Sunday, April 26, 2015

Caring for Farmer, Really!

 Shri Gajendra Singh, a farmer from Rajasthan, killed himself in full public view in Delhi's Jantar Mantar. Gajendra had come to attend a rally highlighting plight of farmers in India. There are many stories floating around on Gajendra Singh's antecedents and motives, his death has certainly brought focus back on plight of farmers in India. 

Certainly unseasonal hail storm and rain had damaged crops in many parts of North India, however, opposition parties and critics of government had squarely blamed introduction of "Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Compensation" in the parliament towards creation of an atmosphere of doom and gloom in the country. 

According to the bill, government can acquire farmers land, by paying four times the market price for creation of rural infrastructure and industrial corridor. This, according to government, may help create industrialisation, create jobs and remove poverty. 

Critics of the bill say, government is simply trying to take away farmers land and handing it over to favourite industrialists. Government is doing away with social impact assessment. Government has reduced need for obtaining consent of 80%  landowner to 50%, before a land is acquired. 

According to critics of the bill, government is throwing money but not addressing issue of emotional attachment to land and agrarian lifestyle. 

Since my childhood days, I have read slogans like "Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan". Loosely translated, it means, long live our soldiers and long live our farmers. Despite such patronising slogan, why our farmers are in a state of desperation? Are we in the middle of an agrarian crisis? It is very difficult to wade through the maze of  true, partially true and misleading arguments made in favour and against different issues affect farmers. So I decided to do some reading of my own, and came up with the following observations:



Critics have suggested farmers are committing suicide now because of an agrarian crisis. Data published by Indian express indicate that in the year 2012, 1046 farmers committed suicide. In the year 2013, the number of farmers that committed suicide was 879. In 2014, the number of farmer death was 1109. (Indian Express, April 25, 2015). There is no doubt that every life is precious and no farmer should be allowed to die. But in a farming community that includes 600 million farmers, are the numbers 1046, 879 and 1109 are very statistically significantly different from each other? 

According to government of India data, in the year 2005 - 2006 (ref. 1 and 2), India had close to 600 million farmers. Of these, nearly 80% farmers belonged to the category of small and marginal farmers. That constitutes a number of 480 million people. 

Small farmers held between 1 - 2 hectares (average 1.42 hectares; 1 hectare = 2.5 acres) of land and marginal farmers held less than 1 hectare (average 0.4 hectares)  of land. By contrast semi-medium farmers ( 2 - 4 hectares; average 2.72 hectares), medium farmers (4 - 10 hectares; average 5.8 hectares) and large farmers (10 hectares and more; average 17.1 hectares) held 10.9%, 4.5% and 0.8% of land, respectively.

Small and marginal farmers were mostly subsistent farmers, meaning they usually eat what they grow. If they sell anything they do so as distress sale. Majority of subsistent  farmers (55%) do not have access to irrigation (completely or partially) and depend on monsoon for agriculture. 

In addition because of small land size of land holding, after one or more generation agriculture becomes unprofitable because land holding becomes very small. Members of family have to go out in search of job to either nearest town or look for job with big farmers. Land acquisition act suggest that families whose land will be acquired, a member of family will get a job in the government project.

Small farmers cannot get loan, many do not have access to irrigation, good quality seed and fertiliser. Many small and medium farmers do not sell their produce. If they sell, they do it as distress sale.

There is no crop insurance for small and marginal farmers, even for medium farmers. As a result a farmer who cultivates his land by taking loan, has no way of repaying it back once his crop is destroyed by natural calamity. Studies (ref. 3) suggest that mostly farmers with a land holding of 2 - 4 hectares, in other words a semi medium to medium farmer, that commits suicide the most. According to scientists, the self esteem and social standing of a farmer is bad affected as a result of crop loss and resultant inability to repay loan.


The following obvious questions came to my mind:

After so many years of independence, why our farmers are in such a terrible state without any access to modern instruments of agriculture? Why government after government have simply provided a compensation to farmers after crop loss, but not created system to protect farmers without damaging his dignity?

Those who are trying to oppose land acquisition bill, whose cause are they fighting for? - small and marginal farmers or medium and large farmers. For majority of farmers, farming is not profitable.

What is wrong if government acquires land, pays compensation and creates facilities that can be used by people in a village - road, school, hospital, toilets, housing etc?

If we are enamoured by our village life, why our villages are unlivable, why most of the villages do not have electricity, running water, school, medical facility among other things. Why people that feed the nation cannot repair leak in their own home?

References


1. Challenges for marginal and small holders in India agriculture available at : www.skoch.org/14/bbbarik.pdf

2. NABARD rural pulse, available at : www.nbard.org/publicatuion/rural_pulse_final142014.pdf

3. A probe into socio-economic and psychological profile of farmers' suicide in Karnataka. Karnataka J. Agric. Sci.,24 (2) : (157-160) 2011

Links

http://occassionalmusings.blogspot.com/2015/03/land-acquisition-bill-dare-to-dream.html


http://occassionalmusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/land-acquistion-emotive-issue.html


Tags: AcreCalamity, Credit Facility, Farmer, Gajendra Singh, Hectare, Insurance, Irrigation, Kissan, Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Compensation, Large Farmer, Marginal Farmer, Medium Farmer, Small Farmer,  Suicide
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