The spiralling rise in the cost of fertiliser, seed and labour is forcing farmers to give up on agriculture. Bhavdeep Kang reports on the unfolding disaster
No greener pastures Only those who cannot find employment continue farming
Photo: Creative Common Licence
THE ‘CROP holiday’ by farmers of Andhra Pradesh, in protest against high agricultural input costs and low procurement prices, is entering its second season. The three lakh acres left uncultivated during the kharif or summer season will lie fallow during the upcoming rabi or winter season as well. The passive agitation has struck a chord with farmers in other states, with the Bharatiya Kisan Union threatening a copycat crop holiday in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.
Left in the lurch Andhra farmers are planning to go on a crop holiday for a second season
This has raised concerns about the country’s food security in an already inflationary scenario. The agitation in Andhra Pradesh, for instance, represents a loss of over 350 lakh tonnes of paddy, the principal kharif crop. A worried Central government is considering a sharp hike in the procurement price of wheat, the main rabi crop, to encourage farmers not to quit cultivation.
The discontent among farmers, fuelled mainly by spiralling prices of fertiliser, seed and labour, may have found expression only in some pockets, but it’s a universal phenomenon based on common factors. Farmers say the costs of production have increased to the point where cultivation no longer makes sense; they prefer to find alternative sources of employment while leaving their fields fallow.
In Odisha, vast tracts of land in the coastal areas have been left uncultivated, not as part of an organised protest but because the farmers don’t find it viable to engage in agriculture. Ashish, a farmer in Puri district, owns a two-hectare plot on which he raises paddy and green gram. In the past three years, he says, “the cost of fertiliser and labour has gone up many times but procurement price of paddy has gone up only 25 percent”. Only those who cannot find employment still continue farming, he adds.
Damodar Singh of Narsimhapur in Madhya Pradesh grows wheat and soyabean on a rented plot of eight acres. He cannot understand why the cost of fertiliser has increased three times in the past three months. Never having heard of the Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS), he is unaware of the UPA government’s efforts to trim the ballooning fertiliser subsidy by passing costs on to the farmers. Nor does he follow global trends in fertiliser pricing, to which domestic prices are now linked.
All he knows is that the cost of DAP (di-ammonium phosphate), a must-have input for most crops, has jumped from Rs 450 to Rs 950 for a 50 kg sack within three years. He actually ends up paying 1,300 per sack in the open market because there is a perennial shortage of DAP (75 percent of India’s requirement is imported) and a premium has to be paid. Likewise, the cost of urea, the most widely used chemical fertiliser, has doubled.
Labour costs have also ballooned, by as much as 300 percent in five years. “Bigger farmers get agricultural machinery like harvesters from Punjab, to reduce dependence on labour, but it is expensive — as high as Rs 1,800 per hour,” says Damodar. “I myself have worked as a labourer at Rs 50 per day not too long ago. But now, labourers demand higher wages, more than the government rate of Rs 125 per day. They also want meals. Who can blame them? The cost of everyday items has gone up.” His wife, Radha, nods vigorously, “Milk is Rs 30 per litre.”
THE PRICE of seeds, too, has doubled. Even going by official rates, certified seed outlay for wheat has gone up from Rs 1,000- Rs 2,000 per acre. Seeds bought in the open market rather than through farmers’ societies, are even more expensive. Damodar says, “The government gives me soyabean seed at Rs 4,000 per quintal, but it purchases my soyabean at Rs 2,000 per quintal.”
And that, says Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, is the crux of the whole problem. “Agriculture is the only manufacturing process in which you buy retail and sell wholesale.”
According to official figures, the cost of cultivation per hectare of wheat in Madhya Pradesh in 2008-09 was Rs 22,618 (Punjab by comparison was Rs 35,697 per hectare). This works out to a cultivation cost of Rs 896 per quintal of wheat produced. The procurement price fixed by the government in that period was Rs 1,080 per quintal. So, the farmer should have earned Rs 80 per quintal or upwards of Rs 3,000 per hectare in the rabi season. This is not much, on a small farm of four hectares.
The figures collated by Dr Ramanjaneyulu for paddy cultivation in Andhra Pradesh show just how distorted farm economics has become. The cost of cultivation for paddy in 2011-12 is estimated at Rs 1,800 per quintal, but the minimum support price (MSP) — the rate at which the government procures paddy — is only Rs 1,080.
‘The government gives me soyabean seed at Rs 4,000 per quintal, but it buys my soyabean at Rs 2,000,’ says a farmer
The farmers’ margins are getting progressively smaller, with the easing of price controls on fertiliser. The inflationary impact of the new fertiliser policy or NBS, announced in 2009, is being sharply felt now. India is the world’s largest importer of urea and DAP and is therefore prey to volatile global markets. Unfortunately for India, DAP prices spiked this summer, affecting the kharif crop. At the same time, strong indications of urea decontrol resulted in farm gate prices increasing.
Fertiliser is invariably sold in black owing to hoarding, a fact that is not taken into account, say farmers. Also, the quantum of fertiliser used is invariably higher than the recommended dose. Dr Upendra Dixit, who has compiled data on fertiliser usage by farmers of Narsimhapur, found that they were applying more than twice the recommended dose of DAP. “If 16 kg per acre is required for soyabean, they are applying 35 kg per acre. It 15 kg of potash is required, the dosage is 25 kg,” he says.
But farmers say they have no option but to increase the dosage of fertiliser every season in order to maintain the same level of production year after year.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has played a significant role in driving up labour costs, as it gives farm workers bargaining power. Pritam Singh, a landless labourer and village deputy sarpanch from Gadarwara in Narsimhapur, led 40 BPL cardholders to the district collector’s office to demand work under MGNREGA, as big farmers were offering low wages. “They were pressurising the administration not to implement the scheme so that they could get cheap labour. But we have the right to get minimum payment,” he says.
Labour is a major issue in Odisha as well. “The daily wage is Rs 200 per day in our area and the labourers are getting subsidised rice at Rs 2 per kg. They don’t see any need to work on the farms,” says Ashish. Mechanisation will help, he says, but no one has the capital to invest in agricultural equipment.
Two other input costs must be factored in — pesticides and land rent. Pesticides, apart from their environmental impact, are now adding significantly to farmers’ costs. For instance, a soyabean farmer will resort to at least three sprays of pesticide even in a relatively pest-free year. This works out to Rs 2,000 per acre.
“If you use chemical fertilisers, you will attract more pests. This is well established,” says Dixit.
After all of this, say the farmers, there is still no guarantee of getting the price fixed by government, as procurement by government agencies is limited. Nor can the farmer afford to wait for prices to go up before selling in the open market. As most farmers operate on credit, they need cash in hand to settle debts or make interest payments after the harvest.
The pressure on land due to industrialisation, mining and urbanisation is a double- edged sword. Some farmers welcome the prospect of selling their land for cash. But for tenant farmers, it means that land rents have gone up.
The imbalance between cost of cultivation and price of produce is addressed by the Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). But activists say the CACP does not have the wherewithal to determine the actual cost of production. Besides, every time the MSP is hiked, the food subsidy bill goes up, so the government will try and keep it at a minimum.
Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has mooted a procurement price of Rs 1,285 per quintal of wheat for the coming rabi season. This means that the food subsidy bill, already upwards of Rs 95,000 crore this year, will rise further.
It is a Catch-22 situation: if the fertiliser subsidy is trimmed by passing the cost on to the farmer, the price paid to the farmer (MSP) for his produce should be increased, which means the food subsidy would escalate.
Food policy analyst Devinder Sharma suggests a farmers’ income commission for each state. The CACP methodology, he says, has no bearing on the cultivators’ livelihood needs. After all, they are consumers as well.
