Farmers indebtedness: Into the abyss?

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/abyss

Author(s): Jitendra @jitendrachoube1 

Jan 31, 2015 | From the print edition

The situation of India’s farmers has only become grimmer in the past decade, according to the latest National Sample Survey Office report

imageIllustration: Sorit

The lot of the embattled Indian farmer only keeps on getting worse with the passage of time. In the last 10 years, the voluminous debt of Indian agricultural households has increased almost four-fold whereas their undersized monthly income from cultivation has increased three-fold. Even the number of indebted agricultural households has increased in the last 10 years. At the same time, there has been a micro-increment in the number of agricultural households in India.

All this is according to the recent report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), released on December 19, 2014. The report, titled ‘Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households in India’, is based on a countrywide survey of 35,000 households by NSSO during 2012-2013.

It states that 52 per cent of the total agricultural households in the country are in debt. The average debt is Rs 47,000 per agricultural household in this country, where the yearly income from cultivation per household is Rs 36,972.

The report comes after a gap of 10 years. The last Situation Assessment Survey by the NSSO was for 2002-03. In that year, 48.6 per cent of agricultural households were in debt. The average debt was Rs 12,585. And the yearly income from cultivation per household was Rs 11,628. At the time, India had a little less than 89.35 million agricultural households.

In fact, some think that the report may not even be reflecting the entire truth. “The NSSO survey gives us an idea of the existing situation but not the clear picture. In my opinion, it is not just 52 per cent agricultural households that are in debt but 80 per cent,” says Devinder Sharma, a food analyst. “If you adjust for inflation, on an average 7 per cent every year, farmers’ incomes have remained frozen in the past 10 years,” says Sharma.

The other main takeaway from the NSSO report is that the debt is being incurred by the the richer, more prosperous farmers. NSSO data shows that richer agricultural states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have the highest average outstanding loans per agricultural household, whereas poorer states like Assam, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have the lowest amount of average outstanding loans.

This is substantiated by the data which shows that among agricultural households which possess less than 0.01 ha the share was only 15 per cent of the total outstanding institutional loan, whereas for households which possess more than 10 ha the share was about 79 per cent.

Reasons behind the rise

The question then is: why have farmers’ debts increased? Ashok Gulati, former chairperson of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), thinks outstanding loans to farmers are natural because of increasing intensification in agriculture. “As the intensification of agriculture increases, so does the loan.

The loan would be in the form of working capital, else the fixed capital will increase,” says Gulati.

image

Others believe that this report is like the one in 2002-2003 and brings out the same systemic problems. They add that India has not learnt anything in the past one decade. One such issue is investment in the sector. Even as agriculture has intensified, investment in it is very less. Even the yearly agriculture budget is not more than that of the flagship employment guarantee programme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

“The current year’s budget of agriculture was nearly Rs 31,000 crore while the MGNREGA budget was nearly Rs 34,000 crore. If we see the seven-year budget, the ministry budget was never more than MGNREGA,” says Sharma.

According to A note on Trends in Public Investment in India by S Mahendra Dev, Director, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, the share of private investment in total investment in agriculture increased significantly over time from about 50 per cent in the early 1980s to 80 per cent in the decade of the 2000s. In other words, the share of public investment declined from 50 per cent to 20 per cent during the same period.

The public sector investment showed a negative growth in the 1980s and 1990s and a growth of 15 per cent in the 2000s. On the other hand, growth rate of private investment increased gradually from 2.5 per cent in the 1980s to 4.1 per cent in the 1990s and 52 per cent in the 2000s.

Another reason debt has increased is that market price of agricultural produce is not commensurate with rising input cost. Dev says that two-thirds of farmers do not get minimum support price (MSP) for their crops and are compelled to sell their crops at lower rates in the open market.

“Seventy-five per cent of farmers in India sell in the open market at lower than fixed MSP. Only the farmers of Punjab and Haryana get MSP. The situation of other states is deplorable,” says Dev. “For instance, in 2009, when I was the chairperson of CACP, in states like Bihar, farmers used to get Rs 700- Rs 800 for paddy when the MSP was fixed at Rs 1,000.”

