Releasing a book documenting the decline of India’s 100 million-plus small farms, former chairman of National Commission on Farmers MS Swaminathan compared government attempts to address the crisis to “blind men feeling an elephant”.
In recent days, election manifestos have turned belated attention to India’s beleaguered farmers, from suggesting low-interest agrarian loans to a food security law. But Swaminathan, speaking at Monday’s book release, called them “piecemeal measures, not amounting to holistic and thoughtful policy”.
The book, Agrarian Crisis in India, edited by economists D. Narasimha Reddy and Srijit Mishra, brings together a collection of essays tracing the crisis of livelihood unfolding since the past decade across the countryside — from the coffee plantations of Kerala to the dry cotton farms of Vidarbha to the lush cereal fields of Punjab, where thousands of farmers have killed themselves in recent years, unable to come to terms with the decline in their produce.
Contributors to the book have enumerated a list of causes for the complex agrarian challenge India finds itself in: a degrading environment, halving of the average land size from over 2 hectares to below 1, plateauing crop yields, especially of foodgrain, the collapse of government support, and the sluggish demand for jobs outside agriculture.
All these problems, the editors and Swaminathan pointed out, “will only worsen in coming years. This requires that the next government put an end to our confused policy.”
The book suggests that the stakeholders must learn to differentiate between the problems of farming, such as the absence of appropriate post-harvest technology, and those of the farmer. In the case of the latter, for example, as several case studies in the book show, indebtedness has been caused, not only from the conditions of the agrarian market, but also from the inability to cope with increased privatisation of basic services such as healthcare and school education.