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AGRARIAN DISTRESS

By Tawfeeq Irshad Mir

Currently India is the second largest agricultural producer just behind China. In India, one out of four people are farmers or agricultural workers. In addition, nearly 60% of India’s rural households depend on agriculture as their main source of income.

 

On average these agricultural farmers make around 6,700 Rupees ($100) a month. However, the average debt for an Indian farmer is 47,000 Rupees ($750). The most threatening part about this debt is the likelihood of its growth, primarily due to the high interest rates and the low profit margins of farming. As a result, there is a great deal of strain on these farmers and their families.

Agriculture directly and indirectly occupies 70 percent of India’s workforce but comprises only 14 percent of the GDP. Despite this topsy-turvy fiscally, the country’s policymakers have long disdained agriculture as development’s poorer cousin. Nearly three-fourths of a century after independence and the recent emergence of a free-market initiative that replaced the earlier socialist-welfare impulse, farmers lead hardscrabble lives, so debt-ridden that India has a seemingly insurmountable problem unique to it: farmers suicides, ironically usually through one of the causes of debt: pesticides.

The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in 2014 expressly riding an immense wave of support from farmers taken in by the party’s promise to waive farmers’ debts, increase harvest procurement prices, and install middlemen-free farm-to-market mechanisms.

None of this has come to pass. Debts have increased startlingly, harvests of all produce except rice and wheat rot in place because of high imports and a lack of cold-storage facilities, and the government’s untethered free-market policy has resulted in more layers of opportunistic middlemen than ever before.

We need to understand that over the past 22 years, more than 330,000 farmers have committed suicide in India. That’s over 12,000 farmers a year [or 33 every day]. While they are reflective of the immensity of the agrarian crisis in India, farmers’ suicides are just one aspect of a multidecadal crisis. If we look at the condition of those [farmers] who are not dying, it is also pathetic.

According to Indian government’s own economic think-tank, NITI Aayog [the three-year-old National Institution for Transforming India, which replaced the hoary 65-year-old Planning Commission], the average income growth of a farming family, in 2011-2016, was only 0.44 percent, which basically means that income for farmers was stagnant [but expenses rose, since, while their income mirrors inflation month-on-month in the same period, food inflation is at 2.8 percent]. If people like us had their incomes frozen for this long, a lot of us would meet the same fate.

Ultimately the big question to be asked is “why?”. Why are these farmers suffering from agrarian distress and committing suicide? What are the factors causing this type of strain to push people to suicide? There have been several reasons theorizedas the cause of these suicides – debt, increased cost of production, globalization, and exploitation from money lending sources. Although there are many theorized factors, it seems there is a common thread among all of these – simply put, it’s poverty. It all seems to come down to poverty in India.

Now the even bigger question is, what can we do about agrarian distress? How can we help alleviate this problem? First it comes down to awareness; informing people about these tragedies taking place in India. Sharing their stories and not allowing for them to have died in vain. Second, donations to these farmers and their families. Again, annually Indian farmers’ salary is around $1,200. Donating to any cause focused on alleviating agrarian distress is a chance to give someone a better opportunity towards a better quality of life.

One of the important indicators of the neglect of structural issues and the lack of seriousness of the government in responding to agrarian distress has been the decline in agricultural investment during the tenure of the present government. After years of stagnation, investment in agriculture witnessed a reversal of the trend with investment in agriculture rising at 10% in real terms between 2004–05 and 2012–13. As against this, real investment in agriculture has declined at 2.3% per annum between 2013–14 and 2016–17. Similar is the case of credit to agriculture that was increasing at 21% per annum in nominal terms between 2004–05 and 2014–15, rising from Rs. 1,25,309 crore in 2004–05 to Rs.8,45,328 crore by 2014–15. However, the growth in agricultural credit slowed down to 12.3% between 2014–15 and 2016–17, rising only to Rs. 10, 65,756 crore in 2016–17.

Agricultural loan waivers and subsidies do not benefit the poorest in rural India. In fact, loan waivers do little to relieve the indebtedness of the most vulnerable farmers who are either landless or possess smallholdings. These farmers are not considered creditworthy, have no access to institutional credit and are entirely dependent on usurious moneylenders. Loan waivers do not alleviate agrarian crises that have deep structural roots in India’s economy, including uneven access to subsidies, skewed land ownership patterns, and a degeneration of government-supported agricultural extension programmes.

Farming can be a very a risky business, due to the unpredictability of the weather, crops, and markets. This level of unpredictability, specifically for smaller farmers has led many into agrarian distress, causing them to take their own lives.

What measures that can be taken

1) Diversification of crops is needed to earn money and for that price deficiencyscheme (MP) can be used for alternative crop

2) Farmer need to look for livestock sector where there is huge opportunity provided Govt upgrade its livestock policy

3) Farmer need to be provided with specified knowledge at their door step

4) Small and marginal are affected with credit problem. Existing scheme like kissan credit scheme needs to review.

5) Trade restrictive policy also need to be relaxed

6) Focus on water harvesting,cash crop is needed to boost farmer income

The agrarian crisis is morphing into a social nightmare. Its time for a complete overhaul. There are many lessons of successful cooperative farming in India and abroad that will have to be learned for the institutional transformation of our small farmer economy into cooperative farming systems on a national scale to address the agrarian crisis.

(The author is a Nursing student at G M C Srinagar and can be reached at: [email protected])