Need to get agro
Nearly a month since the Prime Minister visited Vidarbha and announced a relief package for its farmers, there’s not much that has changed on the ground. The rate of suicides continue. Of course, it is too soon to expect results. But the ‘package’ has done little to bolster the confidence of disheartened farmers who are deep in debt. The waiver of overdue interest, the rescheduling of some overdue loans over a period of three-five years and the promise of additional credit flow may have fallen short of expectations of a complete debt waiver. It also doesn’t address concerns of farmers heavily indebted to private moneylenders. Some of the long-term relief measures announced by the PM, of course, cannot make an impact so soon. Irrigation and rain-harvesting schemes have been incomplete for far too long to suddenly generate optimism.
The fact remains that agriculture is a high-risk economic activity, especially in a country where it is mainly dependent on the vagaries of nature. That the Vidarbha situation is recurring across the countryside, even in a agriculturally rich state like Punjab, highlights the fact that any further neglect of this sector will be fatal. Poverty alleviation and employment generation programmes like Bharat Nirman and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme must be activated on a full scale to enhance rural infrastructure and irrigation.
But, more importantly, the government must start to focus on measures to revitalise agriculture per se. With small and marginal farmers constituting a high proportion of agro-labour, cooperative farming has to be encouraged to get pro-farmer practices in place. Besides bringing down production costs and making farming economically viable, it would also give them a more decisive stake in marketing contracts. Agriculture also needs to become more knowledge-intensive. Support groups need to be created to inform farmers of the best crops and farming practices. Policies must be equally supportive of the agricultural sector by protecting it from the vagaries of the global market and, insulating them, as far as possible, from financial distress. What the Indian farmer needs are means to ensure that his profession remains viable, one that is personally satisfying and remunerative.