The reason for farmers not being able to get MSP, according to the NSSO data, is that large numbers of them are not even aware of it. As per the data, only 32 per cent of paddy farmers are aware of MSP. But even then, less than half are able to sell their produce in government procurement centres.

“In collusion with local traders and commission agents, government agencies delay in starting procurement centres by 30 to 50 days. In between, farmers sell their produce to traders at lower than minimum price,” says Yudhveer Singh, a farmers’ leader.

image

Gopal Naik, who teaches agro-economy at IIM Bangalore, feels that total collapse of agriculture extension centres could also be the reason behind the outstanding loans and poor conditions of farmers. “The agriculture extension centres have collapsed. At one time, they were helping and guiding farmers in a number of situations like making the best use of pesticide, fertiliser consumption and modern tech, and making them aware of MSP and the nearest procurement centres,” he says. “Now farmers depend on dealers and sellers of pesticide for all that, which results in losses and non-profitability,” he adds.

Skewed debt

Naik believes the loan-waiving culture of the government also fuels continuation of outstanding loans. “Government policies are uncertain and increase the tendency of not repaying loans. It can also be a reason of increasing outstanding loans.encourage non-repayment of loans. The big land holders have high outstanding loans because they can easily access credit from institutions. They can access loan for other activities like setting poultry and other farms and wait till the government waives their loans,” says Naik.

The data shows that about 60 per cent of the outstanding loans were taken from institutional sources which included government (2.1 per cent), cooperative societies (14.8 per cent) and banks (42.9 per cent). But while the big farmers can afford to take loans, the small farmers still have no access to them.

“Credit from institutional sources is still a dream for small and marginal farmers,” says Jasveer Singh, a Bengaluru-based senior researcher who works on agricultural labourers’ issues. Anshuman Das, an activist who works with small farmers in Jharkhand, thinks that while they do not get institutional loans, they help in maintaining food security of the country.

“The small farmers practise farming which is different from that of big land holders. They try to keep investment low and innovate. For this, they do not access institutions for loans but are still dependent on non-institutional money lenders,” says Das.

The increasing debt and its skewed nature are surely driving many farmers away from agriculture. Agricultural house-holds are moving away to livestock, other agricultural activities, non-agricultural enterprises and wage employment. Data shows that 37 per cent of agricultural households no longer have agriculture as their principal source of income.

The contribution of agriculture in India’s GDP is nearly 18 per cent and it provides employment to nearly 56 per cent of the total workforce of the country. Despite this, as the NSSO report shows, the sector is no longer the first preference of rural households in India. It is heading towards a huge debt crisis and will need serious policy intervention instead of an ad-hoc approach.

The question and answer game played by our MP’s in parliament

Suresh Ediga

The question and answer game played by our MP’s in parliament

In 2014, one responsible MP asks a question whether income from farming is insufficient for a large number of farmers;

The Agriculture minister responds:
As per Agriculture Census 2010-11, about 85% of the operational holdings are held by small and marginal farmers. Such holdings are generally too small to generate sufficient income for the farmers (http://164.100.47.132/LssNew/psearch/QResult16.aspx…)

Lets rewind the clock now and go back to 1998, 2008 and 2014 and see what the then MPs thought about the landless laborers

1998
The Government are implementing a number of schemes like IRDP, JRY, EAS, IAY, TRYSEM, DWCRA etc. which are designed to benefit the rural poor including landless agricultural farmers/labourers (http://164.100.47.132/LssNew/psearch/QResult12.aspx…)

2008
The Government is monitoring distribution of ceiling surplus land, Bhoodan land and wasteland to the landless rural poor.Besides, several employment generation schemes, like,National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana, Integrated Wastelands Development Programme, Drought Prone Area Programme, Desert Development Programme and National Watershed Development Programme for Rainfed Areas etc. are being implemented to benefit the rural poor including landless farmers
http://164.100.47.132/LssNew/psearch/QResult14.aspx…

2014
Other measures taken by the Government for the benefit of farmers include enhancement in minimum support prices of agricultural commodities, increase in institutional credit flow to agriculture sector, debt waiver/relief, interest subvention on crop loans, revival package for strengthening Short Term Rural Cooperative Credit Structure, Crop Insurance, integrated farming system, promoting cultivation of cash crops and supplementing farmer’s income through poultry, fisheries , bee-keeping, etc
http://164.100.47.132/LssNew/psearch/QResult16.aspx…

