Create special agri zones, manage small farms: Swaminathan…

Express News Service

Ahmedabad, March 30: Managers should start thinking about ways and means to manage small farms in a more profitable manner and like the Special Economic Zones, Special Agricultural Zones (SAZ) should be created.’’ Renowned agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan said this at a function here on Friday.

Swaminathan was giving away the ‘AMA-Metrochem Outstanding Manager of the Year Award 2006’ to Alan D’Souza, Acting Dean, Mudra Institute of Communication Research. The award was conferred on D’Souza by the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA).

“While the contribution of the agricultural sector to GDP is going down every year, the percentage of population depending upon agriculture is not going down,” said Swaminathan, adding that it was important that the managers now also start thinking about ways and means to manage small farms in a more profitable manner.

Swaminathan, who is credited with Green Revolution in the country, stressed the need for the development and sustainability of agricultural sector.

“While sectors like ICT, BT, nuclear and renewable energy will dominate the world of technology in the days to come, the agri sector should also be better managed,’’ he said.

“We have seen some profitable partnership among the farmers in sectors like tobacco and sugar cotton, however the same has not happened in the case of cotton,’’ Swaminathan observed, adding that in case of contractual farming such formula need to be worked out so that a win-win situation can be worked out between the industry and the farmer.

Later interacting with the media, Swaminathan said that apart from its obvious importance, food is also becoming a political weapon in the changing global scenario and it is important that adequate impetus be given to generate sustainable and enhanced food productivity.

“Like the Special Economic Zones, Special Agricultural Zones (SAZ) should also be created,” Swaminathan said, adding that such zones would serve to conserve prime farm land for agriculture, realise the untapped production potential of rainfed areas, apart from ensuring national nutrition security and food sovereignty.

As in the case of SEZs, special support and incentives will have to be given to farm families in SAZ as well, Swaminathan said, adding that such support package would include support for conservation farming, timely supply of credit, effective insurance system and post-harvest infrastructure for value addition to primary produce, biomass utilization and for producer oriented marketing.

In this connection, Swaminathan lauded the efforts made by Gujarat government to introduce soil health cards and such measures to the farmers. He further said that such measures need to be introduced by the governments across the country.

Jantar Mantar Report-Booming India's Suicidal Farmers…

Gathered in Delhi, the wretched of the countryside are full of complaints, accusations, and hope.

Mayank Austen Soofi

The onslaught of summers has started with the farmers holding Gandhian demonstrations in the historic Jantar Mantar – Delhi’s Tiananmen Square. They arrived in trains, traveling in unreserved compartments, from remote villages in the heartland provinces of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Gathered in the capital of their country, they are full of complaints, accusations, and hope. One common word being uttered by all the sad lips – Karza i.e. debt.

The farmers have to pay back loans taken several monsoons ago. But they have no money. During some years their insubstantial fields received too much rain that the standing crops were ruined. In other years there was too little that the crops could not grow. But the interest on the loans never stopped piling and now the wretched have to pay back more than was borrowed.

Mr. Valji Raghu, an 81-year-old farmer from the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh (see the pictures below), had borrowed Rs 15, 000 in 1992. He presently owes double that amount. Mr. Vaishya at 17 is younger and inherited the debt as legacy. Five years ago his late father had taken a loan of Rs 22, 000. Now the son needs to return Rs. 60, 000.

Sometimes, the combination of poverty, shame and distress adds up enough incentive to ponder with the easy possibilities of suicide, a phenomenon emerging as the biggest epidemic in the distraught countryside. Across the country, 17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available.

Additionally, there is unrest regarding genetically modified seeds being peddled by American multinationals in the poor hinterlands. Such seeds are expensive and add nothing to the resources of an already debt-ridden farmer. Besides, in various places, the local government is forcibly, sometimes violently, evicting farmers from their ancestral lands to create China-style Special Economic Zones. In March 2006, 12 armed farmers were killed by the police in West Bengal’s Nandigram village when they protested against the takeover of their small farms.

Ms. Jhadki, an old woman from Madhya Pradesh participating in the Jantar Mantar demonstration, said, “We have no hope. We don’t know what to do? So we have come to Delhi. May be they will listen to us.”

Karza is not the only problem.” Mr. Veer Singh talked of his village in Jhabua. “We have no road and no clinic. Electricity is supplied only for four hours per day. Schools are there but poor people like us can’t afford them for our children.”

Don’t their elected representatives assist them? “They remain in Delhi and show their faces only during the time of elections.” Mr. Singh snorted.

“Look at Delhi.” Mr. Vaishya suddenly emerged from his silence. “What cars, what buildings, what gardens! Our sarkar (government) spend all the money here. We get nothing.”

