The agrarian distress and India’s policy paralysis

Development and better incomes are pulling large numbers of rural Indians including farmers to the cities. Farming is no longer an attractive career option. Dr Shailaja Fennell from the Centre of Development Studies said it’s becoming difficult to get a reliable income from agriculture in many parts of the Indian subcontinent

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The agrarian distress and India’s policy paralysis
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The success of India’s agriculture industry has not reduced the distress of its farmers. India needs to equip its farmers with education and technology to help the agriculture industry move forward from the present crisis. The government should invest more in research and development as the Indian agriculture is faced with insurmountable challenges such as soil degradation and climate change. State governments’ loan waiver schemes for farmers, is not the solution. It is just a scratch on the tip of the ice berg.

The agriculture sector is plagued by countless issues, declining incomes, inflation, riots, severe socioeconomic ripple effects, drought, underinvestment and unproductive land. Indian farmers are also troubled by adverse weather, unruly landowners and price surges. Besides, social, market and economic pressures add onto their distress. In March, earlier this year, more than 30,000 farmers marched from different parts of Maharashtra to Mumbai to bring their grievances about land rights to the fore. Not just Maharashtra, farmers are in crisis in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

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Heart of the Problem

It’s the 1960s again. The government has been neglecting the farmers for too long, resulting in this distress. A report by Global Research highlights that corporate globalisation has transformed Indian agriculture into a market for costly seed and chemical inputs and a supplier of cheap commodities. Agriculture has become an industry which has been shaped by global corporations and US interests. Small farmers have been pushed away.Use of expensive, genetically-engineered seeds have only added heavily to the cost of cultivation of crops like cotton, this has further indebted the farmers.

A report by the Geopolitical Intelligence Services (GiS) by Barun S. Mitra states that the challenges faced by India’s farmers are casting a dark shadow over the country’s wider political economy. The domestic land market suffers from gross administrative restrictions. This prevents farmers from consolidating and allocating land. The report further states that it restricts the entry of new capital and technology, trapping farmers in low productivity.

The Pull of the Cities

Development and better incomes are pulling large numbers of rural Indians including farmers to the cities. Farming is no longer an attractive career option. Dr Shailaja Fennell from the Centre of Development Studies said it’s becoming difficult to get a reliable income from agriculture in many parts of the Indian subcontinent. With the young men going for higher education (colleges and universities), farming has been left to the women. The government of the day needs to come up with effective solutions that will boost the morale of the farmers and retain them in the industry.

Fundamental changes in the agriculture sector can bring about tangible benefits to large sections of the rural population. Blinded by the prospect of new methods and new machinery, governments and research organizations have paid little attention to the farmers’ traditional knowledge.

To be successful, challenges from equality and sustainability in agriculture needs to be addressed. State resources and services and knowledge should be equally accessible to the smallholder farmers too. There should be a more resilient outcome for the future of India’s food production.