As 46 Farmers Commit Suicide Daily, Why India’s Agrarian Crisis Is Bigger Than We Think

Posted on December 29, 2015

By Anwarul Hoda

Farmer_Ploughing_IndiaFarmers are those who work in acres, not in hours. Their day starts with the earliest rays of the sun and ends when it sets beyond the western horizon. Little do they know that no matter how hard they work, monetarily they will always be deceived. Sometimes hit by men or else by nature, they still continue to plough the earth and provide us with food.

Farmers in India have neither proper infrastructure nor the government’s support. They are continuously struggling for survival. But still they continue to cultivate food as they have no other option. Farmers have no right to determine the price of their produce. In fact, they are not even permitted to sell their goods where they want. Is it not an irony that one doesn’t even have such rights in a so-called liberal economy? Also, they are compelled to sell their commodities only through the local Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMCs).

India is an agrarian economy and currently, the livelihood of 836 million people is dependent on agriculture. Farmers of India are the most marginalised section of the economy that earn less than 40 rupees a day. More than 3 lakh suicides by farmers have been reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) since India liberalised, privatised and globalised its economy. In a single day, 46 farmers give up their life; that means every 30 minutes, a suicide is reported. Please note that the data doesn’t include farmers whose lands are not registered in their names and the women farmers. As per 68th round survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Sample Office (NSSO) nearly 70% of rural women are engaged in agriculture but it’s highly ironical that our country doesn’t recognise women as farmers.

Agricultural infrastructure is so bad that even after 68 years of independence 61 percent of agricultural land depends upon the rain. Employment in agriculture is continuously shrinking as farmers are employing a lesser number of workers to minimise their cost of production. In an answer to students at Aligarh Muslim University, Yogendra Yadav, a renowned social activist and political figure said that “due to mechanisation of agriculture, unemployment in rural India is rising high which is a very serious issue, further causing migration and social disturbances in rural as well as in urban areas.”

The pressure of debt and continuous loss in farming is forcing farmers to either migrate to cities or commit suicide. No proper policy of government till today has been made to combat the agrarian crisis in India.

P. Sainath is a well-established rural journalist and the author of ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought‘ which is based on his research on rural India. On several occasions, he pointed out that government is so much responsible for the prevailing agrarian crisis as its policies are never so effective to counter ground challenges facing by farmers. According to him, policies are made by those people who know nothing about farmers or farming. At the inaugural ceremony of the Vibgyor Film Festival in 2012, he talked about how the government put all its effort to save Kingfisher airline and spent millions in the name of subsidies and at the same time did nothing for millions of farmers of Karnataka or other states.

Inequality among rural-urban area is highly growing, migration is also an issue but the government is not taking proper measures to ensure a sustainable life for farmers. Late Sharad Anantrao Joshi, an economist, farmer leader and an activist found that the root cause of rural poverty was dry land farming. Dry land farming consists of cultivating land which contains less water; it depends mostly on the monsoon with less or no infrastructure for irrigation. Hence, the produce is less than what it could be in other forms of agriculture.

Indian farmers were the most exploited during the British regime but even then, suicidal tendency among farmers was not that prevalent. Then what has driven Indian farmers to this limit?

There are basically two factors responsible for the prevailing agrarian crisis in India. The first one is internal: after the green revolution in 80’s, suddenly, farmers realized that their lands had become less productive due to excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides and ironically, required even more fertilizers for continuing farming. At the same time, a massive increment in the price of agricultural goods like fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals has been reported due to high market demand. That minimizes the gap between profit and cost of production and certainly agriculture becomes less profitable and less productive at the same time.

The second one is external which includes 1995 WTO agreement and neo-liberalization of Indian economy. After 1991 reforms, agriculture sector was exposed to the global economy and now local farmers have to directly compete with global farmers and markets for which they were not ready and are then forced to the gallows.

Among all the economic sector agriculture is most undeveloped. Drought, declining productivity and debt are factors which vastly affect the livelihood of farmers. Agriculture sector strongly needs reform in its policies to increase productivity of land. There is a need to shift heavy public investment to modernise this sector. Price mechanism and market structure should be reviewed and there is a need to establish provisions to eliminate the middleman, which eats up all possible profit of farmers. Representatives of farmers in parliament are also required as these existing parliamentarian are heavily burdened with lots of work.

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