FARMER DISTRESS IN INDIA



The situation in Indian Agriculture, and particularly farmer distress, is increasingly getting the focus, reaching centre stage in The Media and public discourse; at long last, Agriculture is showing signs of getting the attention it richly deserves; for too long we Urban Indians have ignored Indian Agriculture. The sad part is, some {though not all} articles and write-ups on the farmer scene in India do not cover the full reality, and are unaware of the complete list of factors. Furthermore, basis my interactions online and offline, the majority of Urban Indians seem to be totally disconnected with the reality of Indian Agriculture. These articles are an attempt to tell the real story – based not on opinion, but on solid research; full bibliography can be within each article - as well as a full bibliography in the last article of the series.


The common discourse centers around GM Crops, or Irrigation, or Farmgate Prices; rare is the article that takes a holistic view of the full scenario. The impression it creates is one-sided, leading to heated debates based on assumptions & fiction rather than science and fact. This is not a matter of debate insofaras the causes of distress are concerned; the causes are exceptionally well-studied and presented in innumerable authentic research papers in several august bodies. Fact of the matter is that Irrigation, or GM, or anything else is not a direct cause of distress; these are among several and more important causative factors. Irrigation, to take but one example,  has a massive positive impetus on yield - true, but the causes of distress in India have precisely nothing to directly connected with irrigation. The causes of Low Productivity, equally, have only a limited connect with Irrigation, which is only a single parameter among several more important parameters that lead to higher yield


Among the real problems of Indian Agriculture are the following :

ü Low penetration of high-yield Hybrid varieties, proper varieties attuned to Indian Climate; varieties for rainfed . irrigated, saline, alkaline, loamy soil etc etc; their awareness among farmers and their availability

ü Re-planting of Seeds, right seeds for right areas

ü Unscientific Agricultural Techniques {absolutely no relation with technology, which is frankly immaterial insofaras this problem is concerned; mechanization has little direct relation with productivity, which is a straight function of inputs - Soil, Water, Nutrients, Agronomical Techniques, Air and Sunlight. Period.}. This spans crop rotation as well as other agronomical approaches.

ü Pest Management : Again, I did not state Insecticides; they are but one part of pest management, which has more to do with Agronomical and Mechanical Techniques than technology and Chemicals alone.

ü Irrigation, and its judicious use [For the unaware : you dont just irrigate. There is a time, place and volume of water. There is water quality- its dissolved nutrients & minerals, pH reaction etc which can be critical differentiators... and so on and so forth]

ü Quality of Soil in some tracts of India - For ex, the problem of Salination & sub-soil drainage of Soil in large tracts of Punjab&Haryana as well as Gujarat

ü Water Quality, Salinity / Alkalinity, Dissolved Minerals, Effluents

ü Unbalanced [In fact, Soil Salinity in some parts can be traced to Chemical Fertilization; this is the subject of several researches, which I shall share in my article For the unaware : Soil isnt just soil. You have to match pH, Structure, Aeration, Nutrients, etc with crop requirements. And Saline soil is virtually useless]

ü Low Price Realisation at Farm Gate due to APMC and other politico-econo-legal issues which have no easy solution

ü Losses of produce in transit from Farm to Market, in the fields after harvest

ü Lack of access to Agricultural Credit


Not one of these problems can  be ignored; neither are all of them applicable everywhere; India is geographically diverse; the soil & water are different in various parts, as are temperature and other vital factors. These factors, taken together, are what are responsible for the distress; having said that, it is typically a sub-set that is the key problem in each area – like Maharashtra, where the seed factor is or seems to be important {GM Crops}; or areas of Punjab and Haryana, where Salinity Ingress will take precedence, and reach  the subset of factors that are responsible.


The other bugbear is the small size of land holdings – where again, the public discourse is inaccurate. While small holdings are a problem insofaras profitability is concerned {we shall look at this in detail later on, in another article – with data tables and productivity, costs etc} – their yield performance is as on data impeccable. This has many learnings, as we shall see later. The reality is the exact reverse, as authentic data from All India proves in no uncertain terms : SM Farmers are actually more productive per unit of land than Semi-Large and Large Farmers.


SM Farmers contribute around 50% of national output varying from 19.3% to 86.9% between states, and are known to be more productive per hectare, I also refer you to the 59th Round on Situation Assessment of Farmers Survey 2003 , and the 70th Edition of the same which empirically established this. The value of output per hectare was 14754 for Marginal Farmers, 13001 per hectare for small farmers and a meagre 11333 for Large and Semi Large farmers in the 2003 report – we shall take a look at the 2014 numbers in the next article.


Fact of the matter is that it is an unassailable fact that Small and Marginal  farmers are more productive; they contribute to 41-50% of national output, while holding only 33-37% of the land, as researches across the world - IGIDR, FAO and many others have proven beyond even a shade of doubt across the previous decades. The questions then arise is that firstly, has anything changed in the latest edition – the 70th edition of the same survey? And even more important : why cant larger farms be more productive than smaller farms? What can then be done to alleviate the problems plaguing Indian Agriculture and in particular the rising farmer distress?


Agricultural productivity requires certain inputs, just the same as any other science does. What I have done is merely listed the basics of Agricultural Science, admixed it with information about the real scenario in India basis research conducted across several universities and government bodies over the past 60 years. This is an exceedingly well studied scenario, and is pretty much beyond debate. Let me take just one example not in the common discourse : seeds.


It is a known fact that local seeds still command 50-60% share, and that hybrid varieties, which are more resilient as well as return better yields are not fully penetrated due to various reasons. This is proven by another research of 2012 origin from IGIDR Mumbai. The same can be found in sources as far apart as an Exim Bank report of June 2012 echoes the same, showing a penetration of between 2- 50% in staples. This is important because Hybrids demand less inputs, give greater yield and are far more resilient, leading to increased productivity. Furthermore, there is also the sceptre of reuse of Hybrid Seeds, This you cannot do; Hybrids are F1 seeds, in which yield potential reduces dramatically from F2 onwards; this is a known endemic problem to India.



As can be seen, this is no simple matter; this requires an informed debate. I have just listed the basics in totality here : if any journalist is reading this : my only request is to present the full story to Urban Indians, who remain singularly ill-informed of the scenario in Indian Agriculture. Moving on, the next article will attempt to go deeper, and explain the farming community in terms of Small 7 Marginal Farmers, Medium and Large Farmers – just the same as Industry is organized, or SME. Same applies to farming, and just as in business, the challenges and requirements are bound to be different… 

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