A farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.
— WILL ROGERS, American actor
The current cotton crop crisis in Punjab and the attendant light it throws up on how we treat our farmers paints a picture that is far worse than anything you and I face in the course of our work life.
Consider this: farmers (in most cases, they are not the registered land owners) roil in mud and grapple with the earth to make it produce and thus sustain life. Yet, they continue to be accorded a demeaning space in social life that marks off them as somewhat different from ‘the mainstream’.
There is always a hard-to-miss disconnect that clouds our understanding of the profession of farming and the farmer. It’s almost as if we are entitled to assume a superior position to them, just because we are not them.
A farmer, for most of us in the cities, is like an ‘illiterate buffoon’ and we treat him like that, with barely hidden contempt for — what we presume — is his lack of knowledge and sophistication.
At most mandis, his produce, the effort of at least 5-6 months, is subject to the caprices and whims of officers from purchasing agencies who can reject their entire lot, dooming them to a state of hunger and deprivation at a single stroke of their pen.
If he does manage to sell his produce, there is usually delayed payment that comes through the circuitous route of commission agents. Whoever invented this stage in crop procurement probably thought that a farmer was just ‘incapable’ of interacting directly with the officers — again an example of the way we demean our earth-growers.
So, even though how we imagine or treat a farmer remains a matter of attitude that is unlikely to change anytime soon, one could at least be a little bit more proactive in getting our kids to know farming and bring it up to the high table of viable career options, 20 years from now.
One of the major steps that need to be taken to ensure that farming remains in our national consciousness is compulsory farm training of at least one crop season to each and every student entering the school system in our country.
Why this ‘backward suggestion’ in an era where the dominant thought and major investment is set to be funneled to smart cities?
The answer is simple. To survive, an average farmer is smarter than most of us. He has to have a basic knowledge of geography, certain knowledge of water flow, politics (necessity of good relations), electric current et al. Most successful and progressive farmers are hard workers.
When schooled to farm (for a short time, mind you), our children are likely to learn and pick up scientific concepts and life skills much faster than they would in a theoretical backdrop. The fact that dignity of labour could be internalised in the youngsters is an added bonus.
Then, we also need to make farming a viable career option and the way the world in going, we would have to mechanise agriculture to make any headway here. This is a challenge that requires real smart work.
Crop crisis, farmer, crop procurement, agriculture, farmers suicide,