Finding solutions to farmers' woes and government’s dilemma
India is moving forward for record production of food. Food production in India, which is steadily increasing, is expected to rise during 2017-18 to 277 million tons.
Data shows that India is a net exporter of food grains. Export earnings in 2016 was $3.8 billion. Its main export market is Middle East and a few African countries.
Against this optimistic background, the country is facing an agrarian crisis. Agrarian crisis is manifesting in farmer’s suicides across the country. What could be the possible reasons.
There is large-scale migration of farm labours and farmers to urban areas in search of jobs. For new jobs they do not have the right skills. Their woes largely continue.
Identifying the reasons for the Farmers Crisis
To identify the reasons of the crisis, a number of studies have been carried out from time to time. To list a few: Small and fragmented land holdings; severe cash crunch required to buy inputs like seeds and fertiliser; poor availability of credit facilities from banks; lack of assured irrigation; vagaries of nature-like drought or floods; absence of modern farming equipment; no capacity to hold the produce and wait for the right price.
More often they fall prey to ruthless local money lenders or sell their produce to local traders at a discounted price.
It is estimated that vegetables and fruits valued at over Rs 35,000 crore perish in the fields every year. This is happening because the country still lacks adequate infrastructure.
The government has always tried to bring quick-fix solutions which have not had the desired result and the Anna data continues to languish.
How the government tried to find solutions
NABARD came into existence to facilitate agriculture loan through the banking channels. Here also the middlemen’s role is no secret. They are found lurking all around.
Crop insurance has been introduced but the farmers are hardly compensated for the loss they suffer. This has time and again been highlighted by the media.
MSP is revised regularly and its ambit enlarged to include new produce. This effort has brought only marginal relief as large quantities are still left out of the procurement chain which varies from state to state. This is happening because our national warehouse capacity is inadequate. This explains the procured food grain rotting in the open. Despite food surplus, our 50 per cent population is malnourished or undernourished. What an irony.
The government’s concern is to ensure uninterrupted availability of food grains to the Public Distribution System and maintain buffer stock. Concern is not farmers’ wellbeing, but to keep the price under control.
The government has promised to double the farm income over the next couple of years. But how will this be realised?
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Nine Steps the government must take:
1. The first step should be to arrest large-scale migration from villages. This can happen only if the dignity of the farmers is restored.
2. Farming as an occupation is made attractive. The focus, therefore, should be to increase assured per acre income to the farming communities.
3. Village connectivity has considerably improved in recent years.
4. Cold chain facility backed with lifting of perishable produce from the field for proper processing and storage can be a step in the right direction.
5. Value-added product can not only increase the farmers income but can also be foreign exchange earner.
6. In the event of loss of productivity due to adverse weather, the loss should be expeditiously assessed and insurance claim disbursed. Technology can be of great help.
7. Timely availability of high yield seeds and educating them to apply balanced fertiliser will certainly increase the production.
8. But foremost is devising a method to disburse soft credit to the needy without middlemen seizing any opportunity.
9. Also, basic medical and schooling facility must be ensured to keep our rural population rooted to their base.
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(The writer is former Managing Director, Kribhco)