Sunday, December 25

Sad State of Agriculture

You can't find a solution to a problem by employing the same thinking (people) that moved you into the problem in the first place, Sudhirendar Sharma quotes Einstein to drive home the point about sad state of agriculture and farmers

Whatever might have happened to the much-hyped National Commission on Farmers set up last year, the Prime Minister has set up yet another high-powered committee under his chairmanship to focus on agricultural development and policy.
While the commission is still grappling with the core issue of farmers' plight, the newly constituted committee may examine fresh policy initiatives that can pull the agriculture sector?s promised 4 per cent contribution to the country's GDP.
In the year that has gone by, corporate profit and farmers' suicides have continued to move in unholy parallel. The Sensex has continued to attain new heights while suicides by farmers have plunged the country into deep despair.
With the growth rate having overshadowed all other concerns, suicides seem to have been taken for granted. No wonder, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was recently pulled for not doing as much to enhance the agricultural growth rate. Did anyone hear farmers' suicides being as much a concern?
As the country begins to lose count of the farmers committing suicide, a rare exception of the recent past has literally become a undesired norm. Even the much-hyped poor man's budgets haven't been of much help.
Shockingly, a plethora of agriculture research institutions, policy planning bodies and relief programmes have been mute witnesses to this blood bath. It's shocking that the successive governments have failed to even diagnose the problem, leave aside solve it!
No sooner did the new government assume office than the Prime Minister set up the National Commission on Farmers to prescribe exigency measures. Cynics wondered if the commission could help provide a lasting remedy.
Many wondered if those who had pioneered the Green Revolution could get hapless farmers out from the residual impact of the revolution itself. Isn't it a reality that proponents of the Green Revolution could never foresee that farm incomes would decline one day, forcing farmers to take their own lives?
Undoubtedly, the entire agriculture bureaucracy and the farm scientists' fraternity has been caught napping. Not discounting the wisdom that is supposedly resting within the commission, it is undeniably true that solutions cannot come from the same source that had been the root cause of the problem.
Not without reason had Albert Einstein remarked: "you can't find a solution to a problem by employing the same thinking (people) that moved you into the problem in the first place."
Einstein's prophetic words need to be dispassionately examined in the present context. Improving credit flow in the rural areas has been tossed up as a solution. True, a majority of the farmers, who took the fatal route to escape the humiliation of increasing indebtedness, did so on account of their inability to repay the loans. Easy credit undoubtedly can clear loans, but what it cannot perhaps do is to improve crop harvests. Can a fresh loan to erase the previous loan be any solution? Will it not trap the poor into the perpetual debt cycle? Credit could be a part of the solution but not a solution itself.
What the farmers need is an assured income - an income that takes care of their family needs and leaves them with a little surplus to sow the next crop. But with the magic of the Green Revolution on the decline, nobody is able to assure farmers about any surplus harvest from the farm.
Not without reason though, as farmers in Punjab have recorded negative returns on their investment. Studies have also shown that there has been a decline in farm incomes in the past five years.
Rice farmers in West Bengal earn 28 per cent of what they earned in 1996-97. Sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have recorded a decline in their incomes by about 35-40 per cent too. Conversely, corporate profits and urban incomes are on an upward upswing. Critical to this decline is the fact that the input-output equation of the Green Revolution hasn't held on to its promise. Input costs of fertilisers and pesticides have consistently gone up with a concurrent decline in crop harvests.
Unless harvests can be sustained at a shade higher than the input costs, farmers cannot be pulled out from the perpetual debt cycle. Consequently, extending credit as a solution under the situation defies logic.
The planners have gone wrong in their diagnosis on another account too. Far from addressing the core issue of imbalance in the input-output ratio, expanding irrigation facilities has remained a populist measure with all successive governments. The present government too has promised greater investment in the irrigation sector. Irrigation can play a significant role only if the skewed input-output ratio gets corrected first.
Had irrigation been the most crucial factor for sustaining harvests, farmers in Punjab would not have been on the suicide trail. Paradoxically, farmers in the arid regions of the country would have been on the forefront of suicides for a long time.
Though significant, irrigation is critical if other inputs stay balanced. It needs no rocket science to know that indeed maintaining land's productive capacity is the key to surplus harvests.
If Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's budget speeches are any indication the government lacks a road map to boost agricultural growth. The government has left the responsibility for further experimentation on the hapless farmers.
At a time when a simple opening of a savings account comes with an insurance cover these days, leaving farmers and their crops uncovered by insurance indicates gross neglect of the farm sector.
With political rhetoric and illusive promises as the driving keys, it will not be surprising if genetically modified crops and contract farming get prescribed as the solutions to the present malady in the days ahead.
If news reports and analysis are any indication, the current developments in the agriculture sector ' backdoor entry of the corporate sector' is being promoted to achieve the desired growth rate in agriculture. Till such time, farmers can wait!

No comments: