Major political parties are wooing farmers to consolidate their seats in the upcoming general elections due by May. Farmers want more than loan waivers. They expect the government to be serious about the agrarian crisis. They want long term solutions and revamped-farmer-friendly policies.
The Indian agriculture is not just riddled by farmer suicides. Agricultural productivity is low by international standards. There is a high demand for value produce like fruits, vegetables and livestock, but many farmers are trapped in low value agriculture.
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According to Observer Research Foundation (ORF), the Indian agricultural sector is caught up in slow moving regulatory frameworks. Despite massive changes in production and demand, the think tank says “demand for agricultural produce, market mechanisms for the same have not seen any meaningful change.” ORF gives an example of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act (APMC) that was passed about 13 years ago and yet to get positive response from the states.
“In the absence of viable pricing mechanisms and modernization of agriculture, farmers continue to be deprived of getting a fair price of their produce,” says ORF. Moreover, there are other concerns such as climate and water. Irrigation remains to be an underutilized area. Farmers depend on the monsoon rains; they are heavily dependent on the erratic monsoon season, keeping productivity and profits low. Furthermore, inefficient power subsidy is leading to wrong cropping patterns. ORF says part of this blame is attributed to the MSP scheme. “Over the years, the demand for other types of food has increased and this had resulted in a fall in the demand for food grains. Farmers are locked-in growing cereal crops such as rice and wheat, while India continues to import edible oils, corn, soya and pulses,” it says. Another major concern is research. Experts agree with the fact that basic and strategic research aiding farm expansion and productivity has not received a major push in many years. ORF stresses “key national agricultural research system has little connect with premier universities and institutions such as IIT, IIMs and think tanks.”
The international media has also been closely following India’s agrarian crisis and have pointed out that while costs of cultivation have escalated sharply, agricultural incomes have declined. Al Jazeera reports that the current government has not responded adequately to the problem of farmer indebtedness. “In addition, the agricultural sector has been extremely negatively impacted by demonetization. In light of these facts, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that his government aims to double the incomes of farmers by 2020 naturally rings hollow in the ears of those who marched in New Delhi a few weeks ago,” says Al Jazeera.
The government has to listen to the farmer’s grievances one way or the other and development of already developed urban centres, changing names and building statues is not the answer.