Farmers Income Commission is now a reality in India. Karnataka becomes the first state to establish it.

#AgrarianCrisis #FarmersIncomeSecurity

Karnataka has done it. Last week it announced the setting up of a Farmers Income Commission. The terms and conditions have yet to be formulated. If implemented properly, and followed up in Punjab, it can be the game changer for Indian agriculture which is reeling under a terrible agrarian distress.

Noted agricultural scientist Dr M S Swaminathan sees merit in this. Thanking me for persuading the Karnataka government to establish an income commission, he wrote in a personal communication: “The National Policy for Farmers calls for a paradigm shift from measuring agricultural progress in terms of production to measuring progress by the real rate in the growth of the farmers income….This is the need of the hour.”
Six years after I first demanded the need to provide farmers with an assured monthly income, the nation is gradually waking up to the desperate need for such a body to address the fundamental issue of income security among country’s exasperated farming community. Credit will go to former Karnataka Chief Minister Y S Yeddurappa who very patiently listened to me, discussed its pros and cons and agreed to set up such a body. Present Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar finally announced it as part of the agricultural budget presented in Feb 2013.
By providing income in the hands of farmers, the mainstay of the economy, we are actually providing the real stimulus to kick-start the economy.

In my opinion, modern farming leads to two kinds of agriculture. First, is the highly subsidised agriculture in the western countries. And second, it results in subsistence agriculture, as is being witnessed in the developing world. The only way to bail out subsistence farmers is to provide them with direct income support, as is being done in the rich and industrialised countries.

Let us make a comparison. In the 10-year period, between 1997 and 2008, the National Crime Record Bureau tells us that approximately 2.40 lakh farmers had committed suicide primarily to escape the humiliation that comes along with growing indebtedness. Another 42 per cent want to quit agriculture if given an alternative. In the US on the other hand, between 1995 and 2009, farmers have been paid Rs 12.50 lakh crore as farm subsidies, including direct income support. In other words, while our farmers were reeling under mounting debt, US farmers got a fat cheque sitting at home.
In Europe, the economic handouts are more lucrative. Farmers receive a per hectare subsidy in the form of direct income support of Rs 4,000. In the case of cereals alone, if you multiply Rs 4,000 with 2.2 lakh hectares area sown in 27 countries of European Union, it comes to a staggering Rs 90.40 lakh crore.
At a time when all out efforts are to launch the 2nd Green Revolution, buoyed with genetically modified crops, and stricter IPR laws that will shift the control over seed into the hands of private agribusiness companies, the market structure being laid out — contract farming, food retail, commodity exchanges, and future trading — all aim at making farmers economically viable, will actually allow the companies to walk away with more profits and leave farmers with empty pockets.
If all this was workable, and was bringing income to farmers, there is no reason why the US and EU governments for instance would be providing huge subsidies, much of it in the form of direct income support or income transfer in one form or the other, to their miniscule population of farmers.

For 45 years, the dominant breed of bureaucrats and technocrats, have been telling farmers that the more they produce the more will be their income. By saying so they were actually not helping farmers, but in the name of farmers promoting the commercial interests of fertiliser, pesticides, seed and mechanical equipment companies. No wonder, the average monthly income of a farming family in 2003-04, which includes five members of a family plus two cattle, had been worked out by NSSO at a paltry Rs 2115. The NSSO has since stopped measuring farm income.

Under the 6th Pay Commission, a peon or a chaprasi in government service gets a minimum monthly salary of Rs 15,000. A farming family earns less than Rs 2115 (in terms of prevalent prices, it would be around Rs 2,400 a month). Can’t we as a nation even think of providing farmers with an income that equals what a chaprasi gets?

If Rs 2115 is the monthly income of a farming family (in Punjab, it hovers around Rs 3,200) shouldn’t we as a nation hang our head in shame? If agriculture was indeed profitable, I see no reason why rural despair would increasingly drive farmers to take their own lives. Even in the frontline agricultural state of Punjab, two farmers commit suicide every day. As per a recent house-to-house survey, 19 people succumb to cancer ever day in Punjab ostensibly from the excessive use and abuse of chemicals in agriculture.

Farmers were made to believe that putting more inputs would bring them more profits. They are now being told that free markets — commodity exchange, future trading and food retail – will make farming profitable and economically viable. What is not being told is that it didn’t work in the US and the European Union. And it will therefore not work in India.
Look at the way such a flawed approach is being aggressively promoted in India. The beneficiaries of future trading and commodity exchange are not the farmers but speculators, the consultancy firms and rating agencies, and the business. And again, this is being done in the name of farmers. On the other hand, farmer unions have been only asking for a higher minimum support price (MSP). None of them have visualised that there are barely 35 to 40 per cent farmers in the country who ultimately get the benefit of procurement prices since they have some surplus to sell in the mandis.
The rest of the farming community, which is in a majority, also produces food. Even if they hardly have anything to sell, they at least produce food. If they were not to produce food for themselves, the country would be importing that quantity of food. In other words, they produce economic wealth. Therefore they too need to be adequately compensated for the economic wealth they produce for the country. #
Devinder Sharma

Wanted, a Pay commission for farmers

In 1996, I joined as an agriculture scientist at the Indian Council for Agriculture at Directorate of Oilseeds Research in Hyderabad. We used to work on castor, sunflower and safflower. My job was to coordinate the Frontline Demonstration of Improved technologies to farmers under the ‘Technology Mission on Oilseeds’ across the country.

At that time, Andhra Pradesh used to account for about 9-10 % of castor production.  The farmer used to harvest about five quintal per acre under rainfed conditions and around seven to ten quintals with hybrids under irrigated conditions.  And he would get around Rs. 1500-2500 per quintal.

My salary at that time was about 7 to 8 thousand per month with a basic of 2200 rupees or so, and we were waiting for Fifth pay commission announcement.