However, despite their simmering rage, the farmers are optimistic. By holding demonstrations in the heart of the capital, they feel, their government will listen to them – at the least.

That is being unrealistic. The truth is that the Jantar Mantar agitation has been ignored by all including the so-called activist-driven media. More newsprint and primetime TV news was spent on a recent Fashion Week in Delhi and on popstar Shakira’s first-ever concert in Mumbai.

Even Sharad Pawar, the Union Agriculture Minister, is a much distracted man. As President of the lucrative Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), he has shown more concern on India’s debacle in the 2006 Cricket World Cup tournament than on suicides in the despairing countryside.

The farmers may be raising their voice, but they should know, sound waves do not travel in vacuum.

Meanwhile in Vidharbha 250 farm suicides

Friday, March 30, 2007

P. Sainath

There have been some 250 farm suicides in just the first three months of this year. Things could be a lot worse after June. And, as always, the farm suicides are a symptom of the crisis, not its cause.
FARM SUICIDES in Maharashtra rose by over 354 per cent between 1995 and 2003. That’s if the data of the National Crime Records Bureau are anything to go by. Strictly speaking they are not, being gross under-estimates. They draw from local machinery, which from region to region leaves out thousands from the lists of farm suicides. Yet, they still present a clear trend — a painful one. Even these twisted numbers show that farm suicides went up from 1,083 in 1995 to 3,836 eight years later.
For one thing, these figures are for all of Maharashtra. Which means if we were looking at just Vidharbha or Marathwada, the rise would be more horrendous. For another, these regions saw their greatest spurt in farm suicides after 2003 — where the last available NCRB data stops. The government of Maharashtra admits to 1,447 farm suicides in 2006 alone. And that’s in only six districts of Vidharbha. So just these six districts saw far more suicides in 2006 than the whole State did in 1995. That’s if we give credence to official readings of the data.
Events on the ground confirm the trend, if not the accuracy of the data. Nine women turned widows on International Women’s Day in Vidharbha. That’s how many farmers took their lives on March 8. The highest on a single day in the region’s recent history. Till two weeks later, when it happened again. There have been some 250 farm suicides in just the first three months of this year. Things could be a lot worse after June. And, as always, the farm suicides are a symptom of the crisis, not its cause. They are its outcome, not its engine.
Just months from now, Vidharbha could see its first 100 per cent Bt cotton season. Bt cotton accounted for over 60 per cent of acreage last season. As acreage under it rises, so do the risks taken by the farmer. The Maharashtra government admits Bt cotton has fared very poorly in rain-fed regions. And it’s clear that the seed companies might market much less of hybrid varieties in the coming season, if they do that at all. Why sell hybrid when there’s more money to be made in Bt cotton? So even as many, including the National Commission on Farmers, call for making Vidharbha “an organic farming zone,” the reverse process is in full swing. Even apart from its report, the NCF chairperson, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, pressed the government of Maharashtra on the notion of an organic zone. But the State’s own seed corporation is a major distributor for Bt cotton.
This gets more worrying when you look at the record of the last few years. The government began the last season’s harvest with boasts of a “record” 350 lakh quintal “bumper crop.” The claim was made by the State’s Minister of Marketing, Harshvardhan Patil. And this grand success was swiftly credited to Bt cotton in some media reports. As the run of events punctured these claims, the figure was scaled down more than once. This is further confirmed by how little of cotton the official agencies have procured. For all of them together, the figure has not crossed 70 lakh quintals. And private traders are believed to have picked up around 110 lakh quintals.
In short, less than 180 lakh quintals. And this in a time of distress when the numbers should have been much higher, when farmers would have been desperate to sell. It means production could not have topped 220 lakh quintals, and could well have been less. Consider that in the `non-Bt cotton year’ of 2003, procurement alone was over 210 lakh quintals. Production was far higher, at close to 250 lakh quintals.
