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Agrarian distress in India

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dying farmersFarmers suicide is symptomatic of the larger problem of the discontent owing to government apathy. Many newspapers are published in different languages were people can express their views. The hype, hoopla and hysteria about sensitive issues figure out in newspapers and the people are given an open page, thanks to the media. For example, the report of farmer suicides is published prominently in newspapers. Both the Central and State government is doing its best with various welfare schemes but I doubt whether it reaches right persons.

Having faced a tight situation and facing the wrath of the government and banks there is no end to the problems faced by the farmers in this country. Instead of solving the woes of the farmers, the problems are precipitated and touching a point of no return. Vegetable prices are shooting up and the middle men are reaping rich harvest, whereas farmers are in distress. If the situation continues in the same vein for some more time more deaths will take place in the name of agitation and that will not yield desired results. Waiver of liabilities in the farm loan accounts of the farmers in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Maharashtra government has reported 257 suicides by farmers in the state between January and March this year resulting from the agrarian crisis. As many as 114 cases of suicides were reported from the Aurangabad region, followed by Amravati (102), Nagpur (30) and Nashik (9) the data showed. Recent cases of suicides were reported due to the untimely rains and hailstorm. Maharashtra is taking necessary measures for development of the farm sector with the Central government supplementing the efforts through appropriate policy measures and budgetary support but still farmers face the heat. The centre has taken several steps to revitalise the agriculture sector and improve the condition of farming community on sustainable basis by increasing investment, improving farm practices, rural infrastructure and delivery of credit, technology and other inputs, extension and marketing among others.

The problem in Indian agriculture was never about production but about pricing, storage and distribution. Loan waivers are not a solution agreed but when we cut out the middle men and take care of our farming communities things would get better. The real solution lies in ensuring economies of scales of production and minimum support price. The year 2017 was marked by several farmers’ protests nationwide, with a few turning violent. The trend continued in the year 2018 too and the farmers instead of concentrating on production were forced to take agitation to provocate the government.

This year, the Ministry has proposed deliberations to discuss the challenges that the farmers face in crop cultivation, animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries. The aim is to work towards an action plan using better access to credit, skill development and entrepreneurial opportunities. The agriculture sector is characterised by instability in incomes because of various types of risks involved in production, market and prices. The National Commission of Farmers (2006), chaired by M.S. Swaminathan, had pointed out that something “very serious and terribly wrong is happening in the countryside.” The agriculture growth rates have been unsteady in the recent past. While it was 1.5% in 2012-13, it rose to 5.6% in 2013-14. In 2014-15, the rate dipped to (-) 0.2%, while in 2015-16 it was 0.7%. The provisional estimate puts it at 4.9% in 2016-17. The trend reflects the distress in the agriculture sector.

This turned agriculture into an unprofitable occupation and compelled farmers, especially the small and marginal, to borrow money from informal sources of credit, which deepened the crises. While the farming sector has its own set of risks, like any other economic activity, to increase and ensure stable flow of income to farmers it is vital to manage and reduce the risks by analysing, categorising and addressing them. There lies the real success.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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