In 1998 or so the Fifth pay commission increased our basic from 2200 to 8000 (about 3 times) taking my salary to 16,000 or so per month.  I left the directorate of Oilseeds Research in 2004. My colleagues who continued have become senior and principal scientists and with salaries around Rs. 80,000 plus. Most of the living costs like healthcare under CGHS, tuition fee exempted from income tax, transport allowance to come to office is taken care of. Even to buy newspapers, an allowance of Rs. 100/month. This is true with almost all the government employees and others in the corporate sector would be earning much more.  The salaries of MPs, MLAs, Governors, President etc all have increased more than 500 times in the last five years alone.

But not the farmer’s.

After 15 years, today the average yield of the farmer has not increased much and same is the case with what he gets. In 2009, farmers got about 3000/q with a price rise due to lower production (because of drought). The seed prices have increased by more than 300 times, fertiliser costs, pesticide costs have increased similarly. Cost of food, education, and health equally affects the farmers. In fact, the story of castor may be better than cotton, paddy or any other crop. The farmers take home are kept low to appease the industry in case of commercial crops like cotton, sugarcane, tobacco or consumers in case of food grains.

What the farmers get is not even corrected for inflation. After the 6th Pay commission, the central government employees are paid 45 % dearness allowance and this January may take it to cross 50 %.

Money to the farmers never goes up (in real terms), while costs of cultivation have always increased.  The net incomes dwindled and many times became negative.  The increasing costs have made the farmers dependent on industry which reaped huge profits.

In 2010 which saw more than 17,000 farmers suicides (across the country) due to crop failures and indebtedness, the seed companies recorded a 50 % growth in their business, drip irrigation industry recorded more than 40 % growth. MFIs have made windfall profits, till restrictions were brought on them just a few months back.

సాగుబడి వ్యయం తగ్గాలి, గిట్టుబాటు ధర దక్కాలి, అప్పుడే… మార్కెట్‌లో రైతన్న మారాజు!

Farmers’ Income commission English

కర్షకుడంటే దేశానికి వెన్నెముక అంటూ సగర్వంగా నినదించడానికి ఇప్పుడు ఎవరూ సాహసించడం లేదు. ఈ నానుడికి ప్రస్తుతం కాలదోషం పట్టినట్టే భావించవచ్చు. వ్యవసాయ రంగం మీద ఎక్కువ మంది జనం ఆధారపడితే అది బరువేనని ప్రభుత్వాలు తరచూ చెప్పడం మనం వింటున్నాం. కేంద్ర ఆర్థిక మంత్రి ప్రణబ్ ముఖర్జీ తన బడ్జెట్‌లో 7.4 శాతం తలసరి ఆదాయ వృద్ధి సాధించగలమని విశ్వాసం వ్యక్తం చేశారు. ఈ వృద్ధి గడచిన నాలుగేళ్ల జీవన ప్రమాణాలలో సాధించిన వేగాన్ని సూచిస్తుంది. ఈ కాలంలో సాధించిన ఈ వృద్ధికి వ్యవసాయం, సేవల రంగం, వస్తువుల తయారీరంగం, వాణిజ్యం, నిర్మాణ రంగాలు దోహదం చేశాయి.

స్థూల జాతీయోత్పత్తిలో వచ్చిన పెరుగుదలకు కారణాలను అన్వేషించదలిస్తే మాత్రం వ్యవసాయం ఇందుకు దోహదపడలేదన్న వాస్తవం అనుభవానికి వస్తుంది. అదే సమయంలో వస్తువుల తయారీ రంగం, సేవల రంగాల వృద్ధి రేటు సంవత్సరానికి పది శాతానికి పైగా కనిపిస్తుంది. సేద్యం మాత్రం గడచిన ఐదేళ్లలో బాగా వెనుకబడి సగటున కేవలం 2.5 శాతం వృద్ధిని సాధించగలిగింది. నిజానికి అధిక పారిశ్రామికాభివృద్ధి రేటు సాధ్యం కావడానికి కారణం ఆహారపదార్థాల ధరలు తక్కువగా ఉండటమేనని విశ్లేషణలు చెబుతున్నాయి.

రైతాంగానికి స్వల్ప ఆదాయాలు దీని ఫలితమే. వారి దీనస్థితికి కారణం కూడా ఇక్కడే ఉంది.
దేశంలో 1997 నుంచి రైతుల ఆత్మహత్యల పరంపరను పరిశీలిస్తే 2008 నాటికి అవి 1,82,936కు చేరాయని ప్రభుత్వ రికార్డులే చెబుతున్నాయి. ఇవాళ్టి వరకు కూడా లెక్కకడితే ఆ సంఖ్య రెండు లక్షలు దాటిపోయింది. హరిత విప్లవంలో అగ్రభాగాన నిలిచి, అభివృద్ధి చెందిన రాష్ట్రాలుగా చెప్పుకుంటున్న మహారాష్ట్ర, ఆంధ్రప్రదేశ్, కర్ణాటక, పంజాబ్‌లు కూడా వ్యవసాయ పరంగా దెబ్బతిన్న ప్రాంతాలలో ఉన్నాయి. 2002 సంవత్సరం నుంచి రైతుల ఆత్మహత్యల సంఖ్య సగటున సంవత్సరానికి 17,366కు చేరుకుంది. దేశంలో సేద్యం ఎన్ని ఒడిదుడుకులను ఎదుర్కొంటున్నదో ఈ లెక్కలే చెబుతున్నాయి.

మరి ఈ పరిస్థితి నుంచి గట్టెక్కడానికి ఏం చేయాలి?

