Off with the farmers

T K ARUN

TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 01, 2007 12:00:00 AM]

Rural distress leading to farmer suicides, alongside breakdown of governance and failure of democracy, is the dark cloud to which a 9% economic growth rate hangs as a silver-lining. What can be done to banish this darkness?
The first step is to take a whole lot of farmers off the land, at least half of them. We just have too many farmers.
What right do sundry commentators have to ask farmers to get off the land? Well, farmers are the first ones to opt out.
For those who wish to understand rural distress, the National Book Trust has brought out a little green book, in which agricultural economist G S Bhalla summarises the finding of the National Sample Survey Organisation’s Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers.
The Survey found that 40% of the country’s farmers have no desire to persist with farming, but do so for want of an alternative. The book is essential reading for all politicians who wish to appreciate the reality behind emotive news reports about distress on the farm. However, the book does not go into what can be done to tackle that distress. Which brings us back to ridding farmland of an excess of farmers.
How many farmers do we have? The number that our trade negotiators cite to stave off opening up the farm sector is 650 million. This is a gross exaggeration, of course. The fact is that only around 58% of our total workforce is dependent on farming, either as cultivators or agricultural workers.
Another 3% live on fishing. In fact, 27% of rural workers are engaged in activities other than cultivation. What needs to be done is to enlarge this pool and shrink dependence on crop husbandry where under-employment is huge and productivity, low.
As per the latest estimates, less than 18% of GDP comes from agriculture and allied activities, which engage 61% of the workforce. Clearly, productivity per worker in the non-agricultural sectors is, on average, seven times as much as in agriculture. Shifting workers out of agriculture would vastly improve productivity, boost incomes and the rate of growth of the economy.
How do we go about shifting workers out of agriculture, that is, farmers off the farm? And how do we raise the incomes of those who remain in agriculture? Urbanisation, agro-processing, organised retail and organisation of farmers into Amul-like cooperatives and companies to give them institutional capability — that is the short answer.

Missing the wood for the trees

By K P Prabhakaran Nair

All of a sudden, there is a great debate and agitation going on in the country on the question of setting up industry by private enterprise acquiring land, sometimes fertile and from farmers, who have been tilling it for generations, under the overall umbrella of Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Nowhere else has the agitation gripped the attention of the entire nation as pointedly as it did in Singur, in West Bengal, on the acquisition of about 1,000 acres to set up the “small car” project of the Tatas.

Undoubtedly, India has been an agrarian country for millennia: 65 per cent of the population is involved in agriculture, and feeds the rest of the 35 per cent, which has a per capita domestic product that is more than 600 per cent of the former. India, indeed, is two countries — the “galloping India”, the nine per cent plus GDP India that boasts of a per capita purchasing power parity gross domestic product above that of Philippines, whose economy is modelled along that of the USA, and the other poor cousin — “Bharat”, which is mired in poverty and misery.

Inclusive policy

It is then logical to think that unless this 65 per cent is salvaged out of its abject misery, India has no economic future to be clubbed along with the comity of prosperous nations. Ever since Nehru dreamt of factories and dams, India has been on a trajectory of economic development based on big industries and almost all our five year plans have followed the pattern based on a western model that says “export and expand”. But, the bedrock of our development has been pegged on the agrarian sector, which of late has become the real laggard.

The annual rate of increase in food production has fallen below the annual increase in population, setting in motion the Malthusian theory of population explosion outstripping food production. With India’s global trade in agriculture less than one per cent, a double digit growth in industry — the latest November 2006 Index of Industrial Production (IIP) which had zoomed to 14 per cent — must persuade the country to take the 65 per cent out of its quagmire. The question is how?

This is a gargantuan task. An example: Transferring about five million workers from the agricultural sector (about two per cent of that workforce) to the non-agricultural sector annually will require upwards of Rs 2,50,000 crore or about 30 per cent of India’s total capital formation. It would be totally impossible to generate this colossal sum of money on our own. But, we must make a beginning. Redirecting through incentives, current non-agricultural investment to rural districts, along the borders of taluk and district headquarters, which skirt the highways, might provide a substantial sum of money. This is where the mandarins in New Delhi and state capitals need to be very vigilant — zero in on the authentic industrial enterprise with integrity from the land grabber. Nowhere else has this been so glaringly show-cased as in Singur.

A myth

Importantly, the country’s leadership must tell the agricultural fraternity in no uncertain manner that if they have nothing spectacular to show on the farmers’ fields, it might be better to fold up or trim substantially the burgeoning “research” monoliths. India can no more afford to keep singing the paens ad nauseam of a so-called “green revolution” that has outlived its utility more than two decades ago, and created in its wake, unmanageable environmental hazards. And the word play of an “ever green revolution”, to bring in through the back door genetically modified crops, is no answer either.