This equation shows how high the risks are in the coming season. Vidharbha did better in a `non-Bt cotton year’ than during one in which more than 60 per cent of the acreage was under Bt cotton. The State government’s own report informs us that in preceding seasons too, “In rain-fed conditions, Bt cotton has not paid good returns.” And 97 per cent of cotton grown in Maharashtra is unirrigated. Here’s the nub: a poor monsoon could make the earlier crisis seasons look like the good old times.
There’s more irony to the vanished `bumper crop.’ It has in fact been so hard to find that cotton prices are better than we’ve seen in a long time. In some places, they are as high as Rs.2,400 a quintal. At Rs.1,500 a quintal, soybean too is getting a better deal than before. Well, go easy on the cheers. It means that most farmers will go back to these crops again. The present prices, though still not good enough for cotton, will prove tempting. True, some people have turned to other crops. And it would be a good thing, further, if even cotton growers reserved an acre of their lands for jowar. That would give their families some security. But this is not happening on any large scale.
When they return to cotton months from now, it will be to a Bt cotton-saturated season. Input prices will be higher. And yes, they will still use lots of pesticides. And the credit crunch will be far worse. Farmers are already figuring out the high cost of low interest loans. To begin with, very few had access to these six per cent interest loans. Those not repaying their sums by March 31 are out of the loop. Since not more than 20 per cent of them can do that, it means that farmers will be facing the old, higher rates again, very soon.
Since there has been no loan waiver, most will be unable to access the credit they need from the banks. So it’s back to the new loan sharks: the input dealers, the sellers of seed, the fake finance companies. The more this happens, the more the dealers will determine the inputs the farmers use. And, as an official report put it, for Bt cotton, “the yields have been unstable.” ( The Hindu , November 25, 2006). “When farmers invest heavily in purchasing seeds and other inputs, the net return has often been negative.”
What’s more, there is nothing to suggest that the present cotton prices will rule next season. Not a step has been taken towards a price stabilisation fund. That would have made a big difference. But it’s another NCF recce that bites the dust.
With things that serious, you’d expect a sense of urgency in the government. True, a handful of officers have on their own made efforts to study and measure the crisis. As a government — not a thing has changed. The Prime Minister’s package is a shambles. The Chief Minister’s efforts consist of contacting more Babas and Ammas for the spiritual salvation of the Vidharbha farmer. Salvation comes at a price. Which could translate into a number of these godmen being gifted prime pieces of real estate worth crores of rupees in due course. Their agents are already out scouting for the best locations, which they will then ask the government for. The business end of spirituality has always been deeply rooted in terra firma.
If anything in this mess occupies the government’s mind at all, it is the mounting numbers of suicides. These do not constitute the crisis in itself. But they are a great tragedy and bad publicity. And a huge embarrassment to the extent this government can experience that emotion at all. So the state get ever more creative.
The number of suicides in six Vidharbha districts gets worse. So how do we bring them down? By upping the `rejection rate’ of such suicides. Surely we are the only country in the world that has a category called `eligible suicides.’ (As distinct, say, from eligible bachelors or the like.) This term refers to those cases the state deems are `real’ farmers suicides. This means the affected families will get some compensation. It does not matter that the rest — the ineligible — are just as dead. Or that their families suffer no less.
One government report records that
the “number of cases reported” in the six districts in 2002 was 105. In 2006, that number was 1,447. That’s an increase in farm suicides of over 1,300 per cent in cases reported in five years. But while 69 per cent of the cases in 2002 were found `eligible’ for compensation, just 40 per cent of last year’s cases were found `eligible.’ So more and more farmers are killing themselves. But fewer of these deaths will be counted as `farmers suicides.’ In 2006, this rejection rate rose sharply almost every month of the year. For instance, 60 suicides were found `not eligible’ in January last year. In October the same year, the rejected cases were 120. Ever growing numbers are rejected in this desperate bid to dilute the bad news.
Simply put, what’s rising fastest in Maharashtra is self-delusion. We could see big trouble from May-June onwards. Which could be terrible by Diwali time if the monsoon emulates the State and Central governments in its functioning.
© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu



