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Not Loan Waivers, Not Old Schemes Bottled As New: Here’s What Can Help The Indian Farmer

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With farmers, it’s always more about emotions rather than an adherence to procedure. With such a heavily protected industry, one that was left untouched even after the post-1991 liberalisation extravaganza which got us out of the mess of Licence Raj, they have an extremely tough job.  Way back in 2000-01, our policymakers were careful in not opening up the agricultural market too much by charging wheat at 50% and nuts at 100%.

Presently, tariffs are about 10% for wheat and pulses,  partly due to a bumper crop this monsoon since they were zero before. The mindset of protecting the farmers is important not just for food security but emotionally as well. In the Economic Survey of 2016-17, the export performance of agriculture, saw negative growth at (-)17.6 in the last fiscal year and is projected to be (-)3 for this year.

However, domestically, our agricultural growth has been growing from strength to strength. In the GDP growth for January-March 2017, government spending and agriculture were the two bright spots in an otherwise damp macroeconomic statement. Our ostensible saviour was a good monsoon after two bad ones and overproduction of crops such as kharif food grains which are predicted to be significantly more than last year (up from 124.1 to 135 million tonnes) as well as onion and tomato. To top it off, the sector is expected to grow to 4.1% from 1.2%, plus, the MSP (Minimum Support Price) has grown for all kharif and rabi crops on the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) and it seems to be the one good sector in our economy.

Then, why are the farmers protesting?

The obvious reason seems to be that due to basic economics – overproduction leads to falling prices. Simple. What this does not account for, however, is that farmers are throwing their perishable goods such as vegetables and milk out on the streets. It seems to be because post-harvest crop loss is a problem which points to a structural defect starting with not having enough cold storage and warehousing facilities for farmers. These same phrases have been oft-repeated for an inordinate amount of time without anything adequate being done. These need to be done immediately even though their effects will be seen in the long-term. For now, one problem lies in crop insurance. 

The Pradhan Mantri Bima Fasal Yojana (PMBFY) was sold politically as a principally reformist policy, except as the BJP’s own ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal’s Prakash Singh Badal observed the policy had several problems. The most important of which was that the crop will only be insured if the whole village would pay the premium was a clear example of miscalculation.

Another one that I, along with many others had noticed was the lack of insurance coverage for a lot of risks such as destruction by wild animals, theft, nuclear risks etc. Has the Government never noticed that untamed animals might cause destruction of crops?

On reading the policy, it is clear that the PMBFY is a rehash of old insurance schemes. One, it holds the same approach to area calculation as the National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) did with an ‘Area Approach’. Area Approach is basically a state notifying an area (mostly village or panchayat level) which then comes under the scheme’s risk coverage. This is known as the ‘Unit of Insurance’. This should be done at the individual level. Even if you assume that all farmers in a village are reasonably facing the same risk, earning the same average income on their crops or incur the same expenses on production of crops, the farmer is eligible for risks only if the entire village is affected in some way by the calamity. The scheme mentions that localised calamities or post-harvest losses mean the assessment shall be done on an individual level. Good, but it needs to be extended to all calamities.

On the subject of extension, the unit of insurance for only major crops is at the village level, that is, for minor crops the unit of insurance is larger. This should be shortened immediately. Also, only notified crops are covered. This is principally wrong. There should be universality in the scheme’s nature.

Loan Waivers: Hiding The Real Problem

I don’t need to emphasise the burden on honest tax payers accrued by schemes like loan waivers for farmers or the political brownie points being the primary motivation behind them. What I do want to emphasise on is a bigger problem of the informal loan economy that exists within the agricultural sector.

According to a report, 40% of all loans were through informal sources for farmers with less than one hectare of land. As the land area gets bigger, farmers get more formalised loans. They seek banks, and the loans they seek are much longer in period. The small farmers, the ones with 1-4 hectares have a larger share of small-term loans and a larger share of informal loans. This means not only a lack of access to the banking system, but the loan period is usually shorter and the interest rate is higher since the farmer usually gets the loan without putting something up as collateral. A higher interest rate comes back to haunt the farmers once the rains are not adequate enough or natural calamities strike and they do not have insurance.

One solution that this government seems to want to encourage is interest subvention, that is, reducing the rate of interest rather than full waivers which by and large do not work. Debt relief must be transitional rather than abrupt.

The real problem lies when farmers get screwed over by middlemen. Traders with their brutish prices take extremely low prices when there is overproduction of any crops such as tomatoes etc. and do not pass the benefits to the consumers, neither do they do so to the farmers when prices for commodities are high during low production.

The current system of APMCs (Agricultural Produce Market Committees) depends on middlemen to transport the goods to consumers and is heavily imperfect. Here, the middlemen dictate everything. Everyone including companies have to go through the middlemen which creates a situation of distorted prices and corruption. The middlemen need to be eliminated. Although this government has launched a national agricultural market called the e-NAM, it has its own problems in implementation. All states have also not passed the APMC Act of 2003 or framed the rules under the APMC Act for e-NAM. The states need to amend the act to include online price discovery among other things immediately.

Contract Farming: Corporatism In Agriculture Or Improving Standards?

A great way to eliminate the middlemen is via contract farming. The price policy of government for major agricultural commodities must ensure remunerative prices to the farmers to encourage higher investment and to safeguard the interest of consumers. One way to do that is through contract farming which implies that companies have contracts with farmers to produce a certain amount of a certain crop for them. Even though a lot of states (22) engage in contract farming, there is law to regulate it so that farmers do not get exploited by big companies. The government needs to step in and the crux of the potential bill needs to be about making sure that farmer’s working conditions and prices are not taken advantage of by corporates. Having said that though, this is the area where free market enterprise should be accepted more liberally.

A lot of people seem to think that this will corporatise the sector or that it is the government that needs to intervene through policy here. I disagree. Contract farming must remain market-based. This will not only help eliminate the middlemen, but also, since companies like McDonalds want their french fries a certain shape consistently, it would help the farmers work with a variety of crops. It would also improve the technical know-how that would be passed between the companies and the farmers as well as better farming techniques such as irrigation. Make in India also stands to benefit if MNC products are domestically made.

A few reforms also need to be tweaked such as, in total opposition to what I just said, by reducing the number of private players for the Soil Health Card Scheme which is already making the scheme disastrous by employing 10th pass people to assess the quality of the soil. Even the government’s distribution of MSP needs to be improved.

What needs to be done immediately will take time and the things that take time in our agricultural sector need to be done immediately. If the government wants to double the income of the farmers by 2022, only implementing the Swaminathan Commission, will not suffice. It is the grunt work that needs to be done quickly.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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