Ramanjaneyulu adds: “Prices of agriculture commodities have increased by 25 percent in 1997-2007 but those of other commodities increased by over 300 percent. In the same period, salaries went up by 150 percent, without factoring in the Sixth Pay Commission and MLAs gave themselves a hike of 500 percent.” Farmers are the only group that didn’t see incomes going up.
Is there a way out? Damodar claims to have found one. “I have shifted from chemical fertilisers to vermicompost from the kharif season. I have obtained higher yields of soyabean with better grains than others, at much less cost.”
Written by ASNS in Rwanda
The polarised debate over the use of organic and inorganic practices to boost farm yields is slowing action and widespread farmer adoption of approaches that could radically transform Africa’s food security situation, according to a group of leading international scientists meeting in Kigali this week.
“The ideological divide over approaches to farm production are a distraction from the actions needed to address food security now and ensure it in the future,” said Nteranya Sanginga, director general designate of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
“Persistently high food prices and low farm yields are weakening Central Africa’s food security and putting the region’s fragile stability and economic growth at risk.”
“Climate change, rapid population growth, and intense land pressure are major challenges for the region. It’s time to focus on practical, evidence-based solutions that will forever end the cycle of hunger, poverty and civil conflict,” he added.
Over 200 leading African and international scientists met at the first conference of the Consortium for Improving Agriculture Based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) in Kigali, Rwanda, this week.
Participants identified several practical solutions that would help move the region towards a food security. These include scaling up farmer adoption of new technologies that improve degraded soils through more efficient use of inorganic fertilisers, new higher-yielding varieties of staple crops that improve nutrition, and mixed farming and intercropping approaches for crops like banana, coffee, and grain legumes.
“For many, fertiliser is a dirty word,” said Bernard Vanlauwe, acting director of the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility research area at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
“We have to focus on approaches that improve livelihoods.”
“It does not have to be a choice between organic or inorganic; both approaches can work well together at different stages in agricultural development,” said Vanlauwe.
Participants at the CIALCA conference reached consensus that agricultural research and development efforts should focus on the middle ground, increasingly referred to as sustainable intensification, which combines the most effective and sustainable approaches to improving farm yields.
“Sustainable Intensification is the best way to tackle rural poverty and hunger in regions with huge land and population pressures,” said Vanlauwe.
Fertiliser use in Africa is by far the lowest in the world. On average, African farmers apply about 9 kg per hectare of fertilizer compared to 86 kg per hectare in Latin America and 142 kg per hectare in Southeast Asia.
“African agriculture is already organic. It’s not working,” said Sanginga. “We need to focus on practical things that help, not ideology.”
Agricultural researchers have found ways to dramatically reduce fertiliser use – while boosting crop yields. These include site-specific recommendations, partly based on detailed satellite images of African soils, and a technique known as micro-dosing, which involves the application of small, affordable quantities of fertiliser during a crop’s growing period.
New research by CIALCA scientists has shown that intercropping banana and coffee can benefit both the environment and farmers’ incomes compared to growing each crop separately. Banana—a food staple for millions across the region—provides a shaded canopy for coffee plants, which results in higher yields, less soil erosion, and more money for the farmers. Scientists also noted that this approach is ‘climate smart’ because the shade could buffer heat-sensitive coffee crops against the predicted impacts of climate change.
Improved climbing bean varieties being grown by thousands of farmers in the region have been particularly well-received, producing three times the yield of ordinary bush beans.
On tightly-packed, small farms, the new bean varieties make valuable use of limited space by growing upwards instead of sprawling outwards.
They also improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation, and when grown in rotation with maize – another crucial African staple – maize yields have increased substantially, and the need for fertiliser reduced.
It is happening as per design. The demographic transition being witnessed – cities, towns and municipalities growing faster and bigger – is perhaps at a little slower pace than what was envisaged. But it is moving as planned. If you have read the World Development Report 2008, you would know what I mean. It called for land rentals and for setting up a network of centres to train the displaced farmers to become industrial workers.
In the next decade, between 2011 and 2021, India is expected to add another 95 million to its urban population. The process to expedite the demographic transition – by forcing farmers to abandon agriculture, and by usurping land, water and natural resources in the name of development – actually began much earlier. It was in 1996 that I first heard Dr Ismail Serageldin, a vice president of the World Bank and also the then chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research warn of the rapid swing in population from the rural to the urban centres.
The Bank had projected that in the next 20 years – by 2015 – the number of people migrating from the rural to urban areas in India alone would be equal to twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany. The combined population of UK, France and Germany is 200 million. So the Bank had in 1995-96 estimated that 400 million people will move out of rural areas in India by the year 2015. I thought this was a warning, but looking at the way agricultural policies were being re-written to usher in corporate farming, and appropriate laws being introduced to acquire fertile land and groundwater for real estate and industry, it became obvious that the bank was actually laying the ground rules. Heeding the advice, Prime MinisterManmohan Singh, too, has called for a population shift saying that agriculture employs 70% more people than what is required.
Over the years agriculture has been deliberately turned into a losing proposition as a result of which farmers are keen to move out. With over 250,000 farmers taking the fatal route in the past 15 years to escape the humiliation that comes along with growing indebtedness, and with over 42% farmers expressing the desire to quit agriculture, the terrible distress that prevails in the countryside has been all too apparent.
The massive death toll has failed to make any difference, though. Ironically, more than 40 years after the launch of the Green Revolution , the average monthly income of a farm family hovers around a paltry Rs 2,400, which includes Rs 900 from non-farm activities. Those who feed the nation are going hungry. No wonder, an estimated twothird of MNREGA workers are actually land owners. Following the policy directives of World Bank/IMF, the government has been on a fast-track mode to divest farmers from their meagre land holdings. RuralIndia is literally on a boil. In the past decade , more than 2 million hectares of cultivable land, equivalent to the total arable land of Kerala, has been acquired for non-farm purposes .
The next decade will probably see eight times more cultivable land being acquired in the name of development. Uttar Pradesh alone is set to acquire 6.6 million hectares for the proposed expressways. Several studies have shown that India will turn into a major food importer somewhere around 2017-18 , back into the days of ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence. Forcibly driven out from their only source of economic security, thousands of people are trudging out of the countryside everyday in the hope of a better future. They are swarming the smaller towns, cities and metros, which are bulging at the seams. Not only from Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh , Bihar and West Bengal, increasingly farmers from the frontline states of Punjab, Haryana , and western Uttar Pradesh are quitting agriculture.
The ablebodied men are the first to move out, leaving behind the old and the weaker sex. They comprise the new breed of agricultural refugees . With 70% of the 60-crore farming population officially not required, the world’s biggest environmental displacement is going to be witnessed on the farm in India in the decades to come. Not realising that what India needs is a production system by the masses , and not for the masses.
Source: The Times of India, Oct 2, 2011. Link: http://bit.ly/o9AJs3
A few days ago there was a gathering of people who were concerned about the crisis in agriculture. Some said it was not the crisis in agriculture, but the crisis of the farmers, because the same amount of food was being produced as earlier, therefore its not crisis of food production, but one of marketing and distribution where in the consumers were paying high prices while the farmers were hardly getting the minimum support price. Some from the farming section said, the high cost of labour due to the introduction of NREGA has catapulted the problems of the farmers and thus they are now forced to declare a crop holiday as it happened in the coastal region. Some Telengana think tanks said, this is nothing new in Telengana because farmers are anyway leaving agriculture and have been migrating to other jobs and other places, so there has been a long crop holiday in Telengana, yet, no one talks about it. One gentleman representing a leftist farmers union, said, that the govt. is not bothered about the farmers they are continuously having to beg for fertilizers, seeds, and then bear the high cost of pesticides and thus the high input costs and there fore the losses and there by the farmers suicides. Another gentleman representing the farm labourers claimed that the agricultural crisis is solely placed at the feet of the farm labourers, and the NREGA, but its actually, the issue of lack of marketing facilities for the farmers and that needs to be addressed first. He went on to suggest, that it is in fact, the farm labourers who do the farming and not the farmers, and when will the labourer become the land owner? He added, the real solution should be land redistribution and all those with other incomes from other sources, should give up on their claim for land ownership, and only those who are actually involved in the day to day farming should have titles to land and all the surplus land must be redistributed among the landless. Which is the way forward, but I will deliberate on that later.
