ISSN 2330-717X

How To Save Indian Farmers From ‘Distress’ Conditions – OpEd

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The frequent incidents of farmers committing suicide have caused considerable disquiet and concern in India.
Mr. Narendra Modi, India;s Prime Minister, has repeatedly stressed that government of India would give necessary support to the farmers to increase their happiness index .

Addressing a meeting of farmers in Madhya Pradesh on February 18, 2016, Mr. Modi said that the government is taking steps to integrate technology in agricultural sector. He also spoke about some meaningful measures that the government has initiated such as crop insurance scheme, soil health card scheme etc.

While such approach of government of India is reassuring, there are number of basic issues which need to be addressed with combination of initiatives , farmer education programme and prevention of exploitation of farmers by middle men and vested interest. The services of non governmental organisations should be utilised effectively by the government to take the message to the farmers and establish healthy communication channel with them.

Government of India may also consider providing hotline to the farmers with Prime Minister’s office ,so that quick initiatives can be made to destress the farmers in quick time at the time of any crisis faced by them, that will go a long way in preventing the farmers suicides. Prime Minister should also make the state governments realise that they are as much accountable to solve farmers’ problems as the central government.

Agriculture is unorganized activity today

Indian agriculture is largely an unorganized sector. No systematic institutional and organizational planning are involved in cultivation, irrigation, harvesting etc.

Institutional finances are not adequately available and minimum purchase price fixed by the government do not reach the poorest farmer.

Small farmers are the worst hit

The ground reality is that majority of the farmers in India own as little as two acres of land. Cultivation on such small area is not economically feasible. Such small farmers have become vulnerable.

In many cases, the farmers are not even the owners of the land, which makes profitable cultivation impossible because significant portion of the earnings go towards the payment of lease for the land.

Farmers should get fair price

Exploitation by the middlemen is the reason put forth for not getting the best price for the produce of the agriculturists.

The government should promote the plan called “ulavar santhai” (Farmers Market), where the farmers can directly sell their products at reasonable price to the consumers.

Government programmes do not reach small farmers

Government has implemented agricultural debt. waiver and debt. relief scheme in 2008 to benefit over 36 million farmers. Direct agricultural loan to stressed farmers under so called Kisan credit Card were also covered under this scheme.

However, most of the subsidies and welfare schemes announced by the Central and State governments do not reach the poor farmers. On the contrary, only big land lords are benefited by those schemes.

High indebtedness and exorbitant interest rates

The root cause of farmers taking their lives is the increase in their indebtedness and debt burden.

Exorbitant interest rates have to be declared illegal and the government has to take strict measures against greedy money lenders.

Easy access to institutional credits have to reach the small and marginal farmers, without cumbersome procedures.

Real estate mafia

We can see even fertile land best suited for agricultural purpose being sold to real estate people, who prepare plots and give attractive advertisements to sell at exorbitant price. There is need to implement strict measures to prevent land grabbing.

Uncertainty of weather conditions

At one time, there will be no rainfall and the farmers have to suffer from drought and another time there will be heavy rainfall and the crops will be damaged. What can the helpless farmers do?

No single solution

There cannot be single solution to end the woes of farmers. The solutions should aim at the entire structure of agriculture.

Multiple crops

Cultivation of multi crops such as coconut, turmeric, pine apple, banana, apple, papaya, ginger will yield profitable results to the farmers.

Special agricultural zone

Just like industrial zone, there is an urgent need to establish special agricultural zones, where only farming and agriculture related activity should be allowed.

Need to modernise agriculture

By introducing farm techniques which guarantee a definite success, more number of youth participation in the agricultural field is possible. This can be attained only by implementing new technologies. Research efforts should continue, to produce crops with higher yield potential and better resistance to pests.

Technological advancement in agriculture should be passed down to the small farmers.

Where the existing crops would not do well under drought and weather conditions, the farmers should be helped to shift to the cultivation of crops that would be easy and economical to cultivate in adverse conditions. Scientists can find appropriate solutions.

Educate the farmers

Many farmers in India are not much aware of crop rotation.

Though education to the people living in urban area has improved much, the government. has ignored about the education for rural people in general and to those employed in agriculture sector in particular. That is why the farmers are not adequately aware of the various schemes implemented by the government..

Clubbing of small fields may help

Several farmers who own small piece of land can join together and combine all small fields into one large chunk. This may help in variety of ways. Is it possible?

Need for meaningful crop insurance policies

Crop insurance is must and the claim should be settled easily under the supervision of the district collectors.

Traditional crop insurance depends on the direct measurement of the damage suffered by a farmer to determine his/her payout. However, field loss assessment is often not feasible or expensive, since most of our farmers are small holders.

Index based insurance, on the other hand, responds to defined parameter.

Index based insurance has the advantages that it is transparent and all the insurers within the defined geographical area are treated equally. It has low operational and transactional costs, while also ensuring quick payouts.

Need for better water management

Irrigation facilities that are currently available do not cover the entire cultivable land. Apart from the areas where perennial rivers flow, most of the agricultural fields do not have irrigation facility.

In most cases, it is not the lack of water but the lack of proper water management that causes water shortage. Improved modern methods of rain water harvesting should be developed.

Water management can be made more effective through inter state co operation on water resources, where surplus water from perennial rivers can be diverted to the needy areas.

Connecting the rivers throughout the country will solve this problem.Construction of National Waterways will improve the irrigation facility, which in turn can save the farmers, if the monsoon would fail.

Neglect of tanks and lakes

We cannot see many tanks or lakes these days and even if we come across them near temples, most of them are dry and are in dilapidated conditions due to poor maintenance.

Tanks, lakes and ponds help to store water from seasonal and unseasonal monsoons and the silt formed also serve as good manure.

It is, therefore, imperative and important to construct new tanks or at least conserve the old ones properly, as they not only help the farmersin irrigation but also help to maintain the ground water level.

Most of the water from drainage are drained into the sea. Instead of draining the water into the sea, they can be desilted and purified and diverted to some tanks or lakes in nearby agricultural lands to be used for irrigation. The silt can be used as manure.

Alternate source of income for farmers

Small farmers should be encouraged to develop alternative sources of income and the government should take up the responsibility for providing training to the farmers to acquire new skills.

In drought affected areas, the government should start alternative employment generation programmes