Indian Farmers: To Be Or Not To Be

Posted on September 9, 2010 in Society

By Ashutosh Singh:

Recently released movie “Peepli live” begins with a farmer vowing to commit suicide and ends with his migration towards the city where he works as a labourer. It may seem far-fetched to some but for a huge proportion of farming community in India, this is the grim reality.

The question all of us need to ask ourselves is why even after two decades of liberalization, our farmers are not free? Why are they still chained within the clutches of the vicious tyranny of poverty? It is not that people are not trying to answer this question. In fact, some of them are trying hard to work it out. But, the design and shape of their answers tend to complicate the questions and don’t provide a plausible solution. On the other hand is the school of thought that wants India to get rid of agriculture so that it can accelerate on the path of industrialization. They perhaps don’t realize the uselessness of vehicle in the absence of an engine.

This engine of Indian economy needs answers in the light of changing paradigms in agricultural landscapes. We need to discuss rigorously the concept of crop diversification and contract farming by keeping farmers in the centre of our scheme of things. This discussion is urgently required as borrowed concepts are not going to work in India. How else does one explain the success of Grameen bank in Bangladesh but its utter failure in West Bengal? How else does one explain the success of Panchayti Raj in West Bengal but its utter failure in Bangladesh? We need to devise something innovative and something of our own. For example, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, adapting a hardnosed model of contract farming with all its legal and formal structure is not going to work. It will invite a severe backlash given the political volatility of the state. A more humane and informal structure may be the way out.

This will not only help alleviate the apprehensions in the minds of farmers and politicians against private sector but will also pave the path for much needed privatization of agriculture that will convert presently chaotic and tightly controlled “sustenance driven” economy into free and “market driven” economy. Of course, market doesn’t know everything. It needs to be told a thing or two. It needs to be told that insisting upon growing cut flowers may sound very fancy and glamorous but it requires huge amount of water that earth is not in a position to provide. This is where government regulation comes into the picture and there is no denying that they are inevitable.

Similarly, there is no dearth of people calling NREGS a sheer waste of money. But now, as we are sure that it is here to stay so why not come out with something innovative within the confines of this scheme. For instance, people employed under this scheme can be asked to make ponds. These ponds can be used for growing in-land fish, something which is not only in demand in India but outside as well. This enhancement in production of fish will also signal improvement in healthcare sector. Thus, it will serve twin purposes.

Now, we all are aware of commitment of UPA-II towards women empowerment so why not use the platform of NREGS which already has one third of the jobs reserved for women to uplift condition of sericulture (a highly women extensive practice by integrating NREGS and agriculture)? This inclusiveness can be very sustainable if implemented carefully. Remember, we cannot move forward without farmers. Asking them to leave agriculture and work in cities is akin to asking them to leave paradise and descend to hell. If they go there, so would we.

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and a student of IIM Kozhikode.

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