I have just recently come back from Yavatmal. This is the district in Maharashtra that is the epicentre of suicides by farmers. I had gone there with a 9 member team for studying the implementation of the relief packages announced by the Honourable Prime Minister and Chief Minister. What I saw will be part of a report that will be available soon. I wish to share what I felt…
I have come back with despair. To me it is increasingly evident that farming is not a sustainable livelihood option for 90% of the farmers in India. They can only get enough yield to survive and satisfy hygiene factor needs – food, clothing and primitive shelter. There is no surplus that can take care of the future, good education, good health and a higher standard of living. The main reasons are poor quality of land, sub-optimal use of rainwater, insufficient irrigation and appalling ignorance. A farmer is only an object of exploitation –
- Moneylenders who charge 5% and upwards a month in interest.
- Input (seed, pesticide and fertiliser) dealers who overcharge for outdated and poor quality inputs.
- Food grain dealers who ensure that jowar which is bought from a farmer at Rs. 7/- a kg reaches the consumer at Rs.16/-per kg. Mind you there is little or no value addition : just transport from one point to another.
- Petty government officials who expect favours for doing their jobs.
- Bank managers who withhold credit till their palms are greased.
All these and other powerful persons in rural areas join hands in extracting the maximum out of farmers. No concession is given… No quarter granted…. Just like a sugarcane juice dealer passes the cane a number of times through the grind to extract the last drop and then use the fibre for fodder / paper boards.
The urban consumer is also responsible to a certain extent : after all would we be willing to pay Rs.50/- for a kg of wheat so that the farmer can get Rs. 20/-? We who do not blink twice before spending Rs.1000/- on a family day out?
The exploiters are careful. They know that it is of no use in killing the farmer. Remember that the Nazis knew that concentration camp inmates had to be fed and sheltered so that they could work. Dead inmates were of little use. This is what society at large is doing….. Keeping the farmer at a stage where he continues to grow food that is necessary for us all to live : but not letting him earn enough so that he can reap the benefits of development… that may be dangerous… What if, God forbid, the farmers daughter / son decides to move away from farming? How will we eat?
I think that it is time that all stakeholders radically revisit the development paradigms that they have been adhering to for the last 6 decades. Incremental measures are not going to make things better. Not at a pace that will make a difference anyway. We need to look at
- Serious diversification from agriculture (and on farm labour) as the ONLY means of livelihood for rural families. This diversification could happen in industry or services. For this to happen education must improve and become relevant. It is time for India to put to rest the ghost of Lord Macaulay and design an education system that will suit our needs. Infrastructure must improve. What is the point of creating irrigation facilities if there is no electricity to pump out water? How can one start a value added business if there are no roads to truck out the produce? Government spend must be made in the right areas and with long term vision. Short term politically expedient announcements must make way for mature decision making.
- Consolidation of land holdings and co-operative farming should be promoted. This will enable use of technology and mechanised farming giving economies of scale. I am not personally in favour of contract farming. The equation is too skewed against the illiterate farmer. He gets lured by short term gains and often sacrifices long term interests : simply because there is no one to caution him.
- Governance must be improved. The scale and extent of corruption is appalling. Almost no one believes that things can happen without a kickback. Measures like Right to Information Act are a step in the right direction. Many more are needed. Sterner and swifter means of dispensing justice are a natural corollary to good governance.
Foolish and utopian suggestions, I can almost hear you mutter. I forgive you for that. I seriously believe that this needs to happen
We should get ready for an armed revolution. Believe me this is on the cards. No populace can live under so much stress and not erupt. The storming of the Bastille and the Naxalbari agitation is a good pointer. There are stirrings.. we need to wake up before the beast awakens.