Amrita ChaudhryPosted: Sep 26, 2008 at 0110 hrs IST
The national census for the year 1991 showed Punjab as having 11 lakh farming families. Of these, 45 per cent were small or marginal farmers who owned fields measuring less than five acres. This figure in the next census in 2001 slid to 9.7 lakh and the percentage of small farmers to 30 per cent.
In other words, 30,000 farmers on an average quit agriculture each year. The primary reason for this has been the decline in profitability of crops, particularly paddy and wheat—a phenomenon that agricultural experts are trying to tackle along with suicides by farmers. For example, take the case of Gurdip Singh, a small farmer from village Mehla Kalan. Gurdip, who owns two acres of land, says, “I can just manage to raise food grains for my domestic use from these two acres.”
The situation of Avtar Singh, a farmer with 20 acres of land in Alamgir village, is no different. “My inputs costs over the years have skyrocketed while the prices of crops haven’t risen. And what we all forget is that farmer too is a consumer. I have to pay the college fees for my two children, which runs into lakhs per annum. Then there are the medical costs of my family.”
To drive home his point, Avtar Singh says, “A couple of years ago, one of my kidneys was damaged in an accident. I could not afford treatment. I know there will be a day when all my 20 acres will be lost in medical treatment.”
R S Sidhu, head, Department of Economics, Punjab Agricultural University, agrees as he explains, “The data speak so. The best period for agriculture in the recent past was between 1990 and 2000, more precisely till 1995. While the crisis in agriculture began around 1995, it was nationwide then. Now, however, Punjab alone is suffering. Our calculations have shown that while input costs have gone up dramatically, the rise in Minimum Statutory Price (MSP) of crops is very slow and this has resulted in reducing of profit margins for the farmers.
Sidhu adds, “Since 2001-2007 the input costs have risen by 8-9 per cent while the MSP growth has been hovering around 2 per cent. The wheat MSP announced this year (Rs 1,000 per quintal) had brought a relief for farmers and when the picture was easing out the latest news of Rs 850 as MSP for paddy this year is like a bolt from the blue.”