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Asking the state to grab land has to stop…

For fifty years, ever since he won his first election to Parliament, the same jibe has been hurled at Atal Bihari Vajpayee: ‘A good man in a bad party!’ From time to time, this would be accompanied by mock-sympathetic invitations to join Party X or Party Y or Party Z.
The former prime minister is a tolerant man. Someone less forgiving would be tempted to turn the tables on his tormentors today, and muse aloud that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee too is a ‘good man in a bad party’, and invite the beleaguered chief minister of West Bengal to leave his carping comrades for more congenial company!
I refer, of course, to Nandigram. The CPI-M is currently tying itself up in knots over the issue, its carefully cultivated image as the ‘people’s champion’ torn to shreds by the sight of all hell breaking loose in the green fields of Nandigram.
Even its allies in the Left Front are enjoying the discomfiture of the Marxist Big Brother, while the Congress has been dropping broad hints that any tie-up with the CPI-M is limited to Delhi, and definitely does not extend to West Bengal and Kerala.
The non-CPI-M parties are having so much fun abusing the CPI-M that they probably did not hear a couple of interesting statements, two by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and one by the party boss in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan. Both men, however, are senior politicians and we must at least pay them the courtesy of hearing them out.
Here, first, is what the chief minister of West Bengal had to say about the genesis of the problem in Nandigram. It was, he said bluntly, the handiwork of Muslim fundamentalists.
You must also know that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said this not once, but twice. Even more interestingly, on each occasion it was to American listeners. I understand that the first statement came at a meeting with an Indo-American business council. The second, more intriguingly, was to a high official, with links to the US intelligence establishment, who had called on the chief minister.
Can you imagine the furore had a BJP chief minister said anything of the kind? (Actually, can you imagine the howls of outrage had a BJP functionary at any level met an American official?) Yet Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s remarks won little or no attention in a media titillated by Bob Woolmer’s murder.
Please note that the chief minister of West Bengal is one of the few ‘secular’ functionaries with any credibility on the issue of Muslim fundamentalism in India. He had previously spoken of the dangers of unchecked illegal immigration from Bangladesh, not once but repeatedly so.
Let us now turn to Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan’s bastion. According to the party boss, the West Bengal firing in Nandigram was in ‘self-defence.’ Please ponder a little over the implications of that statement. Pinarayi Vijayan is one of the 16 current members of the CPI-M Politburo, a man who has himself been a minister in Kerala. And he is saying that the agitators in Nandigram were equipped with modern arms, not just the crude spears and scythes they waved before the television cameras.
For more than half a century, Communists of all stripes have had two whipping-boys, namely ‘Western imperialism’ and ‘Hindu fundamentalism’. But today two senior CPI-M functionaries are blaming neither; they are laying all the blame at the doors of well-armed Muslim fundamentalists, probably instigated from abroad. If they are correct then the tragedy of Nandigram has only begun to unfold.
I have given you one side of the story. In the interests of fairness, here is an attempt at presenting the other side.
Let us grant that there is a heavy Muslim presence in Nandigram, where, I was told, roughly 40 per cent of the population is Muslim. But opposition to the CPI-M cut across the Hindu-Muslim divide, and the 60 per cent of the population that is Hindu appeared to be as vehemently anti-CPI-M as anyone else.
If reports are true, CPI-M workers in the area actually thought it necessary to band together in a safe camp!
Second, there is the peculiar incident that happened when Mamata Bannerjee tried to reach Nandigram. The CPI-M immediately accused her of fishing in troubled waters, and CPI-M workers prevented her entourage from getting to Nandigram. I repeat: It was not the police but the CPI-M proper that stopped her.
In other words, Nandigram was an area under siege by the Marxist cadre — which casts a smidgen of doubt on Pinarayi Vijayan’s portrait of his West Bengal comrades coming under fire.
There is one final point that I would like to make, namely that we should not ignore the economics while debating the politics. Special Economic Zones are here to stay. Lay aside Nandigram, or even West Bengal as a whole. The fact is that several chief ministers have recently written to Delhi, demanding that the Union government give the green signal to their own Special Economic Zones. That includes states such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, both of which have chief ministers belonging to the United Progressive Alliance.
The brutal fact is that agriculture has reached its limit as far as employment generation is concerned; the industrial and services sectors need to grow if future generations of India must get jobs, and if Special Economic Zones can give the process a boost, so be it.
But if Special Economic Zones are here to stay, why should the State get involved in acquiring land? Let the barons of industry negotiate directly with the owners of the land. If the current proprietors do not wish to sell, let industrialists persuade them to lease it. Or perhaps they could offer a combination of rent plus dividends, something that would make the peasants feel as if they have some stake in industrial enterprises coming up in their area.
The private sector often boasts of its capacity for innovation. Well, here is the opportunity to be proven correct. Persuade the peasant proprietors to part with property if you can manage it. But this business of asking the State to grab the land has got to stop!

Government waging war against farmers


New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) The Indian government has declared a kind of war against the poor and marginal farmers who are also up in arms against its regressive policies, environmental scientist Vandana Shiva said Friday.

“The government has declared a war against India’s small farmers. And war against farmers means war against 65 percent of the population,” Shiva told a press conference here.

Referring to the recent killings in Nandigram in West Bengal and large-scale farmer suicides in Vidharbha, Maharashtra, she said: “Our government is encouraging the throw-away policies of the West and pushing them through violence.”

According to her, policies driven by corporate globalisation are pushing farmers off the land and peasants out of agriculture, which is against the natural evolutionary process.

She said: “The government, by encouraging big business houses like Reliance, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Cargill is trying to corporatise agriculture.”

“When the world is moving beyond the Wal-Mart model and the Americans are thinking of re-ruralisation, we are being asked to dismantle our mandis (wholesale markets), our haats (rural markets), increase food miles and aggravate climate chaos.”

“A small bio-diverse farm has higher productivity than large industrial farms which contribute to climate change,” Shiva added referring to a recent address by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to an industry body that small landholdings limit the chances to improve agricultural productivity.

On the issue of using genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilisers, she said: “The soil looses fertility through chemical fertilisers.”

As a solution to the problem, Shiva is planning to create a re-agricultural strategy in Nandigram and Vidharbha and formulate a food security system.

