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The Roots Of India's Agrarian Crisis

08/10/2016 4:04 PM IST | Updated 11/10/2016 1:22 PM IST
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There is a widespread perception that the "agrarian crisis" is more or less an outcome of natural calamities like drought which no one can fight. Governments over the years have used this misperception in their favour to hide their inefficiencies in problem-solving. In fact, until the late 80s, governments continued to deny that a crisis even existed in the agricultural sector.

In his seminal work Everyone Loves a Good Drought, as well as in his lectures, P Sainath, an eminent rural affairs journalist has argued how bad political decisions have a direct correlation to farmers' suicides. One should understand that an agrarian crisis not only affects the farmer but the whole rural economy.

The time has come to scrutinize the impact of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization) reforms on Indian agriculture and thus the economy as a whole.

Therefore, an agrarian crisis is a much broader phenomenon than it is understood as by many. The rural economy is an extremely complex web connecting different professions which are directly or indirectly dependent on farming. Most of these professions, such as weaving, pottery and traditional handicrafts, are on the brink of complete collapse.

This is because all people related to these fields have farmers as their main "market" or "target group" since times immemorial. It is their interdependence on each other which has been the beauty of how the Indian rural economy survived and thrived for centuries. When the agricultural output is low, the farmer's purchasing power goes down and so does the market of non-farming entities in rural markets. These local businesses can't venture into urban markets to sell their products as they are not in a position to compete in a highly industrial and commercialized sector where mass production and cheap rates rule the roost.

This has led to a huge migration of people—farmers or otherwise— from rural areas to urban centres in search of jobs. Those who can't afford to migrate as they have huge debts to pay to banks and moneylenders often commit suicide. These "suicides" have often caught the attention of media, the death of a farmer being deemed more newsworthy than his life.

However, the agrarian crisis doesn't begin and end with farmer suicides. Farmer suicides are just an extreme outcome of the agrarian crisis.

The agrarian crisis in India is like a ticking time-bomb, and it's crucial to rectify the mistakes which are contributing to it. Political decisions on agriculture need to be taken while keeping the farmers in mind. The time has come to scrutinize the impact of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization) reforms on Indian agriculture and thus the economy as a whole.

If the government continues to put industrial greed before the farmers' needs, matters are going to worsen a lot. Market interests are important but not at the expense of farmers. Also, the former can't survive if the latter doesn't. Farmers are the real providers of food security to everyone. Steps should be taken to remove the middlemen between the farmers and consumers. This would ensure price stability of the essential commodities and the burden of increasing price would be eased on both the farmers and consumers.

In the eyes of the government only those in whose name the land is registered are seen as farmers. The rest escape consideration.

Secondly, nationwide steps must be taken in order to protect farmers from private moneylenders who follow highly exploitative practices. To achieve this, the government needs to create awareness among rural populations about new schemes and their rights. Such an effort needs to be made keeping in mind the low rates of literacy in rural areas, particularly for women—their level of awareness on technical and non-technical aspects of modern agriculture is understandably low. Though the government has launched a TV channel called DD Kisan for the benefit of farmers, there is no quality research on whether the target audience is watching it or not.

The next crucial question is, who is a farmer? Because in the eyes of the government only those in whose name the land is registered are seen as farmers. The rest escape consideration. This is problematic because most people toiling in the fields are landless labourers who work for a pittance. The landed farmers are generally big farmers with large land holdings.

A survey commissioned by NABARD and undertaken by Punjab Agriculture University has confirmed that 94% of the government subsidies are being availed by big and medium farmers. The smaller farmers for whom subsidies are actually meant are sidelined. The "land to the tiller" policy needs to be implemented in India so that those who are actually doing the farming get the benefits due to them.

Whenever crop failure happens due to natural calamities such as drought, floods etc, it's the landowners who get the compensation and not the land tiller.

What happens under the current system is that whenever crop failure happens due to natural calamities such as drought, floods etc, it's the landowners who get the compensation and not the land tiller. This is sheer injustice due to the lacunae in the system.

The other major issue which needs to be solved is the issue of ensuring water to the crops. The motto of "more crop per drop" under the Prime Minister Agriculture Irrigation Scheme is a positive step towards this, although it needs to be implemented on the ground before it can be properly lauded.

Finally, the agrarian crisis needs to be handled with a human touch. Lakhs of farmer have committed suicide and those who failed in these attempts have been imprisoned under the law. This shows the collective failure of both the society and the state; the time has come to ensure that no farmer is pushed to the brink, because human lives matter above all.

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