‘Who will do farming? was the title of the programme and the discussion ensued threw up these opinions. However, there was one issue, most of those people assembled there and giving their opinions, were not farmers, nor remotely connected to farming, nor were they farm labourers either. Except for a few of us, a few like me – recent farmers and a few others who were long time farmers, a total of not more than five in a crowd of nearly 100 plus!
The problem in this country is that people who are not involved in the day to day processes of farming are the ones who pass judgments, give opinions and write policies. It’s not a wonder then that we are in the mess that we are in today.
In our meeting on “who will do farming?” I suggested that the need of the day is to remove the dependency factors for the farmers and make them self-sufficient and gave my own experience of having saved my seeds from last years crop and then sown them without any hassle of having to run around the government departments for subsidized seeds and added that we need to stop this dependency on subsidies and work towards self-reliance. One friend remarked jokingly, “you cannot be considered to be a farmer, you are only a hi-tech farmer”, so we won’t accept your opinions.
I wish he would come and take a look at how hi-tech my farming is – cleaning my house, filling up water which comes once every two days, cooking, carrying lunch and anything else like seeds, walking two kilometers to reach my field, and looking for labourers and for the day’s work, sitting out in the sun the whole time the labourers work, ensuring they do their job properly and then walking back two kilometers and then again cooking and cleaning. That is my lifestyle. And I chose to make a living out of farming for various reasons, ideological predominantly: experimenting for sustainable developmental alternatives, living with lesser resources, saving our biodiversity: our seeds. My friend imagines I am a hi-tech farmer because by default I was a city dweller until recently. Sitting in a plush office, earning a lakh of rupees a month, he may not understand that making a living out of farming especially in these days, has become very tough – especially if you want to stick by the rules – don’t use pesticides, chemicals, use only local seeds and then pay “wages on demand” to the labourers.
Whenever, I raise the issue of higher labour costs, people supporting NREGA, immediately come up and say – “but you have to reduce your input costs, stop using chemicals”. I don’t use any chemicals, use native seeds which cost me about 500 rupees or less and this year even less as I used seeds from my previous crop, unlike others who spent thousands on seeds alone. But just the labour costs last year were nearly 16,000 and the cost of the tractors and tillers was some 10,000. I stopped using the manual plough, since that too has become expensive and hence unviable. I managed to get about a quintal of green gram and half a quintal of black gram (much was lost due to untimely rains) and then about 3.2 quintals of horse gram from one acre land. Since I managed to sell them at a good price of 7500 for green gram, and 3000 for horse gram, I recovered something like 21,000 and a few I kept aside for my own consumption, taking even that into consideration and marking that at market prices, I managed to break even. Now, I am living on my previous savings from my earlier work as a filmmaker. But in a normal situation, I would have no money at the end of a year of cultivation. What does one do for the next year? Take loans. And if that year also one has problems, take more loans and finally, not knowing what to do, commit suicides.
In my village the labour chargers are okay – about Rs.100 per person for a woman labourer, but in some villages not really far off, they are charging 200 to 400 also at times. In our area the rates fluctuate from 100-150. However, my labour costs for last year were based on last years rates when the women were charging something like 70-80 rupees. This year, they wanted me to pay Rs. 2400 for weeding in one acre of land. I just said; let the weeds be. I am a dry land farmer, I do not know if the rains will come or not, if I invest in the money today and I don’t get a crop tomorrow what is the point. I was right on that count, we didn’t have much rain as it is, but since last 10 days there was hardly any rain though it was pouring down heavily in Hyderabad. So in any case my rain-fed paddy would not have had much difference, weeding or no weeding. Any way, their charges amounted to something like 300 per person. So, instead I decided to let the weeds be. So, what do farmers do faced with such a situation – it is easier to get a bottle of weedicide and spray it to remove the weeds. Because, the whole job of cultivation is all about fighting out the weeds and pests as I came to understand in these three years. Pests are still not as big a problem at least for me, since I do mixed cropping and use native seeds. But weeds are an altogether different issue. And it is for weeds that one needs to use a lot of labour. I remember when I first did farming on leased land in Khammam district in 2008, the farmer who leased me my one acre dry land had another 1.5 acres of rice field, he was charged close to 3000 for weeding. At first the quote was exhorbitant money which was a five digit number. Can any small farmer with 1-2 acres afford such costs? And when the crops fail due to excess rains, hails storms, droughts or other uncontrollable issues like monkeys and elephants, who will pay for the loss? Will the labourers be prepared to reduce their charges when the farmer is in a loss situation? That doesn’t happen anyways, as I realized this year. Last year, when I hired people, thinking they had worked hard, I paid an extra Rs.10 per person. This year, though it was pouring in Hyderabad, there were hardly any rains in my village; as a result I didn’t have a very good crop of Green gram, unlike last year, which was not great, but better. So, today, I called 3 labourers, but about 9 came to work. I told them that I don’t have enough work for so many and asked only for 3 so I shall pay only for 3. This particular gang, (which does behave like a gang and holds farmers for ransom as you realize later), says, “its okay, we will share the amount”. Now, according to what we agreed I should have paid only 300. My plan was I use 3 people today and depending on the volume of work; I can call them again the next day thus, my total costs for harvesting would have been only 600. Anyway, at the end of the day, I felt since they had worked the whole day, I said I shall pay 80 each, and they simply refused, “you have to pay us 100 or else we won’t take the money!” Sickened at their lack of ethics, I just told them, fine I shall pay you this time, but would rather keep my land fallow than call you guys for work next time. Now, I want all those people who blame farmers for having brought in machines like harvesters, what will they say about this sort of behaviour? At least the machine does its work properly and then sticks to its fixed price. By the way, at the end of the day, I got seven and half (50kgs) bags of green gram pods, which after all the cleaning, and winnowing might yield about 30-40 kgs of green gram which if I sell at 100 rupees a kilo, I shall be able to recover about 2400 of the cost of labour (400 for spraying of bio pesticides, 1000 for weeding, 400 for one day, and 900 for the second day of harvesting).
Many friends say, “oh, but small farmers do their own work, and when they go for agricultural labour, they get extra income”. Whether it is a small farmer or a big farmer, everyone has to use labourers. To some extent, small farmers can avoid use of labourers, as they do their own ploughing and some such other works, but they too have to use others for transplanting, weeding and harvesting. When people were living in joint families or with large families, it was possible for the family to get its own work done. But in today’s day of small nuclear families, where in the children are sent to school and colleges, farmers have to use labourers. At least, in my village, there are a lot of young people who still go to work on the farm. It is common to see school going children go to graze cattle or work in their fields, during their holidays or off time and sometimes bunking classes. At least, they are learning the skill of farming from childhood, which is a basic requirement, for anyone to take up any kind of traditional livelihoods, be it farming, fishing, cattle rearing or weaving. However, our mainstream education doesn’t allow for such an activity to be incorporated into our educational system. Further more, we constantly create the opinion that doing manual work is beneath the educated person’s dignity. Hence, no child is willing to take up farming as an option. And then we have people who say that children should only be in schools and doing any work is considered child labour. I consider going to the modern school is actually bonded labour, not even child labour. But that is a different issue. Working as servers in a city hotel or working in hazardous places can be considered criminal. But why must a child not work in his or her own farm? Contrary to people’s belief, a child learns a lot while working with the earth – you need to integrate your education system to suit the rural economy. Instead we try to fit a very western model of education, into our systems, there by creating a whole generation of confused kids, who cannot relate to what is being taught in their schools, nor can they have enough confidence to go back to the farm, since farming is considered a “dirty job”, not meant for the ‘educated’. The same is the issue of fisherfolk. Anyway, without any more digression, therefore, for any farmer today, be it a family farm, small or marginal farmers, every one has to use farm hands to get the job done. At some point or the other. Therefore, the issue of higher labour costs is an issue for everyone.
