It is obvious why farming is dying
The euphoria in the stock markets, after a strong mandate for Narendra Modi, hogs the national headlines. Unfortunately, the loud cries of wailing farm widows have been lost in the noise and clatter that follows. Writes Devinder Sharma.chandigarh Updated: May 28, 2014 10:30 IST
The euphoria in the stock markets, after a strong mandate for Narendra Modi, hogs the national headlines. Unfortunately, the loud cries of wailing farm widows have been lost in the noise and clatter that follows.
Isn’t the continuing agrarian crisis the worst form of policy paralysis? There is a renewed spurt in the number of farm suicides across the country.
My colleague Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, says that an average of five farmers have been committing suicide every day in Vidarbha, and another five in the Telengana region. He has based his calculations on newspaper reports from the region.
In Bundelkhand, civil society activist Sanjay Singh says that in the past fortnight, there have been on an average two to three farm suicides every day.
UNDER THE WEATHER
In Punjab, food bowl of the country, 10 farmers have committed suicide in the last 40 days. Two more debtridden farmers committed suicide in Bathinda district this week.
In Bundelkhand region, which cuts across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, 105 farm suicides were reported in the first three months of the year.
Till March 31, Sanjay Singh had recorded this figure. Reeling under mounting debt, these farmers had given up when the freak weather hit the standing crop in several parts of central India.
In neighbouring Maharashtra, some 101 farmers in the Marathwada region had ended their life after hailstorms flattened their standing crop in March and April.
Only a day ago, I read news reports about two debt-ridden farmer brothers, Jugraj Singh (33) and Jagtar Singh (30), who consumed poison.
They belonged to Hassanpur village in Mansa district of Punjab and had taken a loan of Rs 3 lakh from Punjab Co-operative Agriculture Development Bank in Budlada.
The bank had issued them a notice for non-payment of the pending amount, and unable to repay, they preferred to end their lives. Their father also had committed suicide about 13 years ago.
The story is same everywhere: mounting debt and falling income. In the past 17 years, close to 3-lakh farmers have committed suicide. Every hour, two take the extreme step somewhere in India.
There is no dearth of studies to know why. Similarly, there is no end to the number of committees set up at the state and central levels to come out with recommendations to end the malaise.
Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had even made a visit to suicide hotspot Vidarbha soon after assuming office in 2004, but failed to stem the sordid tide.
Planning Commission, too, was forced to screen Bollywood film Pipli Live in Yojna Bhavan sometimes ago, showing clearly its casual approach in addressing the agrarian crisis. The serial death dance on the farms, however, is unabated.
The spurt in farm suicides in the past few weeks is a demonstration of the apathy and neglect with which policy makers have treated agriculture.
A kind of contempt prevails in policy planning towards farming and agriculture.
Farmers are treated as if they are a burden on society, and all efforts are to force them to abandon agriculture and migrate to the cities.
The sooner the nation offloads this burden, the better it will be for country’s growth and development: is what is perceived generally.
Unfortunately, the policy makers and economists all try to look at China or the US for finding a solution to India’s vexed agrarian crisis.
My understanding is that following the Chinese example or aping the western model of corporate agriculture will only add to the farmers’ woes.
In China, 80% of the 2.8-lakh people who commit suicide every year in the rural areas are farmers. And in the rich developed countries, in France, for example, 500 farmers do it every year.
In Australia, the number is four a week. Obvious, therefore, that borrowing the options from outside is not the way out. We will have to fix the problem not by debt adjustment but by correcting the fundamentals of farming.
TASKS BEFORE PM
The new Prime Minister will need to pay immediate attention to agriculture. For the new government, the first task, besides preparing to reduce the impact of a possible drought, will be to come up with policies that bring back the pride in farming.
The approach has to be to make agriculture viable economically and sustainable environmentally.
There is no reason why India cannot have a flourishing agriculture where farmers don’t commit suicide. Important equally is to ensure that agriculture does not become a victim of the trade policies.
What is little known is that in the 12th Plan, agriculture had received only Rs 1.5-lakh crore. With this kind of paltry public-sector investment, it is obvious why farming is dying.
(The writer is a food security analyst. Views expressed are personal)