ప్రస్తుత పరిస్థితులలో సేద్యం మీద ఆధారపడి జీవిస్తున్నవారు ఎదుర్కొంటున్న ప్రధాన సమస్య ఆదాయాలు కుంచించుకుపోవడమే. 1997-2007 దశ కం వరకు వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తుల ధరల పెరుగుదలకీ, మిగిలిన ఉత్పత్తుల ధరల పెరుగుదలకీ మధ్య ఉన్న వ్యత్యాసాన్ని పరిశీలిస్తే ఎవరైనా విస్తుపోవలసిందే. వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తుల ధరలలో పెరుగుదల కేవలం 25 శాతమే కనిపిస్తుంది. అదే ఇతర వస్తువులు, అంటే ఇనుము, సిమెంట్, ప్రోసెస్ చేసిన ఆహార పదార్థాల ధరలు 300 నుంచి 600 శాతం పెరిగాయి. ఈ దశకంలోనే ఉద్యోగుల జీతాల పెరుగుదల కూడా గణనీయంగా ఉంది. ఆరో వేతన సంఘం పెంపును పక్కన పెట్టినా ఉద్యోగుల ఆదాయం సగటున 150 శాతం పెరిగింది.
ఇక శాసనసభ్యుల జీతాలయితే 500 శాతం పెరిగాయి. ఈ సందర్భంలో అర్జున్ సేన్ గుప్తా నేతృత్వంలో అసంఘటిత కార్మిక రంగం మీద నియోగించిన కమిటీ వెల్లడించిన వివరాలను కూడా గుర్తు చేసుకోవాలి. దేశంలో రైతుల ఆదాయం సగటున నెలకు రూ. 2,115. నెలవారీ ఖర్చు రూ. 2,770 అవుతోంది. ఇక దేశం మొత్తం రైతాంగంలో 84 శాతం ఉన్న చిన్న, బడుగు రైతుల ఆదాయం మాటేమిటి? సగటున వారి నెలసరి ఆదాయం రూ. 1,818 మాత్రమేనని సేన్‌గుప్తా కమిటీ తేల్చింది. కానీ వారి నెలవారీ ఖర్చు రూ. 2,678. దేశంలో ఆరు శాతం మాత్రమే ఉన్న పెద్ద, మధ్య తరగతి రైతుల ఆదాయమే వారి ఖర్చు కంటే కొద్దిగా ఎక్కువ ఉంది.

రైతుకు కష్టాలు కొత్తేమీ కాకపోయినా, ప్రస్తుతం ఇంత దయనీయ స్థితికి రావడానికి కారణం ఏమిటి? ఇందుకు మొదటిగా పేర్కొనవలసిన అంశం అడ్డూ అదుపూ లేకుండా పెరిగిపోయిన సాగు వ్యయం. దీనికి తోడు గిట్టుబాటు ధరలు లభ్యం కావడంలేదు. దీనితో రైతుల ఆదాయాలు, జీవన ప్రమాణాలు అనూహ్యమైన రీతిలో తలకిందులవుతున్నాయి. చేలలో వేసే ఎరువులు, పురుగుమందులు వంటివి దాదాపు అన్నీ దిగుమతి చేసుకోవలసిన పరిస్థితి ఉండడం వల్ల సేద్యం ఖర్చులు తడిసిమోపెడవుతున్నాయి. కొత్త సాంకేతిక పరిజ్ఞానం కూడా రైతుకు తలకు మించిన భారమైపోయింది. హైబ్రీడ్ విత్తనాలు, జన్యుమార్పిడి పంటలు, కొత్తరకం పురుగు మందులు సేద్యం ఖర్చును విపరీతంగా పెంచాయి. గడచిన పదేళ్లకాలంలో వీటి పెరుగుదల 300 శాతం వరకు ఉందంటేనే పెరిగిన వ్యవసాయ వ్యయంతో రైతు ఎంత కుంగిపోయాడో అర్థమవుతుంది. సంస్కరణలు కూడా రైతుకు మేలు చేయలేకపోయాయి.

విత్తనాల సరఫరాను పట్టించుకోకపోవడం; ఎరువులు, పురుగుమందుల ధరల నియంత్రణ బాధ్యతను ప్రభుత్వాలు తీసుకోకపోవడం వంటివి సంస్కరణల అనంతర పరిణామాలే.
కానీ ఒకటి మాత్రం తిరుగులేని నిజం. పంటల మీద వచ్చే ఆదాయమే రైతుకు ఏకైక ఆధారం. అయితే వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తుల ధరలు అటు సేద్యం ఖర్చుల ఆధారంగా గానీ, ఇటు రైతు కుటుంబాల నిత్య జీవితావసరాలకు అనుగుణంగా గానీ నిర్ణయం కావడం లేదు. అయితే కూలీ రేట్లు పెరగకుండాను, చేలలో వేసే వస్తువుల ధరలు పెరగకుండా ఉండేందుకుగాను వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తుల ధరలు పెంచే యోచన ప్రభుత్వాలు చేయడం లేదు. వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తుల ధరలు పెంచకుండా ఉంటే ఆహార పదార్థాల ధరలు అందుబాటులో ఉంటాయన్నదీ, ఎరువులూ, మందుల ధరలు కూడా తగ్గి ఉంటాయన్నదీ మన ప్రభుత్వాల భావన.

నిజం చెప్పాలంటే ధరల నియంత్రణ యంత్రాం గమే లోపభూయిష్టంగా ఉంది. ఇందులో పారదర్శకత అసలే లేదు. ఈ యంత్రాంగం వాస్తవ ధరలను పరిగణనలోకి తీసుకోని సందర్భాలు చాలా ఉన్నాయి. 33 వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తులకు గిట్టుబాటు ధర ప్రకటిస్తున్నా, ఇందులో వరి, గోధుమ పంటలకు మాత్రమే మార్కెట్‌లో ప్రమేయం ఉండే చర్యలు తీసుకుంటున్నారు. రైతులు వేసే మిగిలిన వాణిజ్య పంటలన్నీ మార్కెట్ దయ మీద ఆధారపడి ఉండవలసిందే. ద్రవ్యోల్బణం కారణంగా పెరిగిన జీవన వ్యయాలు కూడా రైతుల జీవితం మీద ద్విముఖ దాడి చేస్తూ ఉంటాయి. ద్రవ్యోల్బణం వల్ల వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తుల ధరలు తగ్గుతాయి. నిత్యావసరాల ధరలు మాత్రం పెరిగిపోతాయి. ప్రపంచ వాణిజ్య సంస్థ ఒప్పందాల మేరకు చౌక వస్తువులను దిగుమతి చేసుకోవడం వల్ల కూడా సేద్యం ఒడిదుడుకులకు లోనవుతున్నది.