Cautioning the government about the upcoming general elections in 2009, she said: “If the anti-farmer and pro-corporate policies continue to be pushed by the prime minister the entire government will have to pay a heavy price.”

Opposition to SEZ pays dividends for PWP, sena in Raigad

Meena Menon

Tie-up between Peasants and Workers Party and Shiv Sena led to a
thumping victory in the Zilla Parishad polls in Maharashtra


“PWP has a long tradition of grass roots work in the area”
Congress wins 6 seats compared to 5 last time

MUMBAI: The opposition to proposed Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and
industries, including the Reliance Group-promoted Mumbai Special
Economic Zone (MSEZ) in Raigad district, has paid political dividends
for the two parties in the area who tied up for the recent elections to
zilla parishads.

While load shedding and farmers’ suicides did not prevent the Congress
from performing well in the State, in Raigad, a tie-up between the
Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) and the Shiv Sena led to a thumping
victory for them.

Most politicians do not deny the impact of grass roots campaign with the
farmers and fisherfolk who stand to lose if the SEZs are set up. Senior
PWP leader N.D. Patil, who led a rasta roko last Friday against the SEZs
in Raigad district, said the poll results reflected people’s anger on
the issue.

In a region where over 70 per cent of the people are small farmers or
fisherfolk, agriculture is the mainstay. The land being acquired for the
SEZ is used for paddy cultivation. The PWP has a long tradition of grass
roots work in the area, said the local MLA, Vivek Patil. “We have been
working with the people for a long time and we have stood for certain
values in the district,” he said. Sena leaders such as Manohar Joshi and
Ramdas Kadam extended their support to the agitation.

Although A. R. Antulay, Congress MP and a Union Minister who is from
Raigad campaigned for his party during these local elections, it did not
make much of a dent. Mr. Patil said the Congress had not really been
sensitive to people’s issues and they were too scared of losing out on
contracts and power if they did. They have never been on the side of the
farmers, he said. The other factor against the Congress was that it had
never explained what the SEZs meant and how people could benefit.

This aspect has definitely worked to the PWP and Sena’s advantage. The
PWP gained by winning 26 seats and Sena with 16, of the total 61 in the
ZP. Earlier too, the PWP and the Shiv Sena worked together for about two
years to run the Zilla Parishad. The only issue they differed on was
“Hindutva,” said Mr. Patil, adding that the tie-up did not affect his
party’s secular image up. There were more important battles to be
fought, he felt.

Mr. Patil says that both the PWP and the Sena are cadre-based parties
and close to people. The Congress won only six seats (it had five last
time) and some wins were due to booth capturing and bogus voting, he
alleged. At Rave, there was firing too after complaints of booth
capturing. This is also the constituency of Maharashtra Minister of
State for Public Works Ravishet Patil of the Congress. Desperate to show
solidarity, his son Vaikunth, a newly elected zilla parishad member,
took part in the rasta roko last week.

Unlike other members of his party, Shrikant Patil from Vashi in Pen
taluka of Raigad district is one of the few Congressmen to have won the
Zilla Parishad elections and caused an upset of sorts in his area.

This former sarpanch of Vashi village has been opposing the SEZ. “I too
am a small farmer with four acres and I am strongly opposed to the SEZ,”
he said.

His opponent Anant Patil, who heads the committee of 24 villages opposed
to the SEZ from Pen taluka, said overall, the Sena -PWP did benefit from
the anti SEZ sentiments and he lost only by a few votes.

Youth leaders of the party such as Dhairyashail Patil, PWP district
secretary, said unless the SEZ issue was fought in the political arena,
the people would not win. The anti-SEZ feelings were reflected in the
elections but not to the desired extent, he pointed out. He said the
anti-SEZ sentiment was very strong in the Hamrapur area but the party
lost from there. However, the Congress is probably feeling the heat from
the protests as last Friday, during the rasta roko, Chief Minister
Vilasrao Deshmukh made statements in the Upper House that the Government
would not come in between the farmers and the Government in land
acquisition issues. However, the people are demanding that land
acquisition notices be withdrawn.

Official sources said land acquisition proceedings were not stalled and
the hearings were still underway.

Last 2 yrs saw 148 suicides by farmers, admits CM…

Express News Service

Gandhinagar, March 29: The State government on Thursday admitted that Gujarat has seen 148 cases of suicides by farmers in the last two years. Of these, while 28 victims were tribal farmers, none belonged to the scheduled castes (SC). The admission on the floor of the House comes following several uproarious scenes on the issue and vehement denials by the treasury benches.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi informed this as a written reply to a starred question asked by Borsad MLA Amit Chavda.


