Thursday, January 12, 2012

Strike at the root of problem

K. A. Badarinath

Whenever attempts are made to modernise and mechanise the sector,
objections are raised saying farming is not an enterprise rather it is ‘way of life’

Farming and its related activities form the core of Indian economy. This is not only because majority of Indians banks on this sector for their livelihood, but also its contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the highest in comparison to other sectors — manufacturing and services.
Despite the primacy of the sector, farming has never been a remunerative occupation, as it entirely depends on Minimum Support Price (MSP) for almost all produce, except for the cash crop. Farmers of cash crops, however, have a different story to tell.
Because of the ‘MSP culture’ in the country since Independence farming has so far remained an occupation for subsistence only. Therefore, whenever attempts are made to modernise and mechanise the sector, sharp chorus emerges claiming that farming is not an enterprise rather it is a "way of life" and thus policy makers have failed so far give positive direction to the sector.
Whenever talk of providing credit to farm sector is talked about, sound bytes come suggesting a kind of largess, which neither help the economy nor the farmers. Since the assumption for providing farm sector credit is based on wrong principle, several attempts to organize loans for farmers fell flat.
Interestingly, the subsistence farming in India does not require much of credit to enter into the vocation and so seldom we find any case of dept trap or hear any news of farmers suicides from regions where such agricultural practices are in operation. We have not yet heard farmers' suicides from Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Eastern Uttar Pradesh. These are the areas in the country, where prosperity has not come in a big way.
The real culprit, however, appears to be cash crops and the regions in which such farming take place distressed farmers are found the most. Recently, it was reported that every one out of two farmers suffers from debt trap leading to incidences of suicides. Therefore, reports of farmers committing suicides are mostly emanating from Western Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. These states, however, are considered to be developed with large contribution to India's GDP.
Since profit margins are high in case cash crops like sugar canes, cotton, spices and coir, farmners have the tendency to go for kill and take a lot of risk by borrowing money not only from banks, but also from moneylenders. One crop failure leaves them with nothing but to end their lives. The trend needs to be curbed by initiating multi-pronged policy intervention, as only waiving loans will not serve the long-term purpose.
Of late different political parties have started ruling at the centre and in states, so there has long been tendency between the two to indulge in blame game, which is also not serving purpose.
Recently, at a debate in the Rajya Sabha questions were raised about contradictory figures of farmers' suicides emerging from states and the union home ministry's national crime record bureau. Following this the government suggested forming a parliamentary panel to look into the issue and suggest the government the measures needed to curb and eliminate incidences farmers' suicides.
"Let us appoint a House Committee with members from both the Houses of parliament that can go to the states to look into the issue of farmers' suicides," agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said in his reply to the debate.
"The NCRB has reported 15,900 cases where as the state governments have reported only 800," the agriculture minister informed.
Interestingly, whenever prices any crash crop tumbles substantially, farmers involved in cultivation agitate demanding MSP system. But will this solve the problem is a question, which is being legitimately asked by experts. Recently cotton farmers of Maharashtra has asked for a MSP of Rs. 6,000 per quintal on the plea that their cost of production is Rs. 5,7,00 per quintal. Even if government agrees to it, the measure would remain just a temporary relief.
Farm sector in India needs a robust policy with long-term ramification. Hope this will be delivered soon!

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