The Woes of the Indian Farmer: The death of an 'Annadatta'


By

Madhav Kopalle
Faculty - Economics and Quantitative Methods
ICFAI National College
Margao-Goa
 


1 Introduction


Indian farmer has always been the lifeline of food for all the people of this country. To him we owe our daily bread and livelihood. He has been ordained the title of 'Annadatta' the food provider or the God of food ; so vital to our very existence. Times and ages have been singing glory of him and his wife 'Annapoorna' the goddess of food; the land has has provided him the output he so lovingly ploughed and nurtured. The very farmer has now been neglected. By a society that does not care, by chieftans who suck him dry and by fellow farmers who are as hapless as he is!

For past few years we have seen massive suicides across the states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra of his brothers. His very existence has been so pathetically degraded that his present status has become a curse to him. The state Andhra Pradesh alone has witnessed 5000 thousand suicides in past three years. The inability of the farmer to pay debts due to repeated crop failure due to lack of rains. The overburdened farmer whose dues have crossed sky limit has literally exposed our management of credit and financial structure across India. In spite of Banks penetrating rural India, Moneylenders and unrecognized financiers have created havoc across the plains. This has become a severe agricultural problem across the region. The exposure is not limited to our credit system but also our land reforms that have been nakedly revealed.

"Once upon a time, the Indian Kings used to call farmers as 'Annadata' (bread givers). They are held in high esteem. The rajas (kings) used to take care of them by providing all the facilities. But times have changed. Today, farmers are on the frontline to bear the brunt of exploitation and ignorance. However, the nation came up with new chemical and agro-technology but these facilities, instead of producing grains in abundance, have deteriorated the fertile capacity of soils. As a result, the condition of ryots is getting from bad to worse despite their toiling and tilling the soil. They are not even getting minimum support price for their crops. The system has been developed in such a manner as to benefit the traders and businessmen. The farmers are working on their lands like bonded labourers."1

2 The problems

The problem is threefold

* Social
* Structural &
* Institutional
& we need to find the solutions within them.

2.1 social problems

The social structure is at the receiving end since the concept of village self sufficiency broken over period of time. The modern thinking of land reforms based on the socialist ph soilosophy structure and the implementation frenzy without understanding the implications is today's root cause. The Indian farmer has unlike the western farmer has been subjugated by the social structure. The village panchayat in modern days has become more political position rather than catering to farmers needs. The political class has taken over the local management institution and converted it into a battlefield where the ultimate suffers have been the farmers. The blame solely does not lie even with the panchayat too. Increasingly the farmer himself has left the traditional crops and begun growing the cash crops. These cash crops require lot of water, manure and pesticide for proper growth. If we observe the statistics during 1980's to 90's we had excellent growth in agriculture where these cash crops have given impressive returns. Most of the crops have been advocated even by our agricultural department without taking into consideration the consequences. These crops in essential have damaged the very soil, drained the groundwater and thereby leading to present crises. Many of the farmers and social scientists blame the rain for the problem. Is this the problem of rain or improper land and water management system?

Second, the problem of our society. The so-called reforms of land have made many farmers self dependent. Earlier he just worked for the landowner as much for the produce. Half of the produce was given the landowner and half for himself. There was no immediate responsibility of crop and water management. It was all handled by the owner. The farmer was free to work with any land owner he may pleased depending upon the pay and amount of the produce he procured from landlord. The landlord took care of his lands and as he had finance, the farmers burden of finance wore off. In many a region the landowner was replaced by local panchayat or the local chieftain/King. The break up of landlord ownership and ryotwari system of governance and replaced by hurried and partial implementation of land reforms caused many a farmer to fend for him. For a decade or two this system became acceptable, many a farmer overnight had his or her freedom to sow, tend and sell the entire produce, in the bargain earned the finance problem he had not envisaged.

Thirdly, the problem of population has been responsible for the cycle of continuous poverty. The lack of need for family planning and burden of dowry on the bride's father has led to economic decline among many of them. The social structure also has been the responsible for the extravagant need for quick money. The extravagant lives enjoyed by many rich farmers also has made them in. Most of the so called kisan unions instead of crying hoarse on free power and free water should instead try to fight for proper management of the above issues. Education is lacking in India and by education; trained responsible education that is required for agricultural products is not ordained.

2.2 Structural Problems

First, inspite of enough credit lending agencies the farmer still depends upon his neighbour, the moneylender. The compulsion comes from lack of proper documentation required by the established agencies. This moneylender is known and is bothered with the repayment of interest only. The interest charged is so huge, that unknown debt keeps piling up. This is inspite that farmer may have paid the money back, but the clever moneylender knows how to cheat and subjugate him. Again, for immediate and difficult situations the moneylender becomes easy for quick relief of credit. It is these unscrupulous financiers that are causing havoc across the country. The money lending institution cannot be wiped out for the simple reason that quick relief is obtains by pawning anything worth. These people are known, they know you and the fear of losing one's face is the worst fear that drives the poor farmers to moneylender.