Look at the state of the agricultural extension network. Only 0.9 per cent of India’s huge farming community make practical use of the huge monolith — the Krishi Vigyan Kendras under the ICAR being run since decades on a very huge budget! The 1.5 million Agro Technology Agents in China do a far better job, working shoulder-to-shoulder with farmers in the field, constantly innovating!

Probably this is where pro-active, forward looking statesmanship, has to come to the fore, as opposed to the conniving gimmickry of “vote-bank politics”.

Nothing "new" New Year…the forgotten woes….!

http://sahitibharadwaj.rediffiland.com/scripts/xan…

Come again…What was it..? The farmer’s woes or owes!??! Or is it woes of owes! 11 more farmers have embraced death in the last 48 hours in vidarbha…reports a news paper at one insignificant corner, in a matter of fact way. Last year 1060 farmers have committed suicide and in Jan 07, 62 farmers have already preferred death to life!! The level of apathy and indifference in the media is appalling! (Well, not really! “Understandable!” would have been a better word) initially, there was furor over the issue in the media. Latter it took backburner as it became “routine”. Why should the media allot any place for such “drab, dull and outdated” piece of news when the latest news of Shilpa shetty’s wounded self-respect sells better!! After all “We give what people want” is what they would say! In fact these deaths have become sooo routine that the figure of 62 suicides is seen as “positive” development by a NGO, as it is first time in months that the death toll is less than 100 in a given month!

Note that the figures are “official”. Most of the deaths are not accepted as suicides due to “farm distress”. They are rejected as “family/personal problems” by the revenue officials who verify! So even as the reported rate of suicides decreases on paper, the fact could be otherwise with increase in the rate of such rejections, which goes unreported !!! The ever manipulative, adept at skin-saving bureaucracy, you see!!!

The declared “relief packages” never reach the needy. The wait for them would make a classic art movie!! The suicides have been consistent for almost two years now…but who in Mumbai would care with the SENSEX reaching the historic highs each day!! After all India is poised!!! (Wonder whether u can call it equilibrium!!!)

The role of nature is very minor compared that of the man-made reasons. Having to re-sow because of delayed monsoon, the crop ready to be harvested getting drowned in untimely heavy rains or having to helplessly look at the growing crop dying a slow death due to lack of rain/water is only one part of the story.

Let’s just “assume” a “good harvest” and see if things would be any better for the Indian farmer!

Ok, good harvest, what next? Obvious! Go sell and get the money!!! Well, any layman with zero knowledge of economics of demand-supply would know that it is not that simple!

The world cotton prices keep plummeting as “developed” countries like the United States keep pumping billions of dollars of subsidies each year to its 25,000 cotton producers and dump the produce in the world market. Thanks to the “open markets” in India…Now anyone can import or export it. The import duty on cotton is ten per cent. And if you’re the textile lobby you don’t pay even that. Anyone can buy, sell or trade in it. Smell the profit and the Private traders land up in droves! I let the figures speak “India’s cotton imports between 1997-98 and 2004-05 stood at over 115 lakh bales. That is over three times what was imported in the preceding 25 years!!”

Don’t we have any protection for Indian farmers from such “not in our hands” factors? Logically they should exist, at least on paper! Well, right, they do! There is something called “Minimum support price (MSP)” declared by govt., to protect Indian farmers. But you see, you can’t force the bureaucracy to do something good just by jotting a few rules on paper. They always have a back door! In this case it is the amount of cotton being picked up by State agencies at MSP!!! In 2005 there were 411 official centres to procure cotton. It was a mere 141 in 2006. Where do the poor farmers knock? Yes, private traders!! Private traders do buy generously large volumes, but often at below the minimum support price (MSP)!!!

This, given that deciding the MSP itself is a big humbug and the support price is definitely less than the input costs for the farmer! Add to that the fact that the State withdrew the “advance bonus” of Rs.500 a quintal, which brought down what the farmer received!!

That is not ALL though… read on!

Costs of production were up 25 per cent last year because of rising input prices. Bt cotton was a disaster. Also, the crop was hit by diseases. As Bt bombed for many, they used pesticides for that too. In a country where cotton is anyway the highest user of pesticides, this further upped the farmer’s costs.

Think it can’t get any worse..? Well, no, we still have petty problems like – There is no water in the bore well or no power supply even if there is water!