ఎన్ని విమర్శలూ, ఆరోపణలూ ఉన్నా, అవన్నీ అరకొరగా ఉన్నట్టనిపించినా రైతులకు ప్రభుత్వం ఏమీ చేయడం లేదని అనలేం. ఎరువులూ, పురుగుమందులకూ; పంటలకూ రాయితీలు ఇవ్వడం, గిట్టుబాటుధరల ప్రకటన వంటి మార్గాల ద్వారా రైతులకు చేయూతను ఇవ్వడం చేస్తున్నది. కానీ గిట్టుబాటు ధరల ప్రకటన ఒక్కటే రైతుల కష్టాలను తీర్చలేదని గత అనుభవాలు చెబుతున్నాయి. ముఖ్యంగా చిన్న, సన్నకారు రైతుల అవసరాలను ఇది అసలు తీర్చలేదని కూడా పలు సందర్భాలలో తేలిపోయింది. అందుకే వ్యవసాయం లాభసాటి వ్యాపకంగా ఉండాలంటే రైతులకు కనీస నికర ఆదాయం ఉండే విధంగా చర్యలు తీసుకోవాల్సి ఉంటుందని వ్యవసాయదారుల శ్రేయస్సు కోసం నియోగించిన జాతీయ కమిషన్ పేర్కొన్నది.

రైతుల ఆదాయానికి స్థిరత్వాన్ని కల్పించడానికి చట్టబద్ధమైన ఒక కమిషన్‌ను ప్రభుత్వం నియమించాలి. ఈ కమిషన్ ఏటా రాష్ట్ర వ్యాప్తంగా రైతుల ఆదాయాల పరిస్థితి ఎలా ఉందో పరిశీలిస్తుంది. రైతు కుటుంబాలు కనీస ఆదాయం పొందేందుకు అనువైన కొన్ని సిఫారసులను చేస్తుంది. ఈ కమిషన్ సేద్యం ఖర్చులను, ఇచ్చిన సబ్సిడీలను, వాస్తవిక ధరలను పరిశీలించాలి. రైతు పెట్టిన పెట్టుబడి, వచ్చిన ఆదాయాల మధ్య సమతూకం తెచ్చేందుకు ప్రభుత్వానికి సలహాలు ఇవ్వాలి. రైతుల నిలకడైన ఆదాయం కోసం వేతన సంఘం చేసిన రెండు సిఫారసులను కూడా పరిగణనలోకి తీసుకోవాలి. అందులో మొదటి సిఫారసు- రోజువారీ అవసరాలు తీర్చగలిగిన కనీస ఆదాయం. రెండు- వ్యవసాయ రంగం నుంచి ప్రజలు వైదొలగకుండా ప్రోత్సాహకాలు ఇవ్వడానికి ఫిట్‌మెంట్ సౌకర్యం ఇవ్వడం. వీటన్నిటినీ సాధించడానికి రైతుల ఆదాయ కమిషన్ బహుముఖ వ్యూహాన్ని అనుసరించాలి. వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తులకు గిట్టుబాటు ధరలు ఇవ్వడం కూడా అందులో భాగమే.

పంటల ధరలను నిర్ణయించడానికి ఉత్పత్తికి అయిన వాస్తవ వ్యయాన్ని ప్రాతిపదికగా తీసుకోవాలి. అలాగే ద్రవ్యోల్బణాన్ని కూడా పరిగణనలోకి తీసుకోవాలి. వ్యవసాయదారులకోసం నియోగించిన జాతీయ కమిషన్ సిఫారసు చేసినట్టు గిట్టుబాటు ధరలను ఉత్పత్తి వ్యయానికి కనీసం యాభై శాతం లాభం కలిపి నిర్ణయించాలి. గిట్టుబాటు ధరల వ్యవహారం రాష్ట్ర స్థాయిలో పారదర్శకంగా జరగాలి. పంటల సీజన్ ప్రారంభం కావడానికి ముందే అన్ని పంటలకు గిట్టుబాటు ధర ప్రకటించాలి. వీటిని సక్రమంగా అమలు చేయాలి. కేంద్ర ధరలు తక్కువగా ఉంటే సరైన సమయంలో ప్రభుత్వాలు జోక్యం కల్పించుకుని, ధాన్యం సేకరణ కార్యక్రమం చేపట్టాలి. ప్రభుత్వాలు రాష్టస్థ్రాయిలో వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తుల ఖర్చులు, ధరల కమిషన్‌ను ఏర్పాటు చేయాలి. అలాగే ధరల స్థిరీకరణ నిధిని కూడా ఏర్పాటు చేయాలి. ధరల నియంత్రణలో ప్రభుత్వ జోక్యం ఉంటే (లెవీ, రెండు రూపాయల బియ్యం పథకం వంటివి)ఆ నష్టాన్ని ప్రభుత్వం భర్తీ చేయాలి.

చేలకు అందించవలసిన ఎరువులు, రసాయనాల విషయంలో రైతుల ఆలోచనలో మార్పు తెచ్చేందుకు ప్రభుత్వం తన వంతు కృషి చేయవలసి ఉంటుంది. అసలు వ్యవసాయమే జూదం వంటిదని సంప్రదాయకంగా చెబుతారు. అలాంటిది ఈ ఎరువులు, పురుగుమందులతో సేద్యం అంటే జూదమే అన్న భావనకు మరింత బలం పెరిగింది. కాబట్టి వీటి నుంచి రైతులను కాస్త దూరంగా ఉంచాలి. దానితోనే పర్యావరణ సమస్య, రైతు ఆర్థిక సమస్య కూడా పరిష్కరించే వీలు ఉంటుంది. రసాయనిక ఎరువుల స్థానంలో దేశీయమైన ప్రత్యామ్నాయాలను అన్వేషించేందుకు ప్రోత్సహించాలి.

