Issue :   
March 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         March 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Mar' 2018

Farmers' community

Life on the margins !

Neeraj Bajpai

Ostensibly oblivious of vagaries of weather--either icy cold winds or oppressive hot conditions, a medium height lean and thin man, with deep wrinkles on his dry face, used to peddle down to our house every so often from his distant village near Bithoor, about 30 kms from Kanpur city with a rickety basket, full of musk melons, cucumbers, and bitter gourds, fastened to his rusty cycle's carrier with a worn out rubber tube.
His arrival and departure were always an insignificant affair, but we, children, used to wonder at his poverty, scripted vividly on his smudged dhoti–kurta and dusty floaters. He was a typical Kisan, and in sheer reverence used to fetch farm produce from his meagre land holding for my father, who had taken care of

Key issues affecting agricultural productivity are continued dependence on monsoon, inadequate access to irrigation, imbalanced use of soil nutrients, lack of access to formal agricultural credit, limited procurement by government agencies, and failure to provide remunerative prices to farmers, besides decreasing size of land-holdings.

education of his son, Mujeeb (name changed) in the city. His son became central government officer after studies, but the plight of the farmer remained unaltered.
Now, over 50 years down the line, when I go for weekly purchases in a wholesale market of farm produce on the borders of the national capital, I notice similar dejected profiles as if the whole market is full of Mujeeb's fathers. As we rivet our eyes on the pan India scenario, the situation is no different.
They still struggle, many of them commit suicides while grappling with a slew of socio-economic challenges, including middle men's menace plaguing these rural swathes. My impression of their plight turns more indelible amid reports of farmers' suicides and frequent demonstrations by them. Unfortunately, they are still blighted to lead life on the margins of society though India always boasts of its foot prints on agriculture based economy and giant strides in the sector.

Last November (2017) an agitated crowd of farmers descended on Delhi to flag their issues and formed the All India Kisan Sangarsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) at their Kisan Sansad. They were vociferously articulating their views in one voice. They mentioned promised loan waivers schemes of Rs.30, 000 crores in Maharashtra after their stir; about five farmers were killed in firing in Mandasur district of Madhya Pradesh.

Their demand: remunerative prices and loan waivers. Himachal farmers upped the ante for tomatoes; Maharashtrians for onions and pulses; Punjab and Haryana for maize and potatoes; Rajasthan up in arms for garlic; Gujarat voice turned louder for groundnut and cotton while from the southern states the clamour is for a better deal to chilies and tobacco. Many of the protestors held afloat pictures of farmers who had committed suicide.
In a massive rally in Nagpur last month, farmers made vociferous demands for loan waiver and remunerative prices; some Kisan leaders have reportedly asked farmers to refuse paying taxes if their demands were not met.
Significantly, experts aver that farm loan waiver is not good for credit culture. Two former RBI governors, YV Reddy and C Rangarajan, have opined against the waiver practice. Rangarajan said instead of waiving loans, the government should give longer time for repayment or perhaps waive interest or payment of installment during the particular year.
The forthcoming bill of "Bail- in "provisions for banks may lead to further drop in farm credit as there might be conflict of interest between beneficiaries of waivers and common depositors who will bat for a healthy banking set up.

For a new deal to farmers: • Keep open bank branches till past midnight in rural, semi-rural and semi-urban areas. This will enable a farmer to knock at a bank even after sunset. More jobs will be created
• Announce Minimum Support Price at the time of sowing season.
• The MSP should factor in real input costs and worry less about urban consumers.
• Stand up to the Western bullies at the WTO to protect Indian farmersinterests
• Increase farm productivity by getting "more from less" especially in relation to water via micro irrigation; cultivation of less waterintensive crops

Undeniably, farming is a neglected sector despite the everyday ode to Annadata. The country has not addressed the basic concern of farmers – namely loans and inputs. Banking has not reached the villages. Inputs are still in the hands of sharks.
This is what makes a farmer depend on the local money lender even today.
ATMs open for 24 hrs, and bank branches open till 5pm or 6pm benefit the town man. No such facility for the farmer.
Why cannot we run bank branches till past mid-night in rural, semi-rural and semi-urban areas? On the one hand, it will create more jobs and, on the other, it will enable a farmer to knock at a bank even after sunset.
Remember a farmer decides on the fertiliser or seed requirement often in the evening and he needs to get them by next forenoon, if not morning. This is what makes him to visit the local money lender, who receives him even at dead of night. The banking system should replicate such a facility if India genuinely feels for the farmers.
Minimum support price mechanism also needs a fresh look and it should be from farmers' perspective.
Agreed at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), rich nations are opposed to the Indian practice of offering MSP- minimum support price to farm produce. The MSP is devised as a mechanism to avert distress sales as also exploitation of farmers by middlemen. Yet the West sees the MSP differently.
It is necessary to talk to the west in the language they understand – like later Murusoli Maran did (at WTO meeting in Seattle. He compared the champions of do- more- liberalization led by the US as Genghis Khans.) . By no stretch India is pampering farmers in the way the US does or the EU does. On an average, an Indian farmer gets an annual subsidy of $250 whereas EU and U.S farmers get $60,000. India has every right to buy food grains at the MSP to distribute among the poor. To dub this practice as distortion of the WTO's agreement on agriculture (AOA) not only misses the trees for the woods but also shows a lack of

sensitivity to the needs of developing countries. The demand must be resisted therefore by all means.
India stands committed to a strengthened, rule based, nondiscriminatory multilateral trading system which is fair and equitable. The central theme of any negotiations should be to focus on all-round development capable of eradicating poverty. Economic integration cannot advance if the interests of the poor are left behind.

