minister did not do his homework properly on the intricate working of the farm sector. Perhaps his mind is more urban business-oriented than towards the farm sector. Even otherwise, it is regrettable that the globe-trotting Prime Minister Modi never bothered to visit the distressed families of debt-ridden farmers who committed suicides, overlooking the fact that 58 per cent of the rural households depend on  agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. In fact, agriculture, along with fisheries and forestry, is one of the largest contributors to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Be that as it may. It is quite clear that farming policies in India need a new strategy and a radical overhaul. First of all, India does not have enough cold storage facilities. Secondly, it does not have enough food processing mechanism for crops which perish quickly. Thirdly, special efforts are needed for updating of farm technology. Even harvesting technology, including the design of the combine harvester, is faulty.

We also need to urgently upgrade the marketing infrastructure and support services like market facilities, telecommunication, market information system, roads and the grading system of grains.  Even the working of agricultural universities needs a hard look. They require a total reorientation of their programme and research priorities in keeping with the changing weather patterns and ground realities.

The alarm signals are there. The moot point is, will the authorities literally stop behaving like the three legendary monkeys, who, in the present case, ironically seem to see no problem, hear no problem and refuse to talk about the real problems.

Mr Prime Minister, farmers have been in distress and feel depressed. So is the rest of Indian society!

 

Hari Jai Singh is a renowned author and veteran journalist and former editor in chief of the Tribune group of publications



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