The reply is the most direct acceptance by the government that all is not right with agriculture in the State despite claims of increasing income of farmers. The figures are up to January 31 this year.

The response further says that all the 148 cases are individual suicides, with no area reporting mass suicides. Reasons given for the suicides range from inclement weather, mental illness, family issues, long-term ailments amongst others. Admittedly, the suicides that took place owing to inclement weather were also the ones directly related to agricultural failure, something the government has vehemently denied over the last one month of Assembly session.

With Modi in a self-congratulatory mode over the issue of increasing agricultural income, the government has been denying even a single case of farmer suicide. The government has not paid any compensation to the families of the farmers who committed suicides, admits the reply by Modi.

Keeping Indians poor: Grand government design

M R Venkatesh | March 27, 2007 |

A bit of digression at the outset is crucial to understand the depth of food depravation, associated poverty and the resultant food insecurity prevailing in India.

For the ordinary Indian it must be shocking to know that food security in India is a falsehood propagated repeatedly by the government since the mid-eighties.

To understand the enormity of the falsehood, let me put things in perspective. The net per capita food availability in India in 1971 was 394 gm per day. This was just after the onset of Green Revolution in India. Exactly 30 years later, in 2001, the net per capita of foodgrain availability was 396 gm per day: a princely rise of 2 gm! In effect, for over 30 years our farm growth has barely kept pace with our population growth. This sets up the debate.

A comparison with other countries is central to understanding the extent of food shortage prevailing in India. Advanced countries, on a per capita basis, consume anywhere between 500 gm to 600 gm per day. Such healthy consumption in these countries is supplementary to the substantial quantity of meat, fruits, vegetables and milk.

On this score, our consumption on a per capita level is far below the world average and significantly below the average of the developed countries. It would seem that, we as a nation, seem to have declared food self-sufficiency on virtually empty stomachs.

A reference to China is unavoidable here. China, a country with approximately 1.2 times our population, produces approximately 450 MT of foodgrain every year — more than double that of India. Does this comparison with other countries not blow the myth of self-sufficiency in India?

What is appalling is the fact that even after the British took over the reins of India, they constituted a commission to look into the quantity of food required in India, should India were to be hit by a famine. For this purpose, the per capita food consumption was held to be 500 gm per day by the said commission. It has to be noted that the British fixed this norm for consumption of Indians during a famine. It would seem that our colonial oppressors had a more charitable view than our own democratically elected government!

A callous approach to agriculture

Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in India in the past few years. Yet governments, both in the States and at the Centre, have been shying away from dealing with the issue appropriately. While there has been occasional media outcry, the ‘packages’ announced by the government have hardly made an impact. And if these packages do take effect, experience shows that this would at best be insignificant.

The issue is not merely of agriculture, food security and farmers: it is something much more. Agriculture is far too central to the Indian economy than can be imagined by many of us. It is our route to food security, economic well-being, poverty alleviation and, crucially, national security.

But like all other things in India, the seriousness of the issue is inversely proportional to the attention it gets.

Structural issues remain un-addressed

At the root of the current crisis in the farm sector is the fact that decades of neglect has de-legitimised the farm sector. There are a number of structural issues that remain un-addressed within the farm sector today. These include:

Farm Credit: Lack of an appropriate lending mechanism, which means farmers are forced to obtain credit at exorbitant rates from the informal sector. Though credit expansion by the formal sector has taken place in the recent past, it is inadequate.

Soaring costs of inputs: Apart from interest costs, other input costs (viz. seeds, power, etc) — barring fertiliser — have shown significant increase in the past few years. This rise in input costs has been disproportionately higher than the rise in the selling price of farm produce. Naturally farmers are reeling under huge debt, a sure sign of a losing economy.

Lack of water: Water is crucial to farm activity. Successive years of drought in many parts of India have reduced agriculture in India to a gamble on the monsoon. With a mere 40 per cent of farmland irrigated, Indian farmers have been at the mercy of the weather gods. Under the liberalisation programme, the fundamental assumption is that virtually every government activity can be privatized: however, it needs to be understood that irrigation and capital formation within the farm sector cannot be privatised so easily in India. It has to remain a government function, essentially.

Farmers are entrepreneurs. They take risks. Their risk gets compounded due to the vagaries of monsoon. They do not look to the State as a benefactor. Rather they would prefer the government to be a genuine facilitator in lowering these risks.

Today a farmer gets a fraction of the final retail price while a substantial portion of the prices that we pay for our food goes to the retailers, wholesalers, middlemen and others. These are structural issues that can be addressed only by the government.

And due to these distortions within the system we are witness to a strange paradox: rise in prices of farm products strangely resulting in farmers committing suicide.

However, due to fiscal orthodoxy and indifference to the farm sector, the government has been reluctant to deal with this issue of capital formation in the farm sector. And in areas where the government has done so, it has been far from satisfactory.

