Why India needs its focus back towards agriculture
Once there was this land of farms, called India, which was made fertile with the blood, sweat and tears of the farmers. Today, this land is slowly becoming a grave of the very same farmers. But, who has time to listen to their woes? India is busy ‘progressing’!
In the past few weeks, farmer unrest in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra became the talk of the town. While we watched the ‘news’ sitting in our air-conditioned rooms and sighed at the plight of those ‘poor’ farmers who took to the streets to express their exasperation and anger towards the government, there were some highly unfortunate beings who lost their lives in the protests.
What went wrong? Well, everything!
Agriculture, which has already been quelled by drought, crop failures, government’s excessive focus on urban development, small agricultural plot sizes, water table depletion, and lack of innovation, is no longer a promising industry in India. And, the past many decades have been extremely harrowing for farmers.
But, the recent unrest wasn’t really enkindled by drought, or food scarcity for that matter. Over-production could be qualified as a reason for this uproar in Madhya Pradesh. And to add to the mayhem came the aftermaths of demonetisation haunting these farmers.
The government’s ban on old currency, without any notice, left the farmers with just begging and borrowing as an option for their agricultural requirements – be it seeds, fertilisers, pesticides or even labour. But, the real problem came when traders, hit by cash shortage, couldn’t take the surplus crop that was produced by farmers after a season of good rains.
Price crash, which worsened the situation of already debt-ridden farmers.
India’s missing focus on underlying issues
Farmers’ unrest in the country is nothing new.
Be it the infamous Jat agitation in Haryana in 2016, the ‘rail roko’ agitation of farmers in Punjab in 2015, or the farmers’ protest at Jantar Mantar in 2013 – all of them are a part of the deepening agrarian crisis that the country is facing for the past so many years.
While drought does contribute to agrarian crisis, more often than not, it is the surplus crops that pose a threat. The western UP’s bumper sugarcane crop represents the distress that surplus crops bring along with them. Late and inadequate payments have become a norm in this region of the country. According to the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), the outstanding dues on May 1 in Uttar Pradesh stood at Rs 4,135 crore. With unsettled payments, villagers have been finding it hard to make ends meet.
Who would have thought that bountiful harvests could also become a reason of farmers’ suicides in India? With surplus crops being produced in various parts of the country, the scarcity of proper food storage adds to the griefs of already troubled farmers.
Then there are the aspirations of the youth which are not really cared for. Rural youth, who have seen their parents struggling for better prices for their crops, have been aspiring for a change. They are striving for a better life and want more than just ‘promises’. Some of them shift their focus from agriculture and join other industries. This has particularly been the situation in Punjab where the youth refused to take up on the agricultural business of their forefathers, which even led to the migration of agricultural labour from UP and Bihar to the state.
And then there are youngsters who lead farmers’ agitations in the anticipation of a change in country’s agricultural policies. Because, they don’t really have any other way to voice their concerns!
Today, when the farmers aren’t even getting the basic cost of production, there was a time when Narendra Modi promised the farmers that the minimum support price will be fixed to ensure 50 per cent profit for agriculturalists. This was before the BJP government came into power. Three years later, the BJP government’s failure to stand to its promises has intensified farmers’ protests.
Then there is government’s increasing fixation on urban development which has worsened the situation even more. By giving subsidies, loans and lands to industries, the government has inadvertently widened the gap between urban and rural India. This has resulted in an identity crisis amongst the people of rural India, and so transpire the agitations.
And when the political discourse concentrates on tactics of coercion, rather than really working at the underlying issues of these agitations, these protests take an altogether a bad shape.
Farmers’ agony doesn’t end with loan waiver
On June 19, the Punjab government announced farm loan waiver for small and marginal farmers. ‘Good news’ you may have thought, right? But, wait – here are some statistics to clear the delusion. From June 19 to June 27, a dozen farmers have committed suicide in Punjab, even after the announcement of loan waiver. Yes! And the situation in Maharashtra isn’t much different. The Maharashtra government made the first loan waiver announcement on June 11. Surprisingly enough, as many as 42 farmers have ended their lives from June 12 to June 25.
This highlights the fact that loan waiver isn’t the solution for farmers’ distress. While debt is one of the factors that add up to the distress, it isn’t the sole factor. And so, loan waiver isn’t the permanent solution to the woes of Indian farmers. This, in fact, risks exhausting the already stressed state banks and weakening the levels of public finances.
While there are political parties that may think of loan waiver as a great bait to woo rural voters, they are doing much worse than good to the people of India, just for their electoral gains.
It was in 1965, when the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, led the country to a new wave of prosperity with the slogan – Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan. It was needed then. It is needed even more today.
While Indira Gandhi was one of the few leaders who did think of the farmers, there is a looming need of such a leader who can give the farmers the much-deserved attention. With Rahul Gandhi’s focus on Indian farmers, he can become their lost voice. He has always been supportive of the farmers of the country, his kisan yatra in Uttar Pradesh, and the recent visit to MP’s Mandsaur speak volumes about his concern for the farmers.
But then, why doesn’t he take this concern to a higher level?
Why doesn’t he actually look for solutions that can help in putting an end to farmers’ problems?
We need to understand that agriculture couldn’t be stagnant. It needs innovation, and so modern and pioneering solutions are needed the most at present to uplift the deteriorating situation of agriculture in the country. Rahul should get a team of agricultural experts who can study the core problems of the country’s farmers and suggest relevant solutions.
Rather than just waiving off their loans, it is time to make farming remunerative for farmers.
It is time to make agriculture profitable enough that farmers don’t end up taking their lives, and interesting enough so that the youth of the country takes it up as a profession.
But till now, no political party has been able to do this!
Between the BJP and the Congress, the ultimate winner will be the one who will actually solve the farmers’ problems and bring innovation to the table. But the country’s farmers couldn’t wait for long. The time is running. So, better act before it gets too late.