Two decades ago, when Asian Tigers' were collapsing one after other, India remained unscathed – all because of its Anna-datas (farmers). As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told Parliament some time ago, Indian agriculture is a victim of its own past success—especially the green revolution. It has become cereal-centric and as a result, regionally-biased and inputintensive (land, water, and fertilizer).

Rapid industrialization and climate change are raising the scarcity value of land as also water. Evolving dietary patterns are favouring greater protein consumption.
To adapt to these changes, Indian agriculture requires a new paradigm with the following components: increased productivity by getting "more from less" especially in relation to water via micro irrigation; cultivation of less waterintensive crops, especially pulses and oil-seeds, supported by a favorable Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime that incorporates the full social benefits of producing such crops. Plus a strengthened procurement system; and a reinvigorating agricultural research and extension services.

Deep segmentation in inland agricultural markets has become a bane of Indian agri sector; if the issue is addressed and one pan Indian agricultural market is created, it will help to boost farmers' incomes. In so many words food security of the nation must factor in income security of the farmers. This demand has been met already. In July 2015, the Government introduced the National Agricultural Market (E-NAM) to link 585 wholesale agriculture production marketing committees across the country through a common e-platform.

Greater market integration is essential for farmers to get higher farm gate prices. While the GST is a step in the right direction, a lot more needs to be done by the states, including, creation of better physical infrastructure, improved price dissemination campaigns, and removal of laws that force farmers to sell to local monopolies.

The agriculture sector employs nearly half of the work force in the country.Nearly 243 million people are employed in agriculture. The share of population depending on agriculture for its livelihood consists of landowners, tenant farmers, and agricultural labourers.
Yet the agriculture sector's contribution to the overall growth rate has decreased from more than 50 per cent of GDP in the 1950s to 15.4 per cent in 2015-16 (at constant prices), according to a report titled, "State of Agriculture in India",.
86 per cent of land holdings are less than two hectares and informal sources of credit constitutes 40 per cent of the loans farmers take. In terms of yield, (quantity of a crop produced per unit of land) India is a laggard.
Although India ranks third in the production of rice, its yield is lower than Brazil, China and the United States. The same trend is observed in pulses, though India is the second highest producer.
India's productivity has grown at a slower rate as compared to others. For instance, while Brazil's yield for rice increased from 1.3 ton/ha in 1981 to 4.9 ton/ha in 2011, India's increased from 2.0 to 3.6. China's productivity in rice also grew from 4.3 to 6.7 in this period.

Our agricultural growth has been fairly volatile over the past decade, ranging from 5.8 per cent in 2005-06 to 0.4 per cent in 2009-10 and -0.2 per cent in 2014-15.
Such a variance has an impact on farm incomes as well as farmers' ability to take fresh credit.
Key issues affecting agricultural productivity have been fairly documented by now. These are continued dependence on monsoon, inadequate access to irrigation, imbalanced use of soil nutrients, lack of access to formal agricultural credit, limited procurement by government agencies, and failure to provide remunerative prices to farmers besides decreasing size of land holdings.
Over the years several expert committees have come up with a slew of recommendations to give a better deal to Indian farmers. Their blue print calls for agricultural land leasing laws and adoption of microirrigation techniques to improve efficiency of water usage. Improved access to quality seeds by engaging with the private sector, and establishment of a national agricultural market to allow the trading of agricultural produce online are amongst the other measures for farm nirvana.

Besides, providing for the livelihood of farmers and labourers, the agricultural sector addresses food security of the nation.
The agriculture ministry estimates that 54.6 per cent of the population is engaged in farming and allied activities.
Nonetheless, there has been a continuous decline in the share of agriculture and allied sector in country's Gross Value Added (GVA). From 18.2 per cent in 2012-13, it dropped to 17 per cent in 2015-16 at current prices. Out of the total geographical area of the country, which is 328.7 million hectares, 141.4 million hectares is the reported net sown area and 200.9 million hectares is the gross cropped area with a cropping intensity of 142 per cent. The net irrigated area is 68.2 million hectares. The net sown area works out to be 43 per cent of the total geographical area.

Given the importance of agriculture sector, the Government took several steps for its sustainable development. Steps have been taken to improve soil fertility on a sustainable basis through the soil health card scheme, to provide improved access to irrigation and enhanced water efficiency through Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY), to support organic farming through Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and to support for creation of a unified national agriculture market to boost the income of farmers.
Further, to mitigate risk in agriculture sector a new scheme "Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) has been launched from Kharif 2016.
The government also implemented several major direct beneficiary programmes for asset generation, skill development, residential housing and employment generation. National Rurban Mission, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU GKY) and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) are some of these programmes.
The progress in agriculture needs to be evaluated in terms of outcomes such as catching up with global yields of various crops as a means to increase incomes of farmers. There is regional disparity in the distribution of agricultural credit which needs to be addressed.
The government must apply uniform yardsticks while dealing with rural and urban population. Some times, it is observed that to contain inflation, food grains are targeted and their prices are bridled even at the cost of returns to farmers.

A veteran journalist, the author is formerly Chief of UNI news agency.