(As told to the author by Shantanu Sen)
Agriculture is considered to be the primary sector of India’s growing economy. Then come the manufacturing and service sectors, popularly regarded as the secondary and tertiary sectors respectively. But today the entire scenario has changed.
The service sector has become the primary; manufacturing industry is still the same, and the agriculture industry has gotten depreciated to a tertiary industry. The reason behind this growing degradation of the importance of agriculture is that the level of agriculture production is diminishing rapidly. For the sake of cultivation, a farmer uses adequate capital, but the supply is not up to the mark. Therefore the level of losses that our farmers had to bear over a period of 30-40 years has significantly risen.
Most of the farmers utilize a large proportion of capital in the purchase of fertilizers like Urea, Phosphate, Super Phosphate, DAP (Diammonium Phosphate), etc. The price of these fertilizers has increased over the last ten years. In 1990-91, the price for 50 kg of urea was around ₹60-70. By 2009-10 it rose to ₹270 and today, as per the government’s declared price, it costs ₹400. And in case you have to buy it from the black market, you sometimes have to pay more than ₹500.
There was a time when Diammonium phosphate (DAP), the world’s most widely used phosphorus fertiliser, came to the market at a price of ₹5 per kg; it costs ₹40 per kg today. Similarly, superphosphate was available at ₹5 per kg and today costs more than ₹40 for the same.
If we calculate the aggregate statistics on price rise regarding percentage, then the price rise of urea will be more than 600% and DAP and superphosphate increased by 800%. Once upon a time, the pesticides used by the farmers cost ₹200-300 per litre whose price today rose to ₹2,000 per litre which itself shows that agriculture is a costly affair.
Twenty years ago, farmers’ crops were purchased at ₹600 per quintal. Today it is purchased at ₹800 per quintal. There is a 25% increase in the price of the crops produced by the farmers. Similarly, 20-30 years ago, the farmers used to sell wheat at ₹8-10 per kg, but today, they are forced to sell at ₹12 per kg.
In the last 20-30 years, the price of wheat rose by 20% only. Now if you assess the capital invested by a farmer, the government implemented 600-800% price rise in fertilizers, 1000% in pesticides and even the price of diesel used in agricultural machinery rose, but the price of the crops supplied by farmers could only increase by 20-25%.
The huge price increase in fertilizers, pesticides, etc. with an imbalanced price rise in the price of crops produced by farmers, resulted in creating a menace for the farmers leading them to have to face several problems. After a lot of hard work and struggle, when a farmer finally sells his produced crops in the market, he immediately has to use the money to buy fertilizers, pesticides, etc. all over again. Even the seeds, patented by the big companies are expensive. These costs leave a little for them to support their family and earn a dignified living.
Moreover, under the influence of corporate entities, the government determine the prices of certain amenities used in the process of agriculture by the farmers. Thus these exploited farmers who are on the brink of poverty are usually forced to take loans from informal moneylenders, financial institutions and banks to make their ends meet.
The farmer has to pay interest on the principal money of the loan. In case a farmer fails to pay off the loan, compound interest is charged on the debt. Our farmers often become a victim of the burden of compound interest and even mortgage their homes and agricultural land as collateral for loans. Then, if and when they eventually fail to pay-off the debt, they find no other option rather than to commit suicide and leave their ailing family behind in the sea of sorrow.
When government officials come to investigate such cases, they usually find that the farmer had put his house, agricultural lands, ornaments, livestock and even his own savings as a mortgage. Due to drought, famine, floods or any other calamities or crisis, crops get destroyed. Then the farmer finds no other option but to hang himself/herself or drink the pesticide and commit suicide. What on earth can be more painful than this?
Farmers not getting the price they deserve, the prevailing minimum price, and mass suicides of farmers all have origins dated back to the British regime in India. The conspiracy was ignited by the British by bringing a law which still exists even after 70 years of India’s Independence. According to Agriculture Price Commission act, farmers do not have any right to fix prices of the crops. It is the government who has the right to set suitable prices.
This is undoubtedly the biggest betrayal of the conscience and self-esteem of the farmers. The second betrayal is that the price determined is lowest in India. Even the salary of a fourth-grade staffer is more than that of a farmers earnings. More importantly, farmers does not work alone in the fields but even deploy their families help.
It is shameful that the government procures crops from the farmers and stores it for 6-12 months but procrastinates in disbursing the money to the farmers. Until the moment those stocks are sold, the farmers will have to wait for the money.
Today, the price of rice sold by a farmer is ₹10-12. If the farmer has to purchase 100g of soap which cost ₹15 rupees, the cost is equivalent to 1.5 kg of rice. The major factor that should be highlighted is that the corporate selling soap enjoys the privilege to fix price as per his wish. On the other hand, a farmer does not have any right to determine the price of the crops he produced.
A farmer’s 80% income goes in buying fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, etc. The rest 20% goes towards paying off interest and loans leaving hardly anything that could sustain the life of a farmer and his family.
The corporate entities of the nation enjoy several tax benefits and loan incentives. Even the farmers must get the same, and the government must be the guarantor for a farmer’s loan. It is important that farmers get the correct price for their crops for them to lead a happy, prosperous and dignified life.
It’s the duty of this so-called “civilized society” to stand for the farmers and catalyze consciousness among the masses before it’s too late and we wage war on each other in the name of food. The time has come to stand up in solidarity and for the cause of our farmers. Let’s embrace our farmers before our farmers embrace the wrath of death.