Last time, I spoke to my neighbouring farmer who came to work in my field. She is a tenant farmer. She and many small farmers like her go for agricultural labour work as well. I asked her, “Do you think the EGS has made things better for you?” This was her reply, “No, it hasn’t. Earlier, we used to go for agricultural labour and we were able to live peacefully with what we got. Since this EGS, everyone is now hankering to make more money, while the cost of living too has increased, therefore, we neither have peace of mind nor a better standard of living”, She added further, “I have to pay about one pot of paddy to the labourers per person per day and what is left after that we have to eat at home. What is really left for us to sell?” was her question. But to me personally, the biggest issue with NREGA is that it is further making people dependent on the government. Instead of working towards an agricultural economy that brings out opportunities on its own merits, we are making agricultural labour dependant on the govt. agencies. What will happen when governments don’t have funds or due to some reason stop the EGS works? What will happen to the labourers? Since the hassles with labour, people have stopped using animals and are instead switching to tractors. In many places, harvesters have also come in. Weeding especially is a big work generator in agriculture, next comes harvesting. If people start using weedicides to remove weeds and harvesting machines for harvesting, what happens to the laborers? And more importantly, what will be the implications for agriculture? Will there be more corporatisation or less? Let us not forget the lessons from SHGs when they came in we were all very happy. Now, see the situation in villages – every relationship has become so monetized, and women spend all their spare time only to earn more so they can repay their debts. I absolutely agree about Land redistribution, because that alone will ensure some safety and food security for the underprivileged. Second most important thing, the NREGA was passed at the same time as SEZ Act…or about the same time / same year. Does it ring any bells to anyone? It does for me. I feel the government had become so benevolent at that time, just when they were planning for the “India for Sale” project called SEZ Act. While all activists and NGOs are busy spending their time trying to get the NREGA implemented, the Govt. got busy in its stealthy land grab. And it became easy to take away land from vexed farmers, who feel its better to sell out and make some money while they can, rather than continue with all these difficulties. So, today activists are busy fighting each other instead over NREGA or spending a whole lot of their time in trying to get a fair implementation of the EGS, and thus unable to give time to more critical issues like introduction of GMOs and stopping the land grab in the name of SEZs. A similar thing is happening now, while the whole country is fighting the pros and cons of Jan Lokpal, the Biotechnology Regulatroy Authority of India Act, which could spell the end of the sovereignty of the farmers is trying to be tables in the parliament very stealthily. Instead of paying attention to the destruction of agriculture which is happening by way of GM seeds and the BRAI, and bothering about debating on this issue, most activist friends are busy arguing for NREGA.
But I have some fundamental questions to ask my friends from the civil society.
I have a friend, one more supporter of NREGA; she has bought land of 1acre along with five others, so they are doing co-operative farming in those five acres. They are employing a person to oversee the farm, and when I asked him how much he gets paid, “10,000 a year”. I found out later that someone who looks after a farm is normally paid at least 24,000 per year. (I pay Rs. 2500 per month for a person to keep an eye on the crop and keep away the monkeys; this farm manager of my friend has to ensure all the works happen – from ploughing to sowing, to any crop management to harvesting to final products). I remember one of her comments while we were discussing about their farming initiative some years ago, “we basically want to do agriculture, but we are not under any illusion, that we will survive solely on agriculture”. That was nearly four years ago. All of them are still doing consultancy work for NGOs.
So, by the earlier definition in the meeting – where someone suggested that those with other sources of incomes should let go of their land, these people should not be holding on to the land. Second, these supporters of NREGA, who are not having any illusions about farming being good enough for their survival, how can they be telling farmers that they are making a lot of money and therefore should be able to handle the higher labour costs?
There was someone in the meeting who kept saying it’s the labourers who are actually doing the farming and not farmers. Yes, its true the labourers are the backbone for agriculture, no one is denying that. But who bears the final brunt of it all? If a crop is lost or if the markets fluctuate, then is it the farmers’ risk or the labourers? All those friends who talk high and mighty, I wish to ask how many are willing to give up on their high salaries. Which are many more times higher than the lowest job seeker in their organisations – many a time, a grass root worker, who gets paid a pittance as compared to the high salaries of people working in Upper Crust of the NGO sector? Or be willing to take salaries on par with the grass root workers? What makes the UpperCrust more deserving than the Lower Crust? Why do their children have to study in up market educational institutions? While they profess that govt. schools should be strengthened in order to reduce the burden of educational expenditure for rural people, especially farmers. And they say the same about government hospitals. That is a very good suggestion. But by that same yardstick, will they be sending their children to govt. schools and go to government hospitals? So, long as we send our children to upper class institutions, we are setting the trend for the rest of the people in rural areas, they too wish to send their children to ‘English medium schools”. They too want to buy their children all the goodies on this earth; hence, the pressure to make the most of the land, which has its limitations, which can give only so much. Is it any wonder then that farmers want to extract the maximum? Be it in cutting down on labour costs or using chemicals to produce more? A farmer in Telengana can hardly make 5 to 10,000 a year on one acre of land if he is lucky with the weather gods, and if he knows to sell his produce at a higher price. How many people in the Voluntary Work sector (which has become a highly paid sector of late) are willing to live on the same kind of money and the same kind of lifestyle as a small farmer? While they ask this question how long will a labourer be a labourer, I wish to ask, how long will the peons in their organizations be peons for ever? When will the peons become Directors of an NGO network? What is the value of each of their work and who decides these values and on what basis?
I have friends teaching in HCU. They teach two classes per week a total of 16-20 hours in a month, and their salaries are anything between 40,000 to 1lakh rupees a month. What is the value of their services? If there was a barter system, as it existed before, they would have been paid some pots of paddy and some vegetables in return to their service. Or some landlord would have donated them some land. And that is how these landlord farmers who made their money out of the slavery of labourers came about. Today, since we don’t give out land, we give out money. If what we are fighting about is this Landlord system, then why are we not questioning the fall out of this system in its modern avatar?
I remember another incident, during a documentary work, I visited a village near Bhongir, and there was a lady dalit farmer who was into organic farming and growing traditional crops like millets. She asked the NGO which was supporting her Seed Village programme in her village, “If you can help me dig a borewell, I will grow even better crops than the “reddy farmers”. To which, “oh, but that is not our policy, we are against the concept of digging borewells, replied my friend, who was from another NGO which promoted organic farming, And that local NGO head replied when I mentioned that lady’s request, “you see the moment we dig a borewell, she will be tempted to shift to cash / commercial crops, so we don’t wish to encourage that”. I remember that lady’s house – a small brick and tiled house a two room little place thrown away from the rest of the village. She is the poster girl for this local NGO, they send her everywhere to SAARC countries et al, so that they can display about the success of traditional, organic farming methods using native seeds. However, our man from the local NGO lives in a three storey building with a huge SUV sitting in front of his house. Now, did he earn all that only by doing organic farming using traditional seeds and paying good labour costs? And my friend, who said it’s against their policy to encourage borewell digging, I wanted to ask, she lives in a city, doesn’t she get her water in the tap from a borewell?
I am reminded of my classmate who used to wear a badge in college, it said, “take my advice, I am not using it”.