కూలి కూడా ఇప్పుడు రైతులు భరించలేని విధంగా ఉంది. చేలకు వేయవలసిన పదార్థాలకు రాయితీ ఇచ్చే క్రమంలోనే కూలీల వేతనం కూడా ప్రభుత్వం రాయితీ రూపంలో ఇవ్వవచ్చు. వ్యవసాయోత్పత్తుల ఆధారంగా గ్రామీణ ప్రాంతాలలో చిన్న తరహా పరిశ్రమలు ఏర్పాటు చేయడం కూడా అవసరం. దీనితో అక్కడ ఉద్యోగ ఉపాధి అవకాశాలు పెరుగుతాయి. దీనివల్ల పట్టణాలకు వలసలను కూడా నిరోధించవచ్చు. పట్టణ-గ్రామీణ వ్యత్యాసాలను కూడా తగ్గించవచ్చు.

ఇవన్నీ అమలులోకి తెచ్చినా కూడా ఎక్కడైనా తక్కువ ఆదాయంతో బాధపడే రైతు కుటుంబాలు ఉంటే వారికి నేరుగా నగదు చెల్లించవలసిన అవసరం కూడా ఉంది. ప్రతి కుటుంబానికి నెలకు రూ. 15,000 ఆదాయం వచ్చేలా రైతుల ఆదాయ కమిషన్ చర్యలు తీసుకోవాలి. నిజానికి ఆంధ్రప్రదేశ్‌లో 1.2 కోట్ల మంది రైతులు ఉన్నారు. వీరందరికీ ప్రభుత్వం నేరుగా ఈ విధమైన ఆర్థిక మద్దతు అందిస్తే సంవత్సరానికి రూ. 25,000 కోట్లు ఖర్చు అవుతుంది. ఇది రాష్ట్ర వార్షిక బడ్జెట్‌లో 25 శాతం. ఈ చర్యలు తీసుకుంటే దారిద్య్రరేఖకు దిగువన ఉన్న యాభై శాతం మందికి విముక్తి కల్పించినట్టవుతుంది. చిన్న, సన్నకారు రైతుల ఆహారభద్రతకు ఇది హామీ ఇవ్వగలుగుతుంది.
డాక్టర్ జీవీ రామాంజనేయులు
సెంటర్ ఫర్ సస్టైనబుల్ అగ్రికల్చర్ (సీఎస్‌ఏ) హైదరాబాద్

Why farmers need a pay rise

By: JULIAN CRIBB

Professor Julian Cribb. Image source: www.water4food.com.au

THE world’s farmers need a pay rise – or, come the mid-century, the other 8 billion of us may well find we do not have enough to eat, argues Professor Julian Cribb.

True, this assertion flies in the face of half a century of Australian agricultural economics orthodoxy – but please bear with me as I explain.

Globally and in Australia, food has become too cheap. This is having a wide range of unfortunate – and potentially dangerous – effects which include:

  • Negative economic signals to farmers everywhere, telling them not to grow more food.
  • Increasing degradation of the world’s agricultural resource base.
  • A downturn in the global rate of agricultural productivity gains.
  • An ‘investment gap’ which is militating against the adoption by farmers of modern sustainable farming and other new technologies.
  • A deterrent to external investment because agriculture is less profitable than alternatives.
  • The decline and extinction of many local food-producing industries worldwide.
  • A disincentive to young people (and young scientists) to work in agriculture.
  • Loss of agricultural skills, rural community dislocation and increased rural and urban poverty affecting tens of millions.
  • Reduced national and international investment in agricultural research and extension.
  • The waste of up to half of the food which is now produced.
  • A pandemic of obesity and degenerative disease that sickens and kills up to half of consumers of the ‘modern diet’ resulting in soaring health costs.
  • The failure of many developing countries to lay the essential foundation for economic development – a secure food and agriculture base – imposing direct and indirect costs on the rest of the world through poverty, war and refugeeism.

From this list it can be seen that low farm incomes have far wider consequences for humanity in general than is commonly supposed.

Indeed, in a context in which all of the basic resources for food production are likely to become much more scarce, it may be argued that, indirectly, they imperil every one of us.

A market failure

This aspect of the future global food security issue is primarily about a market failure.

At its ‘How to Feed the World’ meeting in October 2009 the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation stated that investment of the order of $83 billion a year was needed in the developing world alone, to meet the requirement for a 70pc increase in food production by 2050.[ii] However, almost in the same breath, it noted “Farmers and prospective farmers will invest in agriculture only if their investments are profitable”.

The logic is unassailable. Today many of the world’s farmers have little incentive to invest in agriculture because the returns are so poor. This applies as much to highly-skilled and advanced farmers in developed countries such as Australia or the US, as it does to struggling smallholders in Asia or Africa.

Reasons for the low returns are not hard to find: farmers are weak sellers, trapped between muscular globalised food firms who drive down the price of their produce, and muscular industrial firms who drive up the cost of their inputs. This pincer movement not only discourages ‘developed’ agriculture but also prevents undeveloped agriculture from developing.

Nothing new here, you may say. So what has changed? A growing imbalance in power between farmers and those who dominate the food supply chain is what has changed.

Two decades ago most farm produce was largely bought from local farmers by local buyers for local markets and consumers. In the 21st century there has been an increase in the concentration of market power in the hands of a very small number of food corporations and supermarkets sourcing food worldwide. These are – quite naturally – doing all they can to reduce their input costs (farm prices) as they compete with one another. This is not a rant about globalisation: it’s a simple observation about the facts of global economic life.

The power of the farmer to resist downward price pressure has not increased. Indeed it has weakened as the average producer now competes against some struggling farmer in a far away country, rich or poor, who is also simply trying to survive by selling at the lowest price.

The power of the global input suppliers – of fuel, machinery, fertiliser, chemicals, seeds and other farm requirements, has also grown as they concentrate and globalise. This makes it easier for them to raise the cost of their products than it is for farmers to obtain more for their wheat, rice, livestock or vegetables or to withstand input price hikes.

As a consequence of this growing market failure, the economic signal now reaching most of the world’s farmers from the market is “don’t grow more food”.