A leading daily in Chennai had recently exposed as to how despite the government spending in excess of Rs 35,000 crore (Rs 350 billion) in the past decade or so under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), there has not even been a marginal increase in the gross farm land under irrigation in the country, which virtually stands at 40% of the total farm land.

The Indian economy has yet to mature to expect that the private sector would step in to the space created due to the government’s exit. If the government cannot handle this crucial issue — of rural infrastructure — why do we have governments?

The government spends about Rs 26,000 crore (Rs 260 billion) every year on food subsidy, through the public distribution system (PDS), for those living below the poverty line. It is estimated that for every Re 1 of subsidy to reach the ultimate beneficiary, the government has to spend approximately Rs 7 on the administrative mechanism. In fact, of the 300 million poor estimated to be below the poverty line in the country, only 25 per cent are estimated to have access to PDS.

The rest are left to fend for themselves. In effect, the government’s programme — in intent and in execution — leaves a lot to be desired.

Yet, is it a failure of the delivery system, or is there something more to it than meets the eye?

Keeping farmers poor, a grand design

Speaking on the issue of farmers and the general lack of food security prevailing in the country, I suggested to a retired bureaucrat (who held very high positions in the Government of India) that India must double its food production from its existing 200 MT. This, I argued, would boost the income of the farmers as well as provide access to food at far cheaper rates to those living below the poverty line.

The bureaucrat was appalled. Clearly stating that India required nothing more than 200-220 MT of foodgrain, he dismissed my line of reasoning.

Crucially, through a paradigm of shortages, the government and its officers have increased their relevance, power and authority. In contrast, farmers have been reduced to play the role of applicants and would forever remain in the clutches of the State and its draconian agencies.

The net result of our ‘planned’ neglect of the farm sector has meant that today approximately 50 per cent of our population is malnourished. Some international agencies report that certain pockets in India suffer from acute malnutrition more than some African regions.

Robust growth in the farm sector acts as a trigger for overall economic growth. Economis
ts have been repeatedly pointing out that a one per cent growth in the farm sector acts as a significant multiplier in industry and the services sectors, leading to increases in aggregate demand within the Indian economy.

Despite a decade and half after the initiation of reforms, the government has yet to come out of its socialist mindset vis-�-vis the farm sector. This is not without purpose and falls within the government’s grand design of keeping farmers — and India — poor.

The failure of the farmers comes with an attendant and natural bonus — it can ensure that a substantial portion of our population is underfed, under-clothed and mired in acute poverty. And that directly increases the importance of the government, the politicians and the bureaucrats.

If farmers were to succeed, it would mean the failure of our politicians and the brand of politics practiced in this country since 1947 by the Left and the Right.

And that explains why the government is keen on a failed farm sector: the idea is to merely keep it on a life support system, allow it neither to die nor to bloom. And that ensures that India remains poor, while its politicians are rich.

National farm strategy to be presented to NDC soon

Special Correspondent
The document would cover all aspects of agriculture and give a road map

Corporate sector could provide technology, extension advice, marketing, logistics’ Sector urged to institute scholarships for rural students

CHENNAI: A national agricultural strategy is likely to be presented before the National Development Council, which is to meet in two months, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, said here on Tuesday.
Pointing out that a committee headed by the Union Agriculture Minister had been set up, Mr. Ahluwalia told a seminar organised by the Madras Management Association (MMA) that sub-groups comprising Chief Ministers were holding discussions. The proposed strategy document would cover all aspects of agriculture and give a road map for the farm sector.
Speaking on the corporate sector’s role in rural development, the Deputy Chairman said while the Central and State Governments had a critical role to play in the areas of irrigation and roads in rural areas, the corporate sector could take care of technology, extension advice, marketing and logistics.
On the possible impact of global warming in the country’s agriculture in future, he called for the development of varieties in crops resistant to climate change. The public sector should engage itself in the basic research while the corporate sector could devote itself to making different varieties commercially attractive and building on the basic research.
Water management
Arguing that issues concerning water management were more important than the energy crisis, he said some parts of the country were already in water stress conditions. Though water was the most scarce commodity, people expected to get water free unlike in the case of energy.
Calling for efficient water use among the people generally and among farmers particularly, Mr. Ahluwalia said that even within the existing seeds and water availability, it was possible to achieve 40 per cent to 80 per cent increase in the agricultural yield through improved cultivation practices.
On the free electricity scheme for farmers and the consequent adverse impact on groundwater and water resources, he acknowledged that it introduced distortions into the system but there were political constraints (in lifting the scheme). Pointing out that electricity was massively subsidised in general, he said “there are better ways of subsidising farmers than what we have been doing.”
As for the entry of big players in retail trade and the likely impact on small traders, he said that it would be a good idea to introduce modern retail trade if farmers were to be given a fair deal. “Nowhere in the world has small retailing disappeared. But, nowhere in the world has modern retailing not come in.”
Inaugurating the seminar, K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, State Rural Development Secretary said the corporate sector could play a vital role in the areas of training, marketing and communication strategies, targeting the rural sector.
He urged the corporate sector to institute a large number of scholarships and endowments for rural students.
Jayshree Venkataraman, MMA vice-president, said a concerted effort towards establishing cottage industries appropriate to natural resources and raw materials available locally might help to retain migration to cities.
© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