Unless technology is adapted to local conditions, our farmers will remain vulnerable and food security a mirage
(based on a talk in ASHA conference in Punjab)
AGRICULTURE IS the only vocation which relies on dynamics of nature. While friendly earthworms enrich the soil, abundant daily sunlight and a graceful period of showers bless you with a bountiful of food. Humans understood from very early on that to reap maximum harvest from the nature, they have to adopt different strategies for different areas. They got to know that while soil near the riverbed will be more fertile, the one in the dry area will be low on nutrients and shifting agriculture may help sustain the productivity.
With advent of farm technology, however, we seem to have lost touch with the ground realities and age old learnings , approach of “one shoe fits all” is being implemented in the name of advanced tool. Technology which is used for farming in 1000 acre plots is developed for use in tiny farm lands of India with or without testing. Generalisations are drawn from bathroom-sized experimental plots if at all any tests are done. We fail to acknowledge that the amount of sunlight, soil quality besides the amount and distribution of rainfall we experience in India is quite different from US.
In fact, within India we have so much diversity in local conditions. Quality of soil differs, some areas are rain fed while others are irrigated through rivers and canals and even the amount of sunlight we get in south India varies from north or central India what to talk of US. Photosynthesis depends largely on the duration of sunlight and daytime variations in temperature. Still we are quick to replicate their models. Our agricultural universities are also toeing the line of West without questioning the utility of latest advancements in Indian fields.
Since we cannot change our resources and conditions we can only make changes in technology. We have to develop technology based on our local conditions. The reductionistic approach in science is leading to several environmental, economic and social problems. For instance, for pest management, a single pesticide is recommended for a particular pest whatever the climatic condition or cropping system. Pesticide use itself selects insects for genetic resistance killing the weaker ones and disturbing the ecological balances forcing the farmers to use greater amount of sprays, or frequent sprays or more powerful pesticides. In fact, pest incidence (kind and quantity) in a cotton crop adjacent to tomato would be completely different from a cotton crop next to a jowar crop. Hence, pest management needs to be customised to the level of farms. This is because while same pests infest tomato and cotton, jowar is infested by different kind of pests.
Agricultural research has to move out from lab farms to the real fields and work in collaboration with farmers since they have better understanding of their situations.. They have been strategising, learning, unlearning and evolving best agricultural practices since the time first grain was grown. When the entire world was wearing leaves and hides Indians were growing and wearing cotton There is evidence that India has been growing cotton since the time of Mohenjo Daro, one of the initial civilisations of the world.
Today we are learning growing cotton from US. After industrial revolution spinning wheel was introduced. To suit the machines long staple American Cottons were introduced to replace short stapled desi cottons. With American cottons came American Bollworm for which we got pesticides. However, as is the order of nature, the pest developed resistance to the chemicals with time and has to be dealt with a higher dose or more potent pesticides. Class I, Class II, Class III, Class IV, Class V pesticides were introduced and when pests developed resistance to all of them and awareness about the pesticide problems began increasing, the same companies have come up with genetically modified insect resistance crops introducing Bt genes, claiming they don’t need pesticides. Belying all these claims, the Bollgard I variety of Bt Cotton failed after some years due to the same law of nature that living organisms develop resistance to a life threat after being exposed to it over a period of time. Now Bollgard II variety is being sold on the same principle of efficacy. With time, this would also turn out to be an exercise in futility.
By using chemicals, we feel we are helping plants produce food. We forget that plants are the only self-sustaining organisms in this world. They don’t rely on other animals or plants to get food. They make food for themselves and for others by utilising the resources available to them. A farmer, if not bothered with the bogey of scientific research, would rely on crop rotation, locally available resources than chemicals to deal with pests. Monoculture or growing a single crop is one of the major reasons why pests persist and perpetuate.
By adopting such simple techniques of preventive care and curative measures, we can easily deal with agricultural
By using chemicals, we feel we are helping plants produce food. We forget that plants are the only self-sustaining organisms in this world.
crisis. The example of farmers in Andhra Pradesh stands as testimony. Not only have they halved their input cost by leaving out chemicals, the yields have also increased. Community managed sustainable agriculture which started as small initiative to reduce pesticide use in 225 acres of two villages, expanded to 25,000 acre in 450 villages by 2005. Today, we have 35 lakh acre in 7,000 villages under ecological farming. As is typical of scientists, they questioned the basis of this success since no standard package was being offered to the farms. In 2010, two independent studies done in 18 districts found out that pesticide use had reduced by 100 per cent in the sample farms and fertiliser use had been halved in the study area whereas the yield is slightly better than that generated earlier from the same fields using chemicals.
Last year, when moratorium was placed on Bt Brinjal in 2010, the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had mentioned that neither pesticides nor insect resistant GM crops are inevitable as the 2 lakh farmers in Andhra Pradesh have shown by adopting non pesticidal management. However, there lot of political and business interests are involved in promotion of GM crops. The GM crop seeds are costly and farmers can’t grow them on their own because in India they are only sold as hybrids. Also the patents on the crops prevent reuse even if they are introduced in varieties which can be regrown as is happening in the West.
So, the farmers have to buy the seeds at a high cost from the market every time they want to grow a crop. Also, if you prefer to grow non-GM crop while your neighbour is growing GM, there will be cross pollination which will contaminate your crop leaving traits you may not wish to have in your crop. The risk is real and we need to fight it with two pronged strategy. While ecological farming needs to be adopted to fight imposition of illogical technology in the fields, political pressure needs to be built on our leaders to thwart any attempt of a sell out to corporates.
Dr Ramanjaneyulu is the executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), Hyderabad.
There is something terribly going wrong with agriculture. While nearly 40,000 farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir have defaulted on repayment to the State Bank of India alone to the tune of Rs 600-crore, hundreds of farmers in the rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh, comprising the fertile and irrigated East Godawari and West Godwari districts, have refused to cultivate paddy this year, declaring a ‘crop holiday’.
What may appear to be two completely disconnected events happening in two different geographical regions of the country is in reality a wake up call. Whether it is the northeast or the more productive northwest regions; whether it is Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or Odisha; agriculture continues to be in the throes of what appears to be a perpetual crisis for survival. What is not realised is that it is actually a crisis of sustainability and economic viability.
It all began from the fertile konaseema region of East Godawari district in Andhra Pradesh where a small farmer Suryabhagwan owning six-acres of land voluntarily announced that he would prefer to work as a ‘coolie’ than to undertake paddy cultivation. Already under heavy debt and knowing that another season of paddy cultivation will only add to his indebtedness, his call for a ‘crop holiday’ soon reverberated. Within a few weeks, the idea of a ‘crop holiday’ in the ongoing kharif season spread like wildfire and more than 1 lakh hectares in the two irrigated districts today lies barren.
Andhra Pradesh is a paddy growing area. While production has been steadily on an upswing over the years, adequate market infrastructure for procurement has not been created. The result is that despite a very high production capacity there is little space for storage. When Chandrababu Naidu was the chief minister, I remember one of his statements asking farmers not to produce more rice in kharif season as he has no place to stock the surplus grain. I am therefore not surprised to learn that from the previous rabi season (2010-2011) alone, an estimated 50 lakh tonnes lying with farmers, is still to be purchased.
Much of the unsold stocks of paddy are stored with farmers in the two districts of East Godawari and West Godawari. Suryabhagwan therefore is absolutely right in deciding not to grow another crop of rice in kharif and be saddled with the additional harvest. This brings me to another popular thinking, being promoted by economists, policy makers and the private trade, that the government needs to withdraw from procurement and allow the private players to procure the grains. If the Andhra Pradesh government was to withdraw from paddy procurement, and knowing how private trade exploits the gullible farmers, I wouldn’t be surprised to find more and more seasons of ‘crop holidays’.