Secondly, our education in Agriculture is either poor in quality or is based upon the syllabus drawn from the west. Again the subjects that are taught are in general in Nature. Universities should be given freedom and forced to implement subjects and crops research based on the regions productivity and crops. A farmer from Andhra Pradesh will not benefit from studying the so-called west methods of cropping.

After Independence, the emphasis on agricultural development took an industrial turn. Given, Mahatma Gandhi's vision of Gram Swaraj or local self-reliance, K.M. Munshi, India's first agriculture minister, felt the need for soil fertility restoration and water cycle in each village and bioregion.

The planners dream of urban-industrial growth could not be pursued if agricultural surplus came to the cities. They were of the opinion that given to use chemical inputs, farmers would grow marketable produce for enough cash to enable future purchase of such inputs. Of course, huge subsides and easy credit was dangled as incentives. Dwarf hybrids of grain were bought in place of traditional, tall verities that lodged (or bent over) with the use of artificial fertilizer. It is estimated that nearly 100 varieties of indigenous grain have lost or have become irreplacable/extint.

Support prices for such produce were offered. And because irrigation needs were greatly increased, large dams were built at state expense. Unwary farmers could hardly suspect then that the increase in their cash income was at the cost of soil fertility, self-reliance and crop diversity. Inexorably, they were hooked to the market economy, while their lands were hooked to the chemicals. The realization slowly dawned the more and more chemicals were needed with each passing year, just to maintain yields.

2.3 Institutional problems

Its a mess with our various agricultural boards that deal with farmers, recently an article that appeared in Express Textile2 says "Cotton growers in the country are facing a serious financial crisis. According to some estimates, they have already been put to massive losses amounting to about Rs.3,500 crore by the end of December 2004. Unless some measures are taken promptly, their losses for the season might soar to Rs 7,500 crore, pushing them deeper into debts." 3 There are many to blame for the pathetic situation. One, the interfering political class that have exploited the farmers to their advantage. The famous loan melas are an example of misuse by political power and the institutional credit facilities. Institutions over period of time have developed massive problems of corruption, diversion of funds meant for farmers, burgeoning staff that create bureaucratic problems in the obtaining of credit. Although the Government of India has setup NABARD, Agricultural societies, agricultural banks for efficient distribution of credit, none of them have lived upto the goals that have been setup for them. The unability of our institutions to have efficient remedy lies inherent within our system of inefficient governance, inefficiency, corruption, lack of will to improve the system has caused the present mess.

3 Political issues

3.1 Domestic

We do not have an efficient crop and agriculture produce policy that could taken care of the produce and its development related to storage, rotation of crop, use of natural resources etc. We are developing thanks to M.S. Swaminathan's initiative certain varieties in rice, but more needs to be done on other grains and pulses. Secondly, when it comes of importing or involving external agencies to setup private seed development units, we have to take care that senseless proprietary laws are not coming in the way those traditional ones. For example; we have a huge debate on weather to allow the Monsanto to sell their seeds to Indian Farmers. Monsanto's BT Cotton4, the only genetically modified crop allowed in India, has faced stiff opposition from environmental groups, Critics say the adverse effects of GM seeds have not been studied adequately, that the seeds are environmentally hazardous and could contaminate the genes of native varieties through cross pollination, eventually making farmers poorer. However, advocates of genetic modification say it helps fight plant diseases, increase yield and improves the nutritive value of food crops. Only six of its 29 Indian states have been allowed to plant Monsanto Bt cottonseeds.

3.2 International

Vociferous protests against WTO (world Trade Organisation) conference at Honkong recently, has brought to notice the manipulation of the western political arm twisting of international trade. The WTO meeting from its killer polices that create poor conditions for farmers, women, and migrants in many non-western countries, "All the developing world has got is a hollow end date for subsidies in exchange for a bad deal in the rest of agriculture, a bad deal in industry and a bad deal in services,"5 says Dr Walden Bello, Focus on the Global South.

Farmers in many developed states receive heavy subsidies, which makes it hard for poor country farmers - who may be more efficient - to export their goods to the biggest markets. As well as subsidies - such as the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, or US export subsidies designed to make US farm products cheaper overseas. It is estimated that nearly 1 billion $ a day in form of subsidies is being given in these countries. As Indian Agriculture Minister Kamalnath has rightly said that there is no level playing field left any more as the EU and US have not budged from their stance and want poorer nations to open up their economies. We are already facing a disastrous situation further to which the situation will be made horrible. This resembles the mercantilist policies of UK during the colonial period where they restricted Indian imports to raw material and dumped their finished goods, thereby destroying the very self-sufficiency of our villages.