PS: I remember seeing a photo in a local daily with tomatoes dumped all over..as far as u can see the entire place was shades of red and yellow…at a market ground in Andhra! There was record harvest of tomatoes that year and the prices plummeted to 25 paisa per basket. Then there was a rumor that tomatoes were being bought at 2Rs per basket and all the farmers flooded the market with produce. Which means they loaded all the bullock carts and came to the “city market” from their villages, only to find that the actual price is 25 paisa!!!? They have no means to store the perishable goods, so in protest they dumped everything and preferred to go back empty handed!!!

This is at the same time when there were starvation deaths reported from some parts of central India and the dry north Andhra as well!!

If the possible solutions are not discussed this would only amount to “fretting” over the issue. So let’s brainstorm! Do leave a comment on what you think is the practical way of handling this…

Cooperative farm loans worth Rs. 4,836 crore to be waived

Special Correspondent
http://www.hindu.com/2007/01/30/stories/2007013011…

My Government will keep the promise: Kumaraswamy

`Priority to develop tier-II and tier-III cities’
Government confident of service sector boom continuing

PROMISES REPEATED: Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy getting ready to address the Janata Dal (Secular) National Executive meeting held at Palace Grounds in Bangalore on Monday. — Photo: K. Gopinathan

BANGALORE: Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy on Monday said his Government was committed to its promise of waiving farm loans and said the total outstanding of farmers to the cooperative banks in the State, as on December 31 last, was Rs. 4,836.98 crore.

In his address at the national council meeting of the Janata Dal (Secular) here, Mr. Kumaraswamy said that of the outstanding from farmers, the principal amount was Rs. 4,198.45 crore and the interest component Rs. 638.53 crore.

On an average, the per capita debt of farmers vis-à-vis farm loan was Rs. 24,663. The number of cooperative loan accounts in the State was 17,78,753.

He lashed out at the critics of the farm loan waiver proposal and said it was one of the important steps in checking suicide by farmers.

“If a country that wants to become an economic powerhouse cannot end the misery and suicides of its farmers by allocating a few thousand crores of rupees while it gears up for a challenge to invest nearly Rs. 50 lakh crore in improving infrastructure, then something is fundamentally wrong.”

Capital inflow

Mr. Kumaraswamy said the State had received unprecedented industrial investments over the past year and this was expected to increase in the coming financial year. The Government planned to develop tier-two and the tier-three cities and towns in the State to prevent the migration of people and to ensure that the rural people found employment closer home.

The formation of Greater Bangalore had been designed to upgrade the infrastructure in the State’s Capital.

This year, project proposals involving an investment of Rs. 80,000 crore and having an employment potential of 15 lakh jobs, had been cleared by the State Government.

Service sector boom

The State Government was confident that over the 11th Plan period and beyond, manufacturing and service sectors would continue to grow at a healthy pace in the State.

“More than 200 IT and 35 BT companies have been established in the last year indicating that Karnataka continues to be the preferred destination of the knowledge industry”.

Not a bed of roses

The Chief Minister admitted that heading a coalition Government was not a bed of roses.

By conducting “Janata darshans” over the weekend and by staying in the houses of villagers whenever possible, “I have done my best to show that the Government is for the benefit of the common man.”

Party’s support

The Chief Minister thanked the national executive of the Janata Dal (Secular) on revoking the suspension served on him and 39 other MLAs for associating with the BJP in forming a coalition Government in the State.

But for the revocation of the suspension of MLAs at the last national executive meeting held on December 25 last, the Chief Minister and the other Ministers here could not have attended the two-day meet.

Six more farmer suicides in Vidarbha

Pradip Kumar Maitra

Nagpur, January 31, 2007
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1916121,000…