Like in Andhra Pradesh, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture announces procurement price for 25 crops every year but effectively procures only wheat and rice. Unlike Punjab and Haryana where the State agencies procure over 90 per cent of the grains flowing into the mandis, the Food Corporation of India has in other States outsourced its procurement operations. Such an arrangement has allowed farmers to be exploited by the private trade, and more often than not forces them into distress sale. Minimum Support Price (MSP) thereby loses its significance and farming becomes unviable. It is primarily because the farmer is unable to get a remunerative price for his produce that more than 40 per cent of the farmers, as per a NSSO survey, want to quit agriculture if given a choice.
Even in the frontline agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, where massive quantities of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and ground water are used, farming has become economically unviable. Despite abundant irrigation and subsidised loan to farmers, if nearly 40,000 farmers have defaulted on repayment to just one bank — State Bank of India – to the tune of Rs 570 crore (HP and J&K have defaulted by Rs 30 crore only), it clearly is an indication that agriculture in the Green Revolution belt has lost its sheen. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have certainly not opted for a ‘crop holiday’ but by defaulting the banks they too have made a powerful statement. What is still worse is that such an acute economic crisis is happening in a state that has always been considered to be the harbinger of rural prosperity.
Interestingly, the subsidised loan was being provided at an effective rate of 4 per cent despite the rate of interest for agriculture being 7 per cent. The State bank is now holding 400 compromise camps for farmers where a final settlement can be made. I am told the situation in other states is no different. The non-performing assets of the banks from agriculture are piling up. This is happening at a time when a recent NABARD study shows that banks are in reality charging 14 per cent interest (against the subsidised 7 per cent) by clubbing their extraneous expenses also as amount to be recovered from farmers.
The warning is loud and clear. The terrible agrarian crisis sweeping the country is the outcome of a continuous neglect and apathy. Over the years, agriculture has been deliberately pushed the downhill path. While the economic and scientific prescription to bail out the farming community invariably hinges on to providing improved and sophisticated technology, it is the declining incomes that is hitting the farm sector. The tragedy is that instead of providing more incomes into the hands of farmers, what is being offered is more credit which further adds on to farm indebtedness. No wonder, two-third of MNREGA workers are actually land owners. Clearly an indication that small farmers are unable to survive solely on agriculture.
Setting up yet another high-level committee is not the answer. What is needed is to provide farmers with an assured monthly take-home package. At a time when the monthly wages of government employees after the 6th pay commission have gone up by 150 per cent, monthly income of legislators and parliamentarians has risen by 200 to 400 per cent, education and health expenses have gone through the roof, and even the BPL families are getting the benefit of health insurance and PDS, it is only the farming community that has remained at the receiving end. What the farmers need desperately is a Farmers Income Guarantee Act that determines the monthly income package a farm family must receive. #
Summary of round table discussion at G.Narendranath fellowship award meeting, held on Sep. 2 2011 at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, Hyderabad.
The meeting started with Samyuktha welcoming the guests and giving details regarding the fellowship: the purpose of the fellowship is to give a small monetary support (of Rs. One lakh) every year to grass root activists who are not so well known and who are in need of such support; it is anchored in the Center for Equity Studies(CES); decisions regarding the fellowship will be taken by a Committee which has been formed consisting of Harsh Mander of CES, P. Chenniah, Jeevan Kumar and Samyuktha. This year’s (2011-2012) fellowship was awarded to M. Nagaraja, a journalist from Chittoor district who has been active on issues of Dalit equity, agricultural workers and farmers. The award was presented by Bojja Tharakam, a senior advocate of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, respected Dalit leader and the state president of Republican Party of India. Harsh Mander spoke about the focus areas of CES and recalled how Naren in his various satyagrahas respected the opponents, expressed his views in a gentle but firm manner. Tharakam recalled Naren’s concern for Dalits, and his simple lifestyle, etc. Nagaraja spoke about his association with Naren. T. L. Sankar also spoke about Naren’s sacrifice of a comfortable life in favor of a life of service.
A brief on the topic: The topic of discussion is “Who will do farming? Rethinking agriculture in the context of changing agrarian relations” With the sweeping changes in the rural areas during the past decade, we evidently need to think beyond the business-as-usual frameworks to understand the present and imagine the future. The incomes from agriculture have become very meager; farmers are finding it difficult to meet their basic needs and are getting indebted. Many of the rural youth are moving away from farming, both from the farmer families and agricultural worker families. The reduced availability of labour has become visible in rural areas, and at the same time, the labour wages have also increased significantly. Many farmers are perceiving that it is better to work for wages than invest in their own land because of poor returns. In this scenario, there is a clear threat of corporates taking over agriculture, and can farmers and agricultural workers find common cause in protecting agriculture-based livelihoods? Also, how do we address the issues of inter-sectoral parity, where the primary production is being valued less and less compared to all other sectors (in 1972, bag of paddy cost the same as 5 grams of gold. Now, bag of paddy is 1/15th the price of 5 grams of gold). These are some of the questions prompting the session of rethinking, with diverse people – those who have worked directly on agriculture issues as well as others who recognize these questions as having a cross-cutting relevance to how we understand development and how we imagine the future India.
The round-table discussion was moderated by Chenniah. He said that this is a question of great relevance in the current context. It is a matter of great concern and anxiety that corporate sector is making huge inroads into farming, displacing farmers and wondered what will be the future of farmers in this country.
K. R. Chowdry:
40% of farmers immediately want to leave agriculture. Even those left in farming prefer NREGS and daily wage work, because they are better paying than farming. 48% don’t have land, because land reforms were never carried out adequately. On an average, farmers are spending Rs.12,000 and getting Rs.9000 incurring a loss of Rs.3000 on every crop. It is no wonder capital formation is not happening in agriculture. The problems of Green revolution, followed by post-1991 economic policies of liberalization and structural reforms have caused the present crisis situation in agriculture.
Kodandaram: People usually work on either land reforms or farmers’ issues. Naren saw the two as integral parts of agricultural sector and worked on both in a comprehensive manner. Land ownership is not just a legal right, a question of who owns it legally; rather it is also a question of who controls the production. Land reforms should be accompanied by agricultural reforms so that the beneficiaries can profit from the land given to them. In modern agriculture, various forces are actually dictating to the farmer – borewells, fertilizers, new ‘technologies’ – and production is no longer actually under the farmer’s control. Modern agriculture has collapsed the traditional farmer in drastic ways; the farmers feel profoundly alienated from the production process. All the political parties are on the same page with regard to the above; Chandra Babu Naidu talked about corporate farming; YS Rajasekar Reddy talked about cooperative farming; but both meant the same.
There is a lot of discussion about crop holiday in Godavari districts. This is an area where the government has invested a lot to provide irrigation and enable 2 or 3 crops. But what about farmers in Anantapur district, Chittoor district, Mahbubnagar district. There farmers have kept their lands fallow many seasons, unable to cultivate. In Mahbubnagar, there is a lot of distress among farmers, and we have seen a lot of migration. The issue we should look at is: how will small farmers do agriculture where there have been no major government investments? This is the question government policies should grapple with.
Malla Reddy: There is a Telugu proverb: “there are six reasons for Karna’s death” in Mahabharata, meaning we cannot pin point one particular reason; similarly there are many reasons for farmers’ distress but at the end they are being killed, though agriculture itself is flourishing. I don’t agree that agriculture is in crisis. It is the farming community that is in crisis. 95 lakhs of farmers have holdings below five acres; the farm inputs are controlled by corporates, and their agents like microfinance and self-help groups; the govt. has decreased subsidy on fertilizer from Rs.70,000 crores to Rs.50,000 crores; there is no separate agriculture minister for the state of AP ; the Deputy CM is made in charge of agriculture; he does not have any knowledge of agriculture. All these go to show how agriculture is being neglected in the state.
