India’s small farmers continue to be the country’s Achilles’ heel: they buy more food than they sell, fetch lower than the market price and are the worst hit by the government’s decision to hive off the extension or farm support programme.
“Small farmers, particularly rice growers, are selling in distress, i.e. sell at a lower price and buy at a higher price for consumption,” Mehendra Dev, chairman of the Commission on Agriculture Costs and Prices told HT. Dev chairs a panel that recommends the minimum support price for Indian farmers.
Dev said the collapse in the government’s extension programme — after it was hived off to contractors — has hit small farmers the most. “Marketing continues to be the biggest problem. They need to pool together at markets to compete with big farmers,” Dev said.
The imbalance was echoed in Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s speech released here on the occasion of World Food Day: “The solution to food security lies in producing enough and ensuring equitable distribution.”
This when small farmers, owning less than an acre, make up 80 per cent in terms of land holdings and own 40 per cent of the arable land.
British aid agency Oxfam recommends increase in public spending to support small holders as part of its 10-point recommendation.
“India also needs to adopt trade measures that protect small-scale producers,” Aditi Kapoor, economic justice specialist of Oxfam India told HT.
Another worrying trend is that small farmers are moving towards single crops, which means they buy other food requirements. “Because of high input costs, small farmers are abandoning complimentary activities like fisheries, multi-crops and livestock,” Shiraj A. Wajih, who works for a farm ecology group in eastern UP’s Gorakhpur said.
He said most support programmes were biased in favour of big farmers, as it is always profitable to work with them.