The number of farmers’ suicide cases continue to pile up in Vidarbha region reeling under agrarian crisis. Six more farmers from the cotton-belt have ended their lives in the last 48 hours.
According to reports reaching Nagpur on Wednesday, three farmers from Yavatmal and one each from Bhandara, Akola and Wardha were the victims of one of the worst-ever agrarian crisis in the region. With six more deaths the number of farmers who committed suicide has reached 70 in the current month.
The latest victims were identified as: Chandrabhan Gulab Malande of Wadgaon, Gajanan Bhagade, Dhotre, Durvesh Zhamre of Pimpalkhuti (all in Yavatmal district), Prahlad Shelke of Bordi (Akola), Vishwanath Bramhankar of Nilajtoli (Bhandara) and Hanuman Pandurang Raut of Kurla in Wardha district.
As many as 1327 farmers, most of them cotton growers, were reported to have committed suicide in the region since June 2005 because of mounting debts, failure of crop and non-availability of remuneration price of their produces.
Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti blamed the state sponsored cotton cooperative marketing federation for the recent deaths. “Farmers, who are in huge debts, are unable to sell their raw cotton because of the sudden closure of cotton procurement centres by the federation in several areas. They were compelled to sell it at lower price to private traders. This has resulted in anger and depression among farmers. They are struggling to cope with depression and a lot of them are on the brink of suicide,” he claimed.
On the other hand, NP Hirani, chairman of the state cotton cooperative marketing federation said that few centres were closed down temporarily for certain specific reasons. “We have already procured 32 lakh quintals of raw cotton this year while Cotton Corporation of India purchased 28 lakh and private traders procured 125 lakh quintals of raw cotton this season that began from November 6 last year,” he further said.
According to him, the federation also promptly paid the payment to farmers after buying their produce. “Before closing the procurement centres we will certainly inform the farmers officially,” he added.
As many as 70 farmers have ended their lives this month. While the figure was 105 in December, it was 107 in November, 112 in October and 125 in September.
Talking to Hindustan Times, SK Goel, the divisional commissioner of Amravati and coordinator of the packages, said that the declining trend showed that the packages were giving dividends.

Email Pradip Kumar Maitra: pradipmaitra@hindustantimes.com

Six more farmer suicides in Vidarbha

Pradip Kumar Maitra

Nagpur, January 31, 2007
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1916121,000…

The number of farmers’ suicide cases continue to pile up in Vidarbha region reeling under agrarian crisis. Six more farmers from the cotton-belt have ended their lives in the last 48 hours.
According to reports reaching Nagpur on Wednesday, three farmers from Yavatmal and one each from Bhandara, Akola and Wardha were the victims of one of the worst-ever agrarian crisis in the region. With six more deaths the number of farmers who committed suicide has reached 70 in the current month.
The latest victims were identified as: Chandrabhan Gulab Malande of Wadgaon, Gajanan Bhagade, Dhotre, Durvesh Zhamre of Pimpalkhuti (all in Yavatmal district), Prahlad Shelke of Bordi (Akola), Vishwanath Bramhankar of Nilajtoli (Bhandara) and Hanuman Pandurang Raut of Kurla in Wardha district.
As many as 1327 farmers, most of them cotton growers, were reported to have committed suicide in the region since June 2005 because of mounting debts, failure of crop and non-availability of remuneration price of their produces.
Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti blamed the state sponsored cotton cooperative marketing federation for the recent deaths. “Farmers, who are in huge debts, are unable to sell their raw cotton because of the sudden closure of cotton procurement centres by the federation in several areas. They were compelled to sell it at lower price to private traders. This has resulted in anger and depression among farmers. They are struggling to cope with depression and a lot of them are on the brink of suicide,” he claimed.
On the other hand, NP Hirani, chairman of the state cotton cooperative marketing federation said that few centres were closed down temporarily for certain specific reasons. “We have already procured 32 lakh quintals of raw cotton this year while Cotton Corporation of India purchased 28 lakh and private traders procured 125 lakh quintals of raw cotton this season that began from November 6 last year,” he further said.
According to him, the federation also promptly paid the payment to farmers after buying their produce. “Before closing the procurement centres we will certainly inform the farmers officially,” he added.
As many as 70 farmers have ended their lives this month. While the figure was 105 in December, it was 107 in November, 112 in October and 125 in September.
Talking to Hindustan Times, SK Goel, the divisional commissioner of Amravati and coordinator of the packages, said that the declining trend showed that the packages were giving dividends.

Email Pradip Kumar Maitra: pradipmaitra@hindustantimes.com

VS Achyuthanandan blames it all on officials

Wednesday January 31 2007 12:52 IST

http://www.newindpress.com/NewsItems.asp?ID=IEO200…

T’PURAM: Blaming officials for the non-performance of the LDF Government, Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan here on Tuesday hit out at them against their over-enthusiasm regarding foreign funds.
Achuthanandan’s latest bash on the officials came against the background of the controversy regarding ADB loan, which left the most productive officials like S.M. Vijayanand, scapegoats.
Officials should try their best to make use of the available domestic resources for the welfare of the public, than showing over excitement towards foreign funds, Achuthanandan said while addressing the Collectors’ conference here.
Farmers’ suicides could not be checked even after the LDF came to power, as the officials failed to pass on the relief plans announced by the government, he said.
“The situation has changed after the LDF Government came to power. Now no farmers need to commit suicide due to debt. But the officials failed to drive home the idea to the farmers”, he said.
The failure of government officials in acting as per the government directives was evident in the lapses in reporting vacancies, he said.