Its effect is apparent in the fact that world food output is now increasing at only about half the rate necessary to meet rising demand, and that yield gains for major crops have stagnated.

While some will argue all this makes for greater economic ‘efficiency’, the logical outcome of unrestrained global market power will eventually displace around 1.5 billion smallholders, with devastating consequences for the landscapes they manage. Putting one in five of the earth’s citizens out of work and destroying the food base is not a strategy any intelligent policy or government would advocate, one hopes. But it is one of those ‘externalities’ which classical economics sometimes omits to factor in – and is happening, nevertheless.

Global degradation

In a recent satellite survey, researchers working for FAO reported 24pc of the earth’s land surface was seriously degraded – compared with 15pc estimated by an on-ground survey in 1990. The FAO team noted that degradation was continuing at a rate of around 1pc a year. [iii]

Every agronomist and agricultural economist knows that, when farmers are under the economic hammer, a good many of them will overstock and overcrop in a desperate effort to escape the poverty trap – and this leads to the kind of resource degradation exemplified by the Oklahoma dust bowl and, in Australia’s case, the Eyre Peninsula disaster of the 1940s and maybe the Murray-Darling water crisis of today. In marginal country, cost/price pressures can devour landscapes – and this is undoubtedly a major factor (though not the only one) in the degradation of land and water worldwide, especially in the world’s rangelands.

If we continue to sacrifice one per cent of the world’s productive land every year, there is going to be precious little left on which to double food production: yields in 2050 would have to increase by 300pc or so, which is clearly a tall order. (To put it in local perspective, Australian dryland wheat yields would need to go from 3t/ha to 12t/ha – at a time when the climate is expected to dry out!)

Much the same applies to irrigation: “In order to double food production we need to double the water volume we use in agriculture, and there are serious doubts about whether there is enough water available to do this,” is how Dr Colin Chartres, director general of the International Water Management Institute summed it up recently.[iv]

Solutions to land and water degradation are reasonably well known, and have been shown to work in many environments – but are not being adopted at anything like the rates necessary to double world food production or even to conserve the existing resource base. One reason is that farmers, in the main, cannot afford to implement them, even though many would like to do so.

As a result, world agriculture is today primarily a mining activity. We all know what happens to mines when the ore runs out.

Productivity decline

Today there is persuasive evidence that world agriculture is dropping off the pace – that it is no longer making the yield advances and total productivity gains achieved in the previous generation. AFI’s own work supports this.[v]

In a recent paper Alston and Pardey[vi] also documented this decline in the US and globally attributing it significantly to falling investment worldwide in agricultural science and technology and extension of new knowledge to farmers.

However, the role of low returns in discouraging farmers, in both developed and developing countries, from adopting more productive and sustainable farming systems cannot be overlooked. While a few highly efficient and profitable producers continue to make these advances, the bulk of the world’s farmers are being left behind. Since small farmers feed more than half the world, this is a matter of some concern.

In Australia the effect of low farm prices is to directly cut the farmer contribution to research, which governments then exacerbate by cutting the public contribution in due proportion, creating a ‘double whammy’. The trend of neglect is then compounded by reductions in direct public investment, in our state agriculture departments and science agencies.

Australia is not alone in cutting support for farm research that underpins productivity gain. It has happened in most developed countries and even in places such as China, where the level of ag R&D support is falling as a proportion of the total science investment. With agricultural R&D comprising a mere 1.8pc of the developed world’s science dollar in 2000, you can get a very clear idea how unimportant most governments now consider food production to be.

The fact that agriculture appears perennially unprofitable and suffers from continuing social malaise probably contributes, subliminally, to a view that society ought not to be wasting its money funding research for a bunch of losers: there are a thousand other more attractive and exciting fields for scientific investment. This negative (and false) image of agriculture is an unspoken driver behind the reduced global R&D effort.

Is food too cheap?

For affluent societies at least, food is now the cheapest in real terms it has ever been in human history.

Back in our grandparents’ time, in the early part of the 20th century, the average Australian wage earner devoted about a third of their weekly income to food. Rent was relatively cheap, people didn’t have cars, iPhone bills, plasma TVs, facelifts or overseas vacations – and food was essential. By the 1970s the amount of household disposable income spent on food was down to 20pc. Today it is around 11-12pc in Australia and similar in other western nations. As incomes rise in China and India, the proportion is falling there too.

It seems almost redundant to observe that, when something is too cheap, people do not value it as they should. This produces a lack of respect for the product itself, for the people and industries involved in its production – farmers and scientists – and for the place it is produced, the bush. It is responsible for the negative image held by governments, businesses and societies towards agriculture and its investment needs.

In an age where 3.5 billion humans have only the dimmest notion where their food comes from, lack of respect for the main thing that keeps them alive is coming to be a predominant ‘value’ in the human race.

A culture of waste

Food is now so cheap that developed societies such as the US, Britain and Australia throw away nearly half, while developing countries lose nearly half. [vii]

A society that pays its farmers such a low return, has found it can afford to send nearly half of their efforts to landfill.

Or burn in an SUV enough grain in one week to feed a poor person for a year.

Where our ancestors stored, conserved and recycled nutrients, it now appears we waste 80-90pc of all the nutrients used in agriculture. On farm, up to half the applied fertiliser does not feed crop or pasture but escapes into the environment. Of the harvested nutrients, some are lost post-harvest, in processing and cooking – but more than 30pc are simply discarded, in the shops and in the home. Then we dump around 90pc of our sewage nutrients in the ocean.

In short, the modern food system has established a culture of total waste, sustained only by the mining of energy and nutrients (from rock or soil), which will eventually run out or become unaffordable to most farmers.

It cannot last more than a few decades and we will need to recycle and invest in new systems – but for that to occur, farm incomes must rise.

An unhealthy situation

Cheap food is also responsible for a pandemic of disease and death larger in the developed world than any other single cause of human mortality. Cheap, abundant processed food is a driver for obesity, which now affects one in five humans, and plays a role in the society-wide rise in cancers, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Cheap food, in other words, is an economic invitation to consumers – including millions of children – to kill themselves prematurely through overindulgence.