Replace input subsidy for farmer with direct payments

M Rajivlochan

Finance minister P Chidambaram expressed some doubts in his Budget speech about the large subsidy the government sets aside each year in the name of the farmer. Yet, he went on to offer Rs 22,452 crore to the fertiliser industry in the hope that those good souls would pass on this money to needy farmers. The Fertiliser Association of India, the pressure group of fertiliser producers of India, how ever, threw a fit, demanding that it be given Rs 48,000 crore this year. 
   Total subsidy in the name of the farmer is considerable. It is given out to a wide variety of organisations concerned with chemicals, fertilisers, irrigation and power. A quick look at the Budget does not provide an idea of the magnitude of the subsidy. The subsidy bill has increased from about Rs 500 crore 25 years ago to over Rs 40,000 crore now.
   There has been repeated criticism of the subsidies on offer in the name of farmers. It is said they are wasteful and go mostly to the rich farmer. The question often asked has been: Does the benefit reach the farmer at all? But a more pertinent question could be: Are the subsidies even designed to reach the cultivator, assuming leakages are zero? The answer is no.
   In the name of subsidising the poor farmer, the government offers free lunches to industry. There are three assumptions implicit in the present policy: organisations which receive government subsidy pass on the benefits they receive to the farmer; that the government rather than farmer knows best on what items the agriculturist should spend and therefore will subsidise only such items; and it is an impossible task, given our present administrative structure, to provide direct cash subsidies to nearly 12 crore cultivators. None of these assumptions is borne out by ground reality.
   Electricity boards argue that the subsidy given to them is to ensure that the farmer pays only a fraction, if at all, of what other consumers pay. However, this grant assumes that the service is actually reaching the farmer. A brief visit to almost any rural area will show that pumps get energised only for a fraction of the time. In some farmer suicide cases reported from Maharashtra, families of the victims said that the farmer was in despair because of the failure of the electricity board to supply him with power. So much is made of the muchreviled promise by various governments to provide farmers with free or cheap electricity that we seldom bother to see whether the farmer
is getting any electricity at all. Is it possible that the farmers, like all of us, would be willing to pay for their power if the government were to supply it reliably?
   The government in its Big Brother role is assumed to know what to subsidise. Most Indian farmers practise dryland farming. Some 60 per cent of our cultivated area does not have irrigation facilities; subsidies on irrigation and power are meaningless here. Should they continue?
   If subsidies are to lower cost of cultivation, then the NSSO survey of 2003, which shows that the cost of cultivation exceeds agricultural income in much of the country, amply demonstrates that the present complicated method of indirect subsidy is a conspicuous failure. Would it not be better to allow the Indian farmer to decide what he wishes to spend on by simply giving him the money directly? The idea that the farmer might spend his money on drink and drugs is baseless. Providing direct subsidy is a difficult but not impossible task, in terms of funds and implementation machinery. 
   If all farmers in India who own land up to four hectares or 10 acres (and this figure comes to 91 per cent of all farmers in India in the light of data provided by the Indian agriculture census of 1995-96) were to be given a flat subsidy of Rs 5,000 per hectare, it would still come to about Rs 49,000 crore, which is not much more than the present level of subsidy.
   The sum would be less than 10 per cent of Indian agricultural GDP and far less than what many other countries do for their farmers. Compare this with the subsidy of $58,885 million that Japan provided to its agriculture in 1999. This amounted to 2.82 per cent of its GDP and 65 per cent of its AGDP. During the same period the US provided $54,009 million, which was 1.32 per cent of its GDP and 24 per cent of its AGDP.
   It is assumed that the Indian government is incapable of distributing this money to the farmer. If the government were to ask one to repose faith in a babu, one would hesitate. But actually in this day and age, the task of distributing money is easily done by routing the money directly to the farmers’ bank account, which the government already does for most transactions with farmers.
   The government already has an extensive system of land records at the village level, so that it is possible to know who sowed what crop in which field and in how much area. So, it should not be difficult to implement direct subsidies.
The writer teaches history at Panjab University, Chandigarh.