P.S.Ajay Kumar: It was said by some speakers that the post-1991 policies are the cause for agricultural crisis. There is an implication that the earlier period of 1960s to 80s was a positive period in Indian agriculture. But to me, that is the period when the government failed to implement land reforms. That was the period when the landless classes were promised their stake in agriculture by creating ownership of land and resources – but the promise was not delivered. Now, when you ask who should do farming, our question is how long should we remain in farming as landless labourers only?
Only when that question is addressed, we can get agricultural labourers involved in the question of how agriculture can be sustained. You talk about sustainable agriculture but you need to answer the question of what is the role of agricultural labourers in our vision of sustainable agriculture. It is only through land reforms that they can become farmers and can work on sustainable agriculture together with the existing small farmers.
So in the changed context, we need to think about new land reform agenda in which small, medium farmers and agricultural labourers can work together.
1. Redefine land ceiling and implement redistribution of land;
2. People whose primary income is from outside agriculture should give up their control of land. This land should be given to actual cultivators.
3. Then farmers and labourers together as allies should resist the large scale changes in land utilization, the taking away of agricultural land.
4. Revenue reforms should be pushed for by the two sections together.
5. Corporate takeover of agriculture should also be resisted together as allies.
Instead of addressing these root causes, it doesn’t work if you just show NREGS as a big evil influence on agriculture.
Ramanjaneyulu: Now agriculture is being seen in sectional way; rainfed vs. irrigated; laborers vs. farmers; small vs, large farmers, etc. Instead we should ask who should do farming, how to do and how to protect natural resources. He agreed with Ajay that sustainable agriculture should address concerns like how to get agricultural workers interested. He asked: why should there be a land ceiling only for agriculture, why not for industry as well?
While crop holiday is being talked about in coastal districts, there has been undeclared crop holiday in many other places. The cultivated fallows in Andhra Pradesh as per official figures is more than 10%. Unless the government brings policies that ensure income security for the farming community, and to encourage low-input sustainable agriculture, the agricultural crisis is not going to be addressed.
K.S. Gopal: We have to face the fact that going by economic trends, most of the farmers will also disappear like weavers, iron smiths and small factories. The thought I have is that we should not view their role only in economic terms; we have to look beyond economic considerations and emphasize the ecological functions of agriculture, its role in ensuring food sovereignty, etc. Then the valuation will be different. I have some ideas for how to go about it, but can discuss those details separately. We have to also understand the aspirations of rural youth; in our society manual labor has no dignity; it should be emphasized.
Rajiv: In the present day globalized world, is there some way of improving our efficiency in agricultural production so that we can be as good as other countries from whom we are importing?
Samineni Rama Rao: The issue of concern is that village-level contradictions are being enhanced. Tenant farmers being pitched against agricultural labourers, and so on. All this plays in favour of big landlords again. We need to think about the interests of the working class as a whole. Let’s think about addressing the agricultural crisis taking small and marginal farmers and landless labourers together.
Prasada Rao: Many of the problems are a result of the economic policies followed by various governments, especially since 1991. The AIKS has prepared a detailed document on how to address the farmers’ distress and rejuvenate the agriculture sector. But the challenge is to mobilize the farmers around these agendas and demands, and build a movement. Otherwise these will only remain ideas and discussions.
Saraswati: Land has some limited production capacity; socio-cultural factors like higher standard of living, marriages are also causing agricultural crisis; but before we ask the farmers to resort to simple lifestyles, can we, from other sectors who are well off, also practice such life styles? Why should farmers not aspire for a higher standard of living?
Harindranath: Living agriculture means living with nature; if we leave agriculture we will be distanced from nature; therefore in fact farming should be actually done by majority; everyone should have land and should do cooperative farming and aim at village self-sufficiency; so that there is no need to look for labor; so that production by masses rather than mass production will happen.
Uma Shankari: In the pricing of primary sector products and services, not only in agriculture , but also forests and minerals, food, water and air, etc., there is an inherent contradiction: they have to be priced low so that they are accessible, available and affordable to all, including the poor; they have also to be priced low so that in the process of value addition to them, the end –price does not become too high; but this results in under-valuing and under-pricing them. Especially in a growing economy this results in tremendous inequality; while other sectors are growing in leaps and bounds, agriculture sector is losing its share of the national economy all the time; this inequality has a suctioning effect ; it is like a vacuum pump pulling all the resources, material, financial and human resources, and putting them in other sectors. This inequality must be reduced and corrections have to come from sectors other than primary sector. Why should a company like Reliance be allowed to grow and amass wealth as it has been doing? They can “buy” up huge tracts of agricultural lands; they have the money power supported by political power and muscle power.
Mohan: According to RBI Governor Subbarao, service sector is not capable of absorbing 40% of people who want to move out of agriculture. He exhorted that manufacturing sector should absorb them. But experts in manufacturing sector are saying, due to advanced technologies and labor problems, we can not absorb them; so where should these people go?
All the products from cities are coming to rural areas whereas very few goods are going from rural to urban; if this continues, drain of rural economy will also continue. To address this primary sector and rural economy should be strengthened; rural enterprises should be promoted. And integrated farming with allied enterprises like poultry ,dairy, milling , etc, should be encouraged.
Economic development should be based not on growth alone but on std. of living for every citizen.
Kurmanath: As a journalist I was assigned to go to a meeting in FICCI titled food 360degrees, to promote food processing industry; out of my own interest I came here; we should reach out to the media so that public debate can happen on all these issues, and common people will start thinking about them.
Dinesh: Widespread malnutrition among farmers is a matter of concern; Farmers are not eating what they are producing; they are not producing what they are eating. Anantapur farmers economics has become so unviable, why should they do farming? Should they do farming for food or for money? If they are asked to grow only for money, then it is financially unviable in many places. Also, even in villages, the fact is that many young people are not ready to do hard work, physical work. We need to think as a society what will happen if everyone moves away from physical work.
Babji: Crop holiday in Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh is because big farmers are absentee landlords, they are in the grip of companies, they see agriculture as a commercial profit oriented enterprise, not as a source of food; however, for small farmers like tribal farmers, agriculture is a source of livelihood and food and this should be protected. It is ridiculous that in ABN Andhrajyothy debate, NREGS was shown as a major culprit leading to the crop holiday. Noone was asked to present the point of view of NREGS workers. Agricultural workers getting higher wages cannot be considered as cause for farmers’ distress, and this is a gross manipulation and unfair conclusion.
Ramachandriah: Aspirations of middle class have changed; the perception is that life is better in cities; there is more financial security and less risk; in such a scenario small towns should be developed which are closer to the villages so that agriculture and related occupations can thrive.
Lokareddappa: Land redistribution in AP was done in five installments; it was carried out often in such a way that the well off farmers got rid of degraded lands by selling them to SC Corporation which in turn was redistributed; so the beneficiaries have to work harder to profit from them.
Sivaramakrishna: 1 tula (10gm) of Gold and a bag of rice cost the same in the sixties; now gold is 15 times more than the price of rice; this is because the surplus from the rural /agriculture sector is being enjoyed by the urban classes. Instead of addressing these underlying imbalances, instead of giving land to landless poor in rural areas, we are talking food rights, NREGS, etc. We are not addressing the causes of poverty; instead we are asking them to be poor but we will help them survive by giving them “right to food”, NREGS and so on. How come we progressives who used to believe in true economic equality and so on are settling for things like so many kg of rice at Rs.2? We seem to be stuck fighting our own specific battles while the larger war is being lost. We need to see sustainable agriculture, land rights and labour issues together as interconnected issues and not see them separately.
