India’s farmers need a ‘new deal’
The average farmer in India earns ₹27 per day from cultivation, according to statistics from the latest Situation Assessment Survey (SAS) which covers the period from July 2018 to June 2019. An analysis of these numbers, in this newspaper, found that unskilled manual work on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) work sites would pay more than farming. This is exactly why wage labour has replaced cultivation incomes as the biggest source of earnings even for agricultural households. If farming does not generate adequate incomes, India’s farmers cannot be blamed for not making investments in augmenting production and sustainability techniques. India is still a laggard vis-à-vis other important producers in yields for most crops. The climate crisis will pose a growing danger to the sustainability of farming practices.
Business-as-usual is not an option. Food security is a strategic objective for any sovereign country. The international market cannot meet the India’s needs if domestic production is compromised, which is what will happen if the status quo is allowed to persist. India has experienced the pain of being dependent on import for food requirements, and it is an era no one would like see return. Ironically, in all elections, there are promises of helping farmers in India — a farm loan waiver here, a little cash transfer there. It is more than clear that these have not helped. If long-term national interests are to be secured, India’s farmers need a new deal. More than anything else, agriculture needs an honest political conversation.