Agriculture turning into nightmare for small farmers-Nagesh Kini
The recent unseasonal heavy rains, thunder and hailstorms originating from unusually intense western disturbances from the Mediterranean interacting with the south-easterly winds from the Bay of Bengal have ravaged the due-for-harvesting chana, lentils and wheat in Madhya Pradesh, mustard in Rajasthan and onions and grapes in Maharashtra. Instead of an expected bumper harvest on the back of excellent monsoons, farmers reaped only misery.
Compounding it is the Model Election Code of Conduct stopping any relief for months. It is well acknowledged that our agriculture is inherently risk-prone by being highly susceptible to weather vagaries. According to a nationwide survey, 70% of over 5,000 households polled, reported crop damage in the last three years and the present National Agricultural Insurance Scheme cover is far too inadequate.
India, the world's second largest food producer is witnessing growing distress and declining confidence in agriculture. Most small and landless farmers with less of a stake are found to quit farming. Sharad Pawar, union minister for Agriculture blames the highly fragmented small holdings for making agriculture economically unviable.
Our Food Security is heading for an alarming toss going by the grim statistics in a Bharat Krishak Samaj commissioned survey on ‘The State of the Indian Farmer' -
Agriculturists willing to quit farming to move to cities 62%,
Mere holistic fixes like subsidies, procurement policies, minimum support prices (MSP) have been failures, loan waivers have not served their purpose as the prices obtained by the farmers are far below those charged to the ultimate urban consumers.
More of softer infrastructure for the rural population like better education, good primary health care, decent sanitation, clean drinking water, check dams ring and bore wells, constant power supply to run them are the need of the hour in addition to better road connectivity.
Interestingly, the survey, reiterated the best kept of secrets of the benefits of the Governments' farmer-related schemes are invariably availed only by few rich farmers to the detriment of many few.
The loan repayment and interest waiver schemes don't benefit the many poor who have availed credit by borrowing from the money lenders at usurious rates of interest leading to suicides. The large and rich farmers borrowing from commercial and co-operative institutions abuse these facilities.
The Chief Minister of Rajasthan, on record had stated that the NREGA Scheme has been making the farm labour ‘lazy' by enabling them to collect money from government project work that drive them all away from farming.
The major concerns faced by the agricultural sector in India as mentioned by Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala, in an article published by Daily Excelsior are-
• Structural limitations in earnings from agriculture - even for an area of 10 hectares make it impossible to invest beyond two tube wells and one tractor.
• Income from agriculture is limited essentially because the investment cannot be upped.
• An average Indian farmer, with even large pieces of lands, is hard pressed to produce even Rs10 lakh worth crops.
• When one hundred software engineers working out of urban building can turn out software worth many more crores, the same number of farmers can't turn out the same from labour.
• America exports large quantities of food grains and fruits like Californian apples and Washington apples to India even with less than 1% of the population engaged in agriculture.
• For our planners it is more cost-effective to provide cheaper power, water, roads and sanitation to urban areas than to the rural areas.
• In a study of the Water Policy of Rajasthan, it was found that the cost of reaching drinking water to rural communities was a whopping 10 times more than to the cities because of the need to lay new, longer water lines, much breakage and leakages in rural areas.
• It is far less costly to provide 10 MW of power to a single urban high-rise while hundreds of kilometres of power cables has got to be laid for the same electricity supply to villages.
• In rural areas it is well-nigh impossible to recover user charges as it is compounded with high transmission and distribution losses (T&D losses) arising out of unauthorised direct pole connections that are thefts.
• The absence of sustained and regular passenger traffic makes bus services to villages sporadic simply because there is not enough traffic to make trips economically viable.
• Quality of education suffers because the required large numbers of students are just not available. Living conditions are not conducive also hamper good teaching talent.
• Similar bad conditions equally apply to health and sanitation services.
• The many rural development programmes laid out by the government fail to take off purely on economic grounds - industries can flourish where the costs for transporting raw materials and finished products are minimum. It is far cheaper to procure from farms and transport raw cane even by bullock carts and tractors to the sugar factories in the hinterlands of Maharashtra.
• Flour mills have moved to the larger metros because of ease and relatively lower costs of transporting raw wheat and finished flour. The same applies to weaving.
• The power situation in rural India is abysmal. The relatively more regular supply of power, availability of skilled and semi-skilled labour and easier access to markets makes metros a choice.
• The rural non-tax paying rich elite also choose to migrate to the metros for their glamour and proximity to centres of power, especially the state capitals. This is despite the fact that they build jazzy farm houses/bungalows guzzling millions of gallons of scarce water in drought hit areas.
(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai based chartered accountant turned activist.)