Same question, but the response involved different programs, different schemes, different policies – but the end result remained the same. Landless farmers continued to suffer and our responsible MPs continue to ask the same questions year after year after year, elections after elections after elections and so goes the question and answer game

In Telangana, caught between life and debt

Ravi’s wife Yadamma now works as a farm labourer to support her sons. Harsha Vadlamani
Ravi’s wife Yadamma now works as a farm labourer to support her sons. (Source: Harsha Vadlamani)
Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Karimnagar |Posted: November 20, 2014 4:30 am

On the night of July 4, Korishala Ravi stepped out of his house that is right across a branch of the State Bank of Hyderabad in Kodakandla village of Medak district in Telangana. The 35-year-old farmer had applied for a loan to the branch three times but his plea was rejected each time, forcing him to turn to moneylenders. Few hours later, not too far away from the bank branch, he was found dead, his body hanging from a tree.

Ravi’s village is part of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao’s Gajwale constituency. Rao had identified it to be developed as a model village.

On September 23, Polu Rajaiah, a 48-year-old landless farmer of Thotapalli village in Karimnagar district, got himself a hair cut and asked his wife to make his favourite curry. After lunch, he went to their field about one km away, drank pesticide and died. Rajaiah had been borrowing money, first to take two acres on lease, then another four acres, and to purchase seeds and fertilisers, but his maize crop had failed, leaving
him with a debt of Rs 3 lakh.

Since Rao took over as the chief minister on June 2, there have  been 79 farmer deaths officially recognised as ‘suicides’ in the newly formed state. Beera Ramulu, a farmer and RTI activist associated with NGO Rythu Swarajya Vedika, puts the number at more than 300. Most of these farmers died in Warangal (83), Karimnagar (40) and Medak (70) districts. However, Agriculture Minister P Srinivas Reddy says not all farmer suicides are related to crops.

Like most of the others, Rajaiah and Ravi were both tenant farmers, and they did not fit anywhere in the system designed to help and protect farmers — be it loan eligibility cards, crop loans, easy bank credit, farm-loan waiver scheme or agriculture subsidies — as they had no land to show as collateral. That left them at the mercy of moneylenders charging interest rates as high as 24 per cent per annum. Now their families have to prove the deaths were solely linked to their crops to be entitled to ex-gratia — another uphill battle.

On November 13, the RBI issued a circular to all banks on financing ‘Bhoomi heen kisan (landless farmers)’, as per an announcement in the Budget. Under it, landless farmers can form ‘Joint Liability Groups’ and avail of loans through NABARD for farm and non-farm activities, standing as guarantors for each other. The measure, it is believed, would go a long way towards resolving denial of loans to landless farmers. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has proposed financing at least 5 lakh joint farming groups this financial year.

