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Thursday, January 21st, 2021

India’s deepening farm crisis

- K. K. Kapila -  

India, an agrarian country with about  70 per cent  of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture, is going through a deep agrarian crisis. Indian agriculture is facing a crisis of an unprecedented scale. Two back to back droughts, fast depleting ground water, weather events such as heavy rainfall, floods, draught, low productivity of small-scale farming and declining rural wages clearly point to a deepening crisis.

A recent survey by The Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), an NGO  of 5,000 farm households across 18 States reveals that 76 per cent farmers would prefer an alternative employment. Sixty-one per cent would prefer to be employed in cities because of better employment opportunities, education and health. 70 percent of farmers complained of repeated losses as their crops were destroyed because of unseasonal rains, drought, floods and pest attack. 70 per cent never heard about direct cash transfer, 83 per cent were clueless about foreign direct investment (FDI), 70 per cent never contacted any Kisan call centers. The report says that Government schemes are benefitting mostly big farmers having landholding of 10 acres (4.05 hectares) and above. Only 10 per cent of poor and small farmers with average land holding of 1-4 acres (0.4 to 1.6 Hectares) have benefited from government schemes and subsidies.

The land challenge underlying India’s farm crisis

From farm subsidies to farm loan waivers, the Indian government spends crores on farmer’s welfare, but these efforts will remain inadequate unless they can tackle the increasingly daunting barrier which is the lack of land. In India due to the inheritance pattern, the majority of India’s farms (86%) are less than Two hectares. The bulk of these are located in the poorer States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The Indian agriculture is plagued by several problems; some of them are natural and some are manmade.

Small and fragmented land-holdings

The land is divided into economically unviable small and scattered holdings, which have been progressively reduced from 2.28 hectares in 1970-71, to 1.82 hectares in 1980-81 and 1.50 hectares in 1995-96 and further to 0.80 hectares in 2015-16. The size of the holdings will further decrease with the infinite Sub-division of the land holdings. The main reason for this sad state of affairs is our inheritance laws warranting equal distribution amongst sons.

The only answer to this ticklish problem is the consolidation of holdings which means the reallocation of holdings which are fragmented by, the creation of farms which comprise only one or a few parcels in place of multitude of patches formerly in the possession of each peasant.

Seeds, Manures, Fertilizers and Biocides

Seed is a critical and basic input for attaining higher crop yields and sustained growth in agricultural production. Distribution of assured quality seed is as critical as the production of such seeds. Unfortunately, good quality seeds are out of reach of the majority of farmers, especially small and marginal farmers, mainly because of exorbitant prices of better seeds. Certified seed is the ultimate stage in seed production chain and is the progeny of foundation seed. Production of breeder and foundation seeds and certified seeds distribution needs to go up.

Indian soils have been used for growing crops over thousands of years without caring much for their replenishment. This has led to depletion and exhaustion of soils, resulting in their low productivity. The average yields of almost all the crops are among the lowest in the world. This is a serious problem which can be solved by using more manures and fertilizers.

Irrigation & Lack of mechanization

Although India is the second largest irrigated country of the world after China, only one-third of the cropped area is under irrigation. Irrigation is the most important agricultural input in a tropical monsoon country like India where rainfall is uncertain, unreliable and erratic. India cannot achieve sustained progress in agriculture unless and until more than half of the cropped area is brought under assured irrigation. Garlanding of canals and joining of appropriate missing link is the solution.

There is an urgent need to mechanise the agricultural operations so that wastage of labour force is avoided and farming becomes more convenient and efficient. Agricultural implements and machinery are a crucial input for efficient and timely agricultural operations, facilitating multiple cropping and thereby increasing production.

Agricultural Marketing

Agricultural marketing still continues to be in a poor shape in rural India. In the absence of sound marketing facilities, the farmers have to depend upon local traders and middlemen for the disposal of their farm produce which is sold at a throw-away price. In order to save the farmer from the clutches of the money lenders and the middle men, the Government has come out with regulated markets. These markets generally introduce a system of competitive buying, help in eradicating malpractices, ensure the use of standardised weights and measures and evolve suitable machinery for settlement of disputes, thereby ensuring that the producers are not subjected to exploitation and receive remunerative prices.

Inadequate storage and transport facilities

Storage facilities in the rural areas are either totally absent or grossly inadequate. Under such conditions, the farmers are compelled to sell their produce immediately after the harvest at the prevailing market prices which are bound to be low. Such distress sale deprives the farmers of their legitimate income.

There should be systems in place to provide storage facilities to the farmers near their fields close to the village and in particular to the small and marginal farmers. One of the main handicaps with Indian agriculture is the lack of cheap and efficient means of transportation. Even at present there are large number of villages which are not well connected with main roads or with market centres.

Scarcity of capital and loan waiver

Agriculture is an important industry and like all other industries it also requires capital. The role of capital input is becoming more and more important with the advancement of farm technology. Since the agriculturists’ capital is locked up in his lands and stocks, he is obliged to borrow money for stimulating the tempo of agricultural production. As such there is need for a steady increase in the flow of institutional credit to agriculture over the years.

The Government has committed itself to meet the fiscal deficit target of 3.3% of GDP. The Economists caution that farm loans waivers would widen the fiscal deficit aimed to cap at 3.3 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), or Rs 6.24 lakh crore. The previous Congress party-led coalition government had announced farm loan waivers worth nearly Rs 72,000 crore in 2008, helping it return to power with a bigger mandate in 2009. Both the BJP and Congress have promised farm loan waivers in a number of State elections in the past few years. About seven State Governments have promised to write off farm loans worth Rs 1.8 lakh crore. Such farm loan waivers - a populist move for debt write-offs, help only relatively well-off farmers with larger plots of land, while the small farmers - nearly 80 per cent, are deprived of such waivers.

Solution The Rich Temples Should come forward

The Sixteen  most revered and rich temples include Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala; Tirumala Tirupati Venkateswara Temple, Andhra Pradesh; Shirdi Saibaba Shrine, Maharashtra; Maa Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu; Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai; the Golden Temple, Amritsar; Meenakshi Temple, Madurai; Jagannath Temple, Puri; Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi; Somnath Temple, Gujarat; Guruvayurappan Temple, Kerala; Amarnath Temple, Jammu; Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, Kerala; Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, Delhi; Mahalaxmi Temple in Kolhapur, Maharashtra; Lingaraj Temple, Odisha. These temples have assets with annual donations running in billions of dollars which be gainfully be utilized to resolve the agrarian crisis.

The model can be by taking land on lease or outright purchase adjoining the jurisdiction of influence of temple from the land owners and assuring them of monthly returns (to be settled mutually). The land can be taken for about 1000-2000 acres. All modern technological innovations including mechanized irrigation, cold storages and poultry etc. can be planned with use of waste in a cyclic manner to maximize the productivity.  The land less labourers, farmers and youth can be employed on acceptable salaries with proper revenue sharing model.

The temple authorities to come forward for the welfare of the people, whose offerings have made them financially strong. They must take up this immensely important task to help the society at large. The nation is anxiously awaiting their positive initiatives.

If the money and other resources endowed to temples goes to nation-building and strengthening the farm economy, that is good karma, too

About the Author
K. K. Kapila
Author & Entrepreneur
Mr K K Kapila is the First non European to be elected as Chairman, International Road Federation ,Mr. Kapila is also  Co-Chairman, FICCI Transport Infrastructure Committee
Disclaimer : The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of INVC NEWS.



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