Kishan Rao: Delta farmers’ issue is not nation’s problem; 78% of farmers in AP delta area are absentee landlords; their lands are cultivated by tenants; with rise of cost of cultivation, and tenants facing chronic losses, tenants are reluctant to pay the same tenancy charges as before; with margins decreasing the absentee landowners together with tenants have declared crop holiday; The solution is: for every piece of land, the government should guarantee provision of water for one crop season; In return, no land should be left fallow; If any owner leaves land fallow, force them to sell the land to the landless in the village.
In response to the question raised by a young participant about increasing efficiencies in production, we should keep in mind that land has limited capacity to produce; if we squeeze it to produce more, it will have adverse effects in some other aspects like soil fertility, etc.
Saraswati asked why can’t we have a situation where we can farm without subsidies; to which, an Anatapur dt. farmer recounted his experiences as to how at every step he faced obstacles, completely out of his control; he said that is why we need subsidies; without which farming can not be done.
Ravindra: For so many decades, it seems that the land-owning class is not ready to loosen their control of agriculture. Even now, absentee landlords are not ready to let go. If it is finally happening that because of increasing labour costs and so on, farming is viable only for those who actually work on the land, and not for those who depend on getting others to do the work, then we can welcome it. But I don’t know whether they will move away so easily. So far, all the government subsidies and programs are also geared towards keeping the land under their control, not passing it on to the real cultivators. When we talk about retaining farmers in agriculture, we need to think about who should be retained.
Kiran: It is difficult to summarize such a discussion. While the topic of discussion itself was framed as a question, the discussion raised even more questions which are very pertinent. It was not expected that the discussion will result in very concrete answers, but the very process of brainstorming itself has been very useful. Some challenging questions were put forth, for example, Ajay Kumar asked how can we create a stake for agricultural workers in the future of agriculture. I hope we will continue the discussion on the issues raised.
A couple of comments: In some of the discussions on the crop holiday, NREGS is being pointed as a major cause for the farmers’ distress; this needs to be definitely opposed, as has been pointed out by many speakers. What has clearly emerged from this discussion is that we have to move towards a joint struggle by farmers and agricultural workers. Since many agri. workers and Dalits also have acquired some land and are facing the problems as small and marginal farmers too, our focus should be small/medium farmers, tenant farmers and agricultural workers – basically those who are actually living in the villages and directly involved in cultivation. We also need to think about better organizing among agricultural workers and farmers whether jointly or separately so that the agricultural operations can be done more efficiently in a planned manner. Otherwise the “corporate efficiency” will start taking over.
Chenniah (closing remarks): The discussion has been very good and many people expressed their thoughts. These issues are very crucial, and it is clear that we all need to engage with the problems of agriculture – especially the small, marginal and medium farmers, and agricultural workers. It is also important to prevent the corporate takeover of agriculture. I hope we continue these discussions and take up necessary action.
Jeevan Kumar (HRF) gave the vote of thanks and appreciated the active participation of everyone in the discussion on the very pertinent topic.
Corruption has not only hindered development of India but its role in creating and aggravating farm crisis is no less critical. Corrupt scientists, bank officials and policy makers have pushed farmers to the brink.
Farmers are at the receiving end of corrupt scientists and officials
I haven’t forgotten that night. Sitting with a group of farmers in a village in Ludhiana district in Punjab, at the height of the Green Revolution, a farmer showed me a bag of fertiliser that he brought from the market.
“Why are you showing me this bag”, I asked. “Wait”, he said, and began to open the bag. It was only when he crushed the granules with his hands that I realised why he wanted me to see the fertiliser bag. The fertiliser was spurious. The jute bag, neatly packed and branded, contained mud granules.
Several years later I was travelling in the villages of Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh to understand the reasons behind the spate of farm suicides that had first rocked the nation. This was in 1997 when 37 farmers committed suicide in this district alone. While everyone blamed the weather gods for inflicting a terrible blow to farmers, I found spurious pesticides to be the reason for the failure of the cotton crop.
More than 80 per cent of pesticides sold in Warangal district that year were later found to be fake.
Two and a half decades later, agriculture is in ruins. The story of slow death of agriculture across the country is the same. Dying crop fields, and crying farmers. With degraded soils, depleting groundwater, and chemical pesticides playing havoc with the environment, agriculture is in terrible distress. With farming becoming a losing proposition, and with the entire equation going wrong, agriculture is witnessing a mass exodus.
While academicians, economists and policy makers are ascribing several complex reasons for the decline of agriculture, the dark underbelly has somehow remained unexposed. What has actually eaten into the vitals of agriculture over the years is rampant corruption. It is like the vultures swarming around a dead animal carcase. Believe it or not, the despicable farm scenario is no less gory.
Fake and sub-standard inputs – seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and machinery is only one part of the story. With quality control in complete shambles, and with many testing laboratories known to have a fixed price tag for approving samples, farmers are always on the receiving end. No wonder, the post of plant protection officers as well as quality control is one of the most sought after in the State Departments of Agriculture.
Massive public outlays under the National Horticulture Mission, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna, and the National Food Security Mission are in fact being used as grants. When I see the misuse of these outlays, often going into the pockets of senior farm officials, I have always wondered why the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has refrained from focusing on the flagrant misuse of resources in the name of food security.
Agricultural officials and input suppliers have always maintained a cosy relationship. Even where upright officials have blacklisted erring firms, it isn’t difficult to pull down the shutters and then float a new company. Over the years, I have seen the business growing for those who were once known to be selling sub-standard products.
Fly-by-night operators adorn the seed industry, and despite seed laws spelling out stringent punishment for marketing fake seeds, the market is full of spurious seeds. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had recently said that a big seed company had supplied inferior maize hybrid seed, and had refused to account for the losses. Ultimately, Bihar government had to pay for the Rs 60-crore loss.
Post harvest, the travails of a farmer take a different turn. In areas where procurement centres and mandis exist (mainly in the Green Revolution belt of Punjab, Haryana, western UP and some parts of Madhya Pradesh), invariably farmers are at the mercy of the arhtiyas and the mandi agents. In rest of the country, the farmer is exploited, fleeced and ends up selling his produce in distress. It will not be wrong to say that it is a nightmare for a farmer to get a fair price for his produce and that too after putting in so much of hard labour.
Banks, money lenders and micro-credit agencies have been perpetual suckers. Several studies have pointed to the mismanagement (and corruption) in distribution of bank credit to be the primary reason for the agrarian crisis. Usurping interest charged by micro-finance institutions, often exceeding 24 per cent and that too to be repaid at weekly intervals, as well as the dependence on private money lenders has been the bane of farming.
A recent study by NABARD shows how farmers are being duped by nationalised banks. Farmers are being charged double the interest rate for subsidised credit as announced in the annual budget last year. Against the provision of a maximum of 7 per cent interest, banks have included the contingency expenses and other costs, which in reality means the farmer has to shell out an interest of 14 per cent.
If you think scientific research, agricultural development and policy framing is devoid of corruption you are grossly mistaken. Much of what hits the farmer is the result of wrong policies. These policies are framed keeping the interest of service providers before farmers. But then, it is topic for another day.
This study of three each of India’s highest circulated English and Hindi dailies finds that they devote only a minuscule proportion of their total coverage (about 2%) to rural India’s issues, crises and anxieties. Even this low count could be misleading because most rural news is not about the farmers/villagers or about their concerns related to land, livestock, resources or farming. The content analysis of 968 news items shows that 36% of the coverage goes to issues of violence, accidents, crime or disasters. Less than 28% is about agrarian themes while 15% is about hunger, suicides, malnutrition, distress migration, displacement, or farmers’ movements. The English newspapers had more coverage of rural distress than the Hindi ones. The authoritative sources quoted most often in the routine news tend to belong to the establishment.