By Gayaz Ahmed:
The Vidarbha region in Maharashtra witnessed yet another heart-breaking tragedy, where 12 farmers committed suicide in just 72 hours due to their crop losses. These cotton farmers have been agitating for an increase in the Minimum Support Price of cotton.
If this scenario continues to prevail, then India, the world’s second largest food producer, will be facing a situation where farmers are found to quit farming or even worse –‘Quit their lives’. In a country where more than half of the population directly depends on farming, this is a serious concern.
Recent statistics show that the percentage of agriculturists willing to quit farming and move to cities is a whopping 62%. This growing distress and declining confidence in these small and landless farmers is due to low returns on profits that they are getting. Adding to this, there is our dependency on nature and poorly maintained irrigation systems. Ultimately, the current agricultural practices are neither economically nor environmentally sustainable and hence India’s yields for many agricultural commodities are dropping.
With no financial assets to nullify the losses and no other means of income to survive the day-to-day expenditures, most of the farmer families (about 61%) have ‘only two meals a day’. So, whatever might be the reason, it is always the farmer and his family that is going to suffer. To shed light on these issues, the year 2014 was christened as the ‘International Year of Family Farming’ by the UN.
Mere general fixes like subsidies, procurement policies, minimum support prices (MSP) have been failures, and loan waivers have not served their purpose as the prices obtained by the farmers are far below those charged to the urban consumers.
Recently, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan said that debt waiver schemes of central and state governments have not benefited farmers as they restricted credit flow subsequently. About 60% of the farmers take loan only to purchase fertilizers, seeds, pesticides etc.
But surprisingly, it is the basic minimum requirements like education and health that emerged as the major responsibilities that worry Indian farmers. Contrary to our general opinion, we find a low proportion of farmers who are worried about repayment of loans. Interestingly, 39 per cent of the respondents were not worried at all about repayment of loan.
Similarly, awareness about Minimum Support Price (MSP), under which purchases are made from the farmers at the rates declared by the Government of India, is also low. Approximately 62 per cent of farmers were not aware of MSP. Among those who had heard about MSP, most said that they were not satisfied with the rates of crops decided by the government.
America exports large quantities of food grains and fruits like Californian apples and Washington apples to India even with less than 1% of the population engaged in agriculture. Their agricultural practices, policies and perspectives are quite different from that of ours.
The main reason for this inferior productivity in our country is illiteracy and lack of minimum awareness about the crops and schemes. Almost three-fourths of the farmers in our country were completely ignorant about any information or help from the agricultural department on these matters.
These thing can be only sorted out with major reforms, which must be taken instantly. Firstly, the Indian farmers should be given their due regard and status. Only 24 per cent youth belonging to farmer households are interested in continuing farming, while 76 per cent would prefer to do some other work rather than farming. The difficulty in deriving profits and the society’s approach towards farmers may account for this situation.
We obviously cannot feed our 121 crore population with this situation in the near future.
The youth must be brought back into agricultural practices and must be the one to question the government when they do not get deserved favours. Their perspective about sustainable agriculture must be scientific and technology driven. With smartphones penetrating the villages, the possibility to get updates about the weather conditions, seed rates, market demand, fertilizer configuration etc. is within the fingertips. Even the sustainable usage of limited water resources can be attained through technology.
It is the responsibility of all of us to carry initiatives like these to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farming. Let us hope 2015 brings smile across these ‘annadatas’.