4 Probable solutions

The following measures are immediately necessary to put Indian farmer back walking. The main points are

1. On the social issues, land reforms have to be drawn taking into ac- count the condition of the farmer and better sense would develop if we had community farming like kibbutz farming occurring in Israel. Kibbutz farming provides ample opportunities for local farming community to share resources and use efficient means of farming. The burden of finance would be substantially lowered. Although Individual farmer would lose his democratic right over the crop he wants to grow, better sense with respect to financial security and efficient planning would replace the current hapazard system. The farmer would be subject to payment in terms of salary and the community would take over the responsibility of managing the resources. The important reasoning should be the abolishment of agricultural and cooperative societies while dealing directly with Food Corporation of India directly or through Nabard offices.

2. The credit facility should be based on single window system and after land verifications, the panchayat should be responsible for efficient distribution of credit. Final produce has to be given support price at Food Corporation Godowns. Food Corporation of India, should be made more transparent and efficient and make farmers compulsory selling of produce. With recent developments in and transportation, FCI could move from taluka to taluka to pick up the produce during the season when crop is harvested. Efficiency is required from government agencies to pick up the produce.

3. The idea of Rythu Bazaar promoted by Chandrababu Naidu during his tenure ship as chief minister, was an innovation to promote the idea of direct sale by farmers to customers without involving the middlemen. We need such innovation to remove the scourge of Indian Farmers; the problem of middlemen and moneylenders.

4. Another area, changes that are required is to integrate farmers and to have cooperative farming on the lines of kibbutz which is an Israeli collective farm. Once important in the development of Israel. Here people work on voluntary basis. the final produce belongs to community which then sells in the open market. Changes could be modified to introduce monetary benefits and guaranteed Job for lifetime and passing it on from father to son. This would reduce the debt burden the farmer is currently facing and also remove the stigma attached to him. This should be taken up at panchayat level and monitored by Nabard. Changes are required in agricultural policy to accept such innovations.

5. It is essential that linking of Indian rivers is taken up on war footing. this is an important step in solving water crisis that permeates all our woes. India is expected to face water problem in the coming years. The country receives about 4000 km3 of water as precipitation annually1, but due to different precipitation patterns and mismanagement, it often leads to wastage. Arthur Cotton, who suggested this idea nearly two centuries ago, has now thanks to recent supreme court judgement put back on track. The expert committee that has been setup under the auspices of Suresh Prabhu needs to find a way out on the unending debate of the above linkages.

6. States have to undertake massive canal irrigation system to integrate and restore ground water levels. The State should ban unnecessary groundwater tapping and borewell installation, which is draining way the precious resource. The canals should have feeder basins and storage basins for future use of the water. Water may not be provided free to the farmers, but sufficient quantity is provided then the farmer would not mind paying the tariff.

7. Finally, we need to rework our land reforms strategy so as to benefit the farming community. Reverting to our traditional farming management, where the panchyat is responsible for the land, the problems of land distribution could be solved. Scientific mapping of farms and produce and distribution of land is essential for the same.


5 Summary

In the final analysis, protection of our annadata is our paramount concern. We cannot ignore his plight and leave it out to him. His death is our death. It is the end of our India ness that we have so carefully nurtured. haI may not have listed out many other issues regarding the farmers. They are many and the government has to step forward and bring investments into agricultural fields. We do not want investments that will destroy the land but those that will enrich it and refertilise it. We cannot allow multinationals to dictate terms to us. We have to negotiate the WTO impact and be prepared for it. Only then can our farmer survive; else his woes will continue.

References

1. INDIA TOGETHER Fortune favours the prepared farmer, Monday 02 Jan 2006.

2. NCIWRDP, Integrated water resource development: A plan for action, National Commission on Integrated Water Resource Development Plan, MOWR, New Delhi, 1999.

3. Radhakrishna, B. P. Current Science, 2003, pg84, 1390ˆa1391.

4. Vaidyanathan, A Interlinking of rivers, The Hindu, 26 March 2003.

5. Ramaswamy R. Iyer Linking rivers: vision or mirage? Frontline: Volume 19 - Issue 25, December 07 - 20 2002.

6. Dr. Vandana Shiva & Afsar H. Jafri Seeds of Suicide: The Ecological and Human Costs of Globalisation of Agriculture, http://www.navdanya.org/articles/seeds_suicide.html.

7. M.G.DewaniAgony of Indian Cotton farmers Continues Express Textile 15-20th February 2005, www.dayafterindia.com/aug2/cover_story.html.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1. central chronicle...Farmers' budget: Revolutionary step expected- December 17,2004.
2. Agony of Indian farmers Continues- M.G.Dewani.
3. ibid..2
4. BT stands for bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium whose gene is injected into cotton-seeds to give them resistance against
boll worms, a major concern for farmers in India.
5. http://targetwto.revolt.org/
 


Madhav Kopalle
Faculty - Economics and Quantitative Methods
ICFAI National College
Margao-Goa
 

Source: E-mail April 28, 2006

     

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