Cheap food is the chief economic driver of the greatest budget blow-out in all western democracies: healthcare.

Solving the food challenge

The purpose of this essay is to call attention to the effect a never-ending reduction in farmers’ incomes will have on world food security at a time of rising physical constraints to production, including scarcities of land, water, energy, nutrients, technology, fish and stable climates.

At the very time when most experts agree we should be seeking ways to double food output sustainably over the coming half-century, the ruling economic signal is: “don’t do it”.

Of course, we could simply obey the economic signal and allow agricultural output to gradually fall behind – but that will expose 8 or 10 billion consumers to massive unheralded price spikes, of the sort experienced in 2008, which have a dire impact on the poor, start wars and topple governments – and will not benefit farmers as much as a stable, steady increase in their incomes.

It is necessary to state this essay does not advocate a return to agrarian socialism, protectionism, commodity cartels or an end to free markets. In fact, we probably need to move much faster and further towards totally free trade in agricultural products in order to encourage efficient producers – large and small – around the world.

But it does hold up a warning flag about the universal dangers of underinvestment, negative signals and sentiment, resource destruction and rural dislocation caused by the undervaluing of the one commodity humanity absolutely cannot do without, as we approach the greatest demand for food in all of history.

There are numerous ways this issue might be addressed. Here are a few:

1.    Price: through an educated “community consensus” that results in willingness on the part of consumers, supermarkets and food processors to pay more for food so as to protect the resource base and enable farmers to invest in new technologies[viii].

2.    Subsidy: by the payment of a social wage to farmers by governments for their stewardship on behalf of society of soil, water, atmosphere and biodiversity, separate from their commercial food production.

3.    Regulation : by limiting by law those practices or technologies which degrade the food resource base and/or rewarding those which improve it.

4.    Taxation: by levying a resource tax on all food which reflects its true cost to the environment to produce, and by reinvesting the proceeds in more sustainable farming systems, R&D, rural adjustment and enhanced resource management.

5.    Market solutions: establish markets for key farm resources that result in higher returns for farmers from wise and sustainable use.

6.    Public education about how to eat more sustainably; industry education about sustainability standards and techniques.

7.    A combination of several of the above measures.

The technical solutions to many of the world’s food problems are well-known and well understood – but they are not being implemented as widely as they should because of a market failure which is blocking of their adoption. To avoid grave consequences, affecting billions of people, that failure needs correction.

It is not the purpose of this essay to solve the issue of how to deliver fairer incomes to farmers worldwide, but rather to encourage debate among thoughtful farmers, policymakers and researchers about how we should go about it.

But it does question whether some of the ‘old truths’ of the 20th century still apply in the 21st, or whether the age of globalisation and resource scarcity has changed the ground rules.

It also asks whether the unstinted application of overwhelming market force against farmers is the act of a sapient species – or a mob of lemmings?

Over to the sapient ones among you.

[i] Sources for this essay are those cited in my book The Coming Famine, CSIRO Publishing, 2010. Since they take up 24 pages, I have not reproduced them all here.

[ii] FAO High Level Export Forum, How to feed the World: Investment, Rome, October 2009. http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/temp lates/wsfs/docs/Issues_papers/HLE F2050_Investment.pdf

[iii] Bai ZG, Dent DL, Olsson L and Schaepman ME 2008. Global assessment of land degradation

and improvement 1: identification by remote sensing. Report 2008/01, FAO/ISRIC –

Rome/Wageningen

[iv] Chartres C, World Congress of Soil Science, Brisbane, August 2010

[v] AFI, Productivity Growth in Australian Agriculture: Trends, Sources, Performance, 2007

[vi] J. Alston, J.M.Beddow, P. Pardey, “Mendel versus Malthus: research, productivity and food prices in the long run,” University of Minnesota, 2009.http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitst ream/53400/2/SP-IP-09-01.pdf

[v ii] See for example Lundqvist, J., C. de Fraiture and D. Molden. Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain. SIWI Policy Brief. SIWI, 2008.

[viii] In case this should raise a sceptical eyebrow, the recent stakeholder report by Woolworths Australia “Future of Food”, 2010, suggests at least some of the major players in the food game have a dawning grasp of the consequences of their actions and are now looking to invest in (mainly non-income) ways to support farmers.

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It’s high time farm pricing got a booster dose

Amrita ChaudhryPosted: Sep 26, 2008 at 0110 hrs IST

Ludhiana, September 25 With theWorld Bank giving a call to shift focus on agriculture to tackle food crisis, data gleaned from Punjab’s villages only add to its urgency.

The national census for the year 1991 showed Punjab as having 11 lakh farming families. Of these, 45 per cent were small or marginal farmers who owned fields measuring less than five acres. This figure in the next census in 2001 slid to 9.7 lakh and the percentage of small farmers to 30 per cent.

In other words, 30,000 farmers on an average quit agriculture each year. The primary reason for this has been the decline in profitability of crops, particularly paddy and wheat—a phenomenon that agricultural experts are trying to tackle along with suicides by farmers. For example, take the case of Gurdip Singh, a small farmer from village Mehla Kalan. Gurdip, who owns two acres of land, says, “I can just manage to raise food grains for my domestic use from these two acres.”

The situation of Avtar Singh, a farmer with 20 acres of land in Alamgir village, is no different. “My inputs costs over the years have skyrocketed while the prices of crops haven’t risen. And what we all forget is that farmer too is a consumer. I have to pay the college fees for my two children, which runs into lakhs per annum. Then there are the medical costs of my family.”

To drive home his point, Avtar Singh says, “A couple of years ago, one of my kidneys was damaged in an accident. I could not afford treatment. I know there will be a day when all my 20 acres will be lost in medical treatment.”

R S Sidhu, head, Department of Economics, Punjab Agricultural University, agrees as he explains, “The data speak so. The best period for agriculture in the recent past was between 1990 and 2000, more precisely till 1995. While the crisis in agriculture began around 1995, it was nationwide then. Now, however, Punjab alone is suffering. Our calculations have shown that while input costs have gone up dramatically, the rise in Minimum Statutory Price (MSP) of crops is very slow and this has resulted in reducing of profit margins for the farmers.

