Agriculture under Duress


AgricultureEver heard of a democracy dominated by a particular sector yet so powerless and exploited that none wishes to tread on the path which gives nothing and takes away all that is left. Sounds too grim but this is true plight of India’s agrarian population, that makes up more than 60 percent of the workforce but contributes just about 16 percent of the total GDP of the economy, and also contributes to the front page headlines for the issues they have been fighting since before the Independence.

The “Anna Daatas” of this country have had enough of the laws made for them that promise fair compensation for their lands and profitable income for their produce.

The most recent scenario is being witnessed where farmers from around 15 states have arrived at capital for a unison protest against Land Acquisition & Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act. These protesters have gathered to seek answers from the new government as to which new reform in the current law would finally put an end to their misery.

Agrarian Distress

India’s farming community’s high dependence on agricultural produce for its survival is a never ending struggle with majority of farmers meeting an unfortunate end. One week after 22nd December, twelve farmers committed suicide due to crop failure in the Vidharba region in Maharashtra.

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), about 50 percent of country’s 90 million households were indebted. Leading this survey was Uttar Pradesh with 6.9 million indebted farm households, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra with 4.9 million and 3.6 million families respectively, who had either taken loans from banks or money lenders.

Distress in the farming community has become a permanent feature as global agriculture commodity prices have nosedived by up to 30 percent in the past few months. This means much trouble for the net income of farmers.

On the flipside, India’s food grain production has been rising consistently to reach 264 million tonnes in 2014 which became possible due to introduction of new and better technological innovations. However, the original plan was to make the increased production directly proportional to the revenue and profit margins of farmers which obviously failed for reasons out of farmers’ control.

During the election campaign, the ruling BJP had promised farmers a 50 percent profit margin over their cost of production but now nobody seems to bring up the matter. Moreover, the government does not seem to have its impact as increase in Minimum Support Price (MSP) has been much less when compared with past many years.

In a recent protest against the land acquisition bill, the government has been blamed for bringing in liberalization and opening markets to big international agribusiness via FDI in retail. Though the government says it wants to help the farming communities but many in opposition say that these are all indirect means to help multinationals at the expense of domestic agrarian community.

The farming communities argue that the land meant for agriculture has been given to privateers in a bid to rake in profits leaving nothing for the farming family. With no assured income, a farmer has nothing but its land and compensation alone cannot be the only solution. Moreover, rising farm debts and increasing cost of cultivation add to the woes.

Budget 2015-16: Are New Changes Helpful?

Before the announcement of the Budget 2015-16, various experts pointed as to how problems can be solved in agriculture sector. Enhancing crop yield by improving productivity and improving flow of credit to farmers at concessional rates were on top of their wish list. Finance Minister ArunJaitley’s prime focus was to solve the biting issue of declining agriculture income and farm distress.

Jat-reservationIn the Budget 2015-16, Jaitley announced that the farm credit corpus would be increased from Rs. 8 lakh crore to Rs. 8.5 lakh crore. Moreover, a Unified National Agriculture Market would be set up to help farmers to get better price for their produce. This new market would act as a replacement to the state run Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs).

Though the measures announced during the Budget 2015-16 were announced to benefit the farmer community, experts believe that the finance minister failed to understand that new set up will be ineffective against the current issues. Many believe that increasing farm credit corpus is not enough unless its segregation is explained to benefit the ultimate beneficiary i.e. the farmer. Farm credit has expanded and includes retail chains and storage houses who take the advantage and chunk out the major subsidies for themselves.

Instead of just increasing the farm credit corpus, the government should have also made sure that financial help must be given to those facing the real agrarian crisis.

Road Ahead

This time around every listener wanted to hear what PM NarendraModi had to say amidst protests against Land Bill. Not so surprisingly, Mr.Modi dedicated the 6th edition of “Mann kiBaat” series on All India Radio to Indian farmers. Speaking directly to farmers, he assured that he would do everything in his power to eliminate the issues raised by them.

The protesters have demanded a complete moratorium on land acquisition across the country, which includes acquisition of agricultural land for non-agrarian purposes by private sectors. Moreover, they want to advocate compulsory panchayat consent before any acquisition.

The government has managed to get the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill passed in the LokSabha, but the opposition parties have stalled the bill in the RajyaSabha where the government does not have numbers to get the bill through.

For any global economy, expeditious clearances, land acquisitions and policy reforms are the primary elements to progress.

The government is synchronizing farmer welfare with that of developmental needs of the country by bringing in new changes in the current land bill. Truth be told, Modi led BJP has to bring in smart changes to undo mistakes done by previous government; but they are running against time to resolve the problems that have been troubling farmers across the country for long.