By Anwarul Hoda:
“The post-reform period has been characterised by deceleration in the growth rate of crop yields as well as total agricultural output in most states. By ending discrimination against tradable agriculture, economic reforms were expected to improve the terms of trade in favour of agriculture and promote its growth,” Professor G.S. Bhalla wrote recently in an essay in Economic and Political Weekly.
The way I see it, no crisis comes with an invitation. Since India liberalised and exposed its domestic economy to the world, more than three lakh farmers have ended their lives, either by ingesting pesticide or by hanging themselves.
The three most common reasons causing such misery are debt, drought and declining productivity. Statesmen and policymakers failed to recognise the after-effects of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG). They might have thought that opening up the farm sector will lead to more prosperous farmers who will be able to get the maximum price for their produce. Unfortunately, that did not happen. In fact, the prevailing distress turned into a crisis. “Agrarian crisis in India is the result of the adaptation of the policies of the World Trade Organisation and its after-effect on the world economy,” opined Vijay Jawandhia, founder of Shetkari Sangathana, a farmers union in Maharashtra, in a documentary, commissioned by the 2014 Food Safety and Sustainable Agriculture Forum, titled ‘YIELD‘.
A perception still seems to exist that the agriculture sector is growing with the increase in productivity. Yes, the productivity of the land increased, but unfortunately, neither income nor the condition of farmers is improving. We need to understand that for higher productivity, farmers are investing huge amounts in fertilisers and in pesticides and other chemicals. This increases the total cost of production, which most of the time amounts to more than what they are earning. They are unable to match their income with the money they invested even after an increase in production. The growth of agriculture should be measured in terms of real income of farmers rather than productivity to have more realistic information about the economic status of farmers.
Excess use of fertilisers also made agricultural production stagnant and affected the ecology in an adverse way. Excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides made the soil and water contaminated.
Increasing dependence on the market for every agricultural input is another problem. Farmers are facing exploitation in the name of healthy yields. The cost of agricultural inputs continues to rise steadily. The biggest challenge farmers face is not having their own seeds for production. The traditional way of ‘hoarding of seeds’ is no more in practice due to the introduction of various hybrids and modified seeds in the market. These promise high yields, but after sowing, they require proper care as they are very sensitive to climatic conditions. Additionally, they are poorly equipped to resist various seasonal diseases and any consequent extra cost adds to the burden on the farmer.
On the other hand, the traditional seeds are more habituated to climatic conditions and hence, require less care which ultimately reduces the cost of production.
Monopoly and total control of private companies over the sale of seeds have made farmers more dependent as they are forced to buy at higher costs. There is a need to empower farmers in every way possible. Their dependence on the market should be reduced to a minimum and this can be done by reviving some old techniques and modifying them to suit the present times. Organic farming, for example, could promote sustained and healthy ways of agricultural production.
There are two possible ways to support farmers through price policy. One is by increasing the price of the crops grown by farmers and another is by reducing input costs. Cost efficient techniques and methods should be introduced in a big way so that the input costs may come down. Moreover, the government should also enhance the role of the Food Corporation of India in buying crops other than wheat and rice at a price which suits farmers.
Loopholes in fixing the minimum selling price (MSP) is another big problem. In an article on Catch News, the writer tells us,“[MSP] was meant to protect farmers from being fleeced by wholesalers. But it becomes the maximum price that the farmers get in the Mandi.”
‘Floor price’ which is a price level defined by the government to support farmers through the price mechanism, now actually becomes the maximum price a farmer gets in the market. There is a need to review the MSP policy and to restructure the market for the produce of the farmers.
During the post-reform period, India witnessed rapid economic growth. Per capita income increased along with the production of different industrial goods all over India, but the agricultural sector remained an exception. It should be a matter of concern for the policymakers that the sector, which engages 58% of the total rural workforce is facing deceleration in its productivity as well as in income levels during the same post-reform period.