Ravi’s brother Balanarasimha, a taxi driver, says Ravi’s loan applications were rejected because he didn’t own any land to show as collateral. “They asked for land ownership documents first to even consider the application,” he says. Ravi had taken five acres on lease to grow cotton, maize and paddy, of which two acres belonged to a relative who had already taken a loan on the land. The owner of the remaining three acres refused to give him a lease agreement, which would have made Ravi eligible for loan. State Bank of Hyderabad Kodakandla Branch Manager Sheikh Abdul Kareem says, “Farmers seeking loans have to give us a copy of the land title in his name, or, in case of tenants, a copy of the lease agreement signed by the owner. We cannot give loans if the documents are not clear or there is a dispute regarding ownership.” The Korakandla branch caters to nine nearby villages, with at least 7,000 farmers. Since January, it has given 500 new crop loans and rescheduled 700 old loans under the Telangana government’s crop loan waiver scheme, but the amount of loan given is very small. For cotton crop, it is Rs 20,000 while for paddy, it is Rs 18,000 per season. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) government in the state had announced a Rs 17,000 crore farm loan waiver scheme, to fulfill its poll promise. Under the scheme, outstanding amounts as on March 31, 2014 on crop loans up to Rs one lakh are waived off. This rescheduling of loans makes farmers eligible for fresh loans. The government order issued on August 13, however, clearly stated that the scheme covers only institutional loans and not loans from non-institutional sources. Ravi also tried to get a loan from Telangana Scheduled Castes Cooperative Finance Corporation Ltd through the bank, but the policy is still under discussion. Managing Director of the corporation B Jayaraj says once the budget is passed in the Assembly, the government will decide the loan and subsidy ratio. Admitting a “few inherent deficiencies”, State Bank of Hyderabad General Manager J Sitapathy Sarma says, “Denial of loans to landless farmers is a major issue and needs a change of policy which will make them eligible even if they are unable to show collateral.” He, however, insists that farmers must make an effort to at least get a loan eligibility certificate from the village or mandal revenue officer. The State Bank of Hyderabad is the convener of the State-Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC). Meanwhile, in order to meet their 18 per cent target fixed for farm loans, banks classify all kinds of loans under the agriculture sector. For example, the SLBC said in July that banks in Telangana had given Rs 49,564 crore loans to the agriculture sector in 2013-14. But when the state government sought details of the accounts of individual farmers who were given loans, SLBC revised the figure to Rs 12,000 crore on March 31, 2014. Banks were apparently also bunching agricultural loans with those taken by farmers for jewellery, marriages, and other non-farm expenses. There are many examples of farmers taking loans for digging or repairing bore wells and paying children’s fees. When crops fail, all these add to their loan burden. “Thousands of farmers are caught in a vicious cycle of debts due to low yields or total crop failure. There is constant pressure from moneylenders and when it does not rain and crops start failing, all they can think of is escaping it by taking their own lives,” says activist Beera Ramulu. TRS politburo member and Karimnagar MP B Vinod Kumar admits the plight of landless farmers who take land on lease. “We need far-reaching reforms in the lending process to include landless farmers in the credit system. In 2010-11, banks introduced business correspondents in villages to make the process of giving loans easier but the correspondents recommend only those who have something to mortgage,” Kumar says. With no options, Ravi had borrowed money from relatives and other villagers at 24 per cent per annum. Documents show he took two loans at 18 per cent interest each, to pay Rs 50,000 upfront to take five acres on lease, and two loans at 24 per cent interest each. “The yield of the maize crop was not good due to inadequate rainfall. The paddy also failed,” says Ravi’s brother. Ravi’s wife Yadamma now works as farm labour, earning Rs 100 a day to support her sons Shiva and Sai. Rajaiah never thought of approaching a bank although three — Andhra Bank, State Bank of Hyderabad and UCO Bank — have branches in Husnabad, 25 km from his Thotapalli village. “We don’t own even a small piece of land, bank officials do not even look at your application. He did not get the loan eligibility card so there was no point going to the bank,” his wife Komaramma says. In 2011, the AP Government introduced a system of giving loan eligibility cards to tenant farmers. Village Revenue Officers, tehsildars, Mandal Revenue Officers could issue the card to a tenant farmer after ascertaining that farming is his only profession, is a genuine farmer, and has taken land on lease. In the presence of the village sarpanch and witnesses, a gram sabha is held and the farmer is given the eligibility card. “But revenue officials are wary of giving the eligibility cards fearing that they will be held accountable if the farmer fails to repay although the government order states that it is not the responsibility of government officials. When officials verify and find that the farmer has some outstanding loan already, they don’t issue the card. This way the system has slowly stopped working and very few cards are given,’’ says RTI activist and member of Rythu Swaraj Vedika Kondal Reddy. In Mallampalli village of Mulug Mandal in Warangal, Merugu Achala, 21, works up to eight hours in a cotton field for Rs 100-130 per day. Her husband killed himself recently over pressure from moneylenders after their cotton crop failed. Achala borrowed Rs 15,000 recently to pay the school fees of her daughter and son, in Class I and kindergarten respectively. The loan outstanding in her husband’s name is already around Rs 1 lakh, but Achala is determined to keep her children in a private school. “My husband did not want them to work in the fields and wished they got proper jobs when they grew up. I too don’t want them to ever work in agriculture,” she says. – See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/in-telangana-caught-between-life-and-debt/4/#sthash.CXKQ5uO9.dpuf