Agriculture: Turning Suicidal?

Posted on January 29, 2010

Praveen Kumar:

Agriculture is the primary profession in the Rural India, wherein the majority of population works in the fields to feed the whole nation. However, the contribution of agricultural products to the country’s GDP is as less as 17%. India has good fertile lands but the untimely or distorted monsoons, scarce rainfall, fake pesticides and seeds add a lot of uncalculated burden on the Indian farmers.

From the last one decade, the problems of farmers have been a cause of concern for the Indian Government. The helpless farmers burdened with debt and drought, of late, chose an easier way to ease their burdens by committing suicides. The increasing number of suicides by farmers has alarmed the Government in power since 1990. The line representing the number of the farmer suicides has been going steeper, year after year with an unaltered positive slope.

The statistics portray an eye opening picture of the grim situation that Indian Agriculture is facing. More than 17,500 farmers have committed suicide between the years 2002 and 2006. The maximum number of suicides occurred in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab. The situation in Maharashtra was so pathetic, that the government had to set up a dedicated office to address the farmers’ distress.

Mourning Vidarbha

In 2006, Maharashtra registered around 4,500 farmer suicides that accounted for over 25% of the overall suicides in India as a whole. Vidarbha, a village that falls in the rain-shadow region of Maharashtra, is one among hundreds of villages which are drought prone. The Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) had once about 100 major, medium and minor irrigation projects in the pipeline. The majority of them still wait on paper only.

The central government in 2008 announced an Rs 71,000-crores loan waiver package (in which Maharashtra’s share was about Rs 9,000 crores), to which the state government added Rs 6,200 crores. But even this could not prevent farmer suicides in the region. Only 15% of the total farmers had got crop insurance because the land of farmers must qualify as a ‘Drought affected area’ to get it insured.

The loan waiver program by the government which was bestowed on the poor farmers, was a program with much publicity, but was a failure in terms of solving the farmers’ problem. Loan waivers were offered to people who were holding up to 5 acres of land, but it completely neglected the farmers, who were having land of more than 5 acres (people with land more than 5 acres were a considerable part of the lot who committed suicides).

In villages, most farmers borrow money from the local money lenders who earn a fortune on these loans, demanding a high interest from these farmers. Further, if or any reason the crops do not perform as the farmers expect, they fail to pay the borrowed money to the moneylenders; which results in a major problem. Often the moneylenders engage in molesting the helpless wives of the farmers when farmers fail to repay the money.

The relief compensation given by the Government of India to the families of the farmers who committed suicide, did not reach their families. A number of families were denied the relief compensation as the person who committed suicide was not the land holder himself. Compensation was only offered to the family if the person who died was the land holder. This left the greater part of the affected families unattended by the Government schemes.

The Government support to farmers is more or less ineffective in most of the cases. It is often said that the Government is subsidizing too much for agriculture. In this regard, it is to be noted that in comparison to USA’s percentage of subsidies, to its agriculture sector from GDP, Indian subsidies are not even a fraction.

The issue of minimum support prices (MSP) that the Government offers to the farmers is also debatable. This issue is like a double edged sword because, its implications in either way affects the farmers. Low MSPs do not compensate for the cost that a farmer incurs on the yield. On the other side, high MSPs satisfies the farmer temporarily at the beginning, but those MSPs become the responsible factor of high inflation in commodities; which badly affects the weaker sections which generally consists of farmers too.

Instead of gambling with farmers, the Government needs to develop sustainable irrigation models and equip farmers with the latest technology to enhance the way farming is undertaken in India. Higher subsidies for farmers, and easy loans from the Government’s side would help the farmers. Close monitoring of the processes for executing the Government’s support would help the aid reach the needy effectively. On the whole, only the steps taken in the right spirit and direction, keeping all consequences, pros and cons in mind, will help the farmers, and only then the ongoing suicides of farmer would come to rest.

The writer is a correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz and also a student of MBA from IIFT.

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