Sidhu adds, “Since 2001-2007 the input costs have risen by 8-9 per cent while the MSP growth has been hovering around 2 per cent. The wheat MSP announced this year (Rs 1,000 per quintal) had brought a relief for farmers and when the picture was easing out the latest news of Rs 850 as MSP for paddy this year is like a bolt from the blue.”

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'Farmers worse off than lowest-paid babus'

CIFA representation to Prime Minister on Farmers income

Surinder Sud in New Delhi August 18, 2008 08:33 IST

http://in.rediff.com/money/2008/aug/18farm.htm

The apex body for farmers’ organisations has stated in a representation to the government that even big farmers were worse off than the lowest-paid government employees. It has charged the government with discrimination against farmers vis-�-vis workers from other sectors.

While the government has taken no more than four months to implement the Sixth Pay Commission report, even going beyond the recommendations, there has been little action on the report of the National Commission on Farmers headed by Dr MS Swaminathan even after 22 months. This commission had suggested measures to ensure that the net take-home income of the farmers was comparable with that of civil servants.

This has been stated in the representation submitted by the Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It has quoted from the report of the Arjun Sengupta Commission on unorganised sector workers and some studies by the Planning Commission and other organisations to support its contentions.

The Arjun Sengupta report had said that the average monthly income per household from cultivation was Rs 1,578 a month for small farmers and Rs 8,321 for big farmers in 2003. In comparison, the lowest-paid government employee got the pay and perks exceeding Rs 10,000 a month.

The Planning Commission studies have shown that the income ratio for agricultural workers and non-agricultural workers has deteriorated steadily from 1:1.8 in 1950-51 to 1:2.8 in the period 1978-79 to 1983-84 and further to a whopping 1:5.2 in 1998-99 to 2003-04.

The CIFA memorandum, signed by its general secretary Chengal Reddy, has also referred to a study conducted by the Hyderabad-based NG Ranga Agricultural University to point out that a farmer needed to cultivate 15 to 20 acres (6 to 8 hectares) of dry land to earn an income of Rs 4,000 (equivalent to that of a peon) in Telengana and Rayalseema in Andhra Pradesh.

In the coastal areas of the state, the farmers needed to cultivate paddy on at least 10 acres (4 hectares) to earn the same level of income. The average farm holding in India is less than 2 hectares.

For the plight of the rural people, Reddy has blamed the apathy of the government towards the farmers, as reflected in the fixation of low minimum support prices for crops. He has cited the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture (report No 41 dated 22 July, 2008) to substantiate this plea.

The report had stated that the prices of agricultural produce received by the farmers were lower than the market prices and were often less than the cost of cultivation. The committee had favoured fixation of remunerative prices for the farm produce.

The Swaminathan Commission had recommended that the MSP should be at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production. While some relatively less consequential and peripheral suggestions of this commission have been included by the government in its national policy on agriculture, the key recommendations have so far been ignored.

The CIFA has also pointed out that the marginal farmers usually turn landless labourers and the small farmers become marginal farmers during their own lifetime. This amounted virtually to their demotion. The government employees, on the other hand, have been assured at least three promotions during their service.

“Wide, unacceptable disparities in farm and non-farm incomes have occurred mainly because the agriculture produce is underpriced for decades and the surplus amount is transferred to organised sector workers including the government employees, whose productivity does not increase even nominally with successive pay raises,” the representation has maintained.

Farmers vs peons

Business Standard / New Delhi August 20, 2008, 5:48 IST

http://www.business-standard.com/india/storypage.php?autono=331933

By pointing out that the overwhelming majority of farmers are economically worse off than the lowest-paid government employee, the apex body of farmers’ organisations has not unveiled any secret. This has been well known for some time. And although the spate of suicides by farmers in recent years has not usually been by the poorest among them, the severe problems faced by farmers have come into focus. The service done by the Confederation of the Indian Farmers Associations (Cifa) is to dig out some intriguing evidence from reports of various committees and commissions, in order to make its point. Cifa has simultaneously sought to highlight the steadily growing gap between income levels in the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors. This is a matter of special concern, especially considering that the proportion of the population depending on agriculture for subsistence is still more than 50 per cent, while the share of agriculture in GDP has dropped to 18 per cent. By definition, the average income in the non-farm sector will be nearly five times what it is in agriculture. Indeed, Cifa quotes studies done in the Planning Commission to show that the ratio is 1:5.2 — whereas a quarter-century ago it was 1:2.8.

Cifa has alluded to the findings of the Arjun Sengupta commission on unorganised workers to affirm that the earnings of even the bigger farmers compare rather poorly with those at the lowest rungs of the government system. The average monthly income per household from cultivation was reckoned by the commission at a paltry Rs 1,578 for small farmers and Rs 8,321 for the big farmers. By way of comparison, the lowest-paid government employee now gets Rs 10,000 a month. It is an easy point to make after this that while the government has taken no more than four months to implement the 6th pay commission report, and in fact improved on the commission’s recommendations, little action has resulted from the report of the National Commission on farmers, headed by M S Swaminathan, in 22 months.

The important issue is what keeps farm incomes low, and what needs to be done about it. The answer, however, is not what the Swaminathan commission suggested, namely to raise the government’s minimum support prices (MSP) by at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production. This is a solution that will add to food costs, and cause inflation. It could even result in an increase in the general incidence of poverty, because the primary link to poverty is food prices. Rather, the solution lies in bringing about a structural transformation in the economy, achieving significant productivity gains on the farm and simultaneously reducing the number of people who live off agriculture. That means creating more non-agricultural jobs, which in turn means achieving rapid growth in the sectors and activities that generate the maximum number of entry-level jobs. One obvious answer that this points to is labour-intensive manufacture of simple products, as the Chinese have shown. But this requires a change in the country’s labour laws, which the country’s politicians will not allow. If legislators could see the link between labour laws and the existence of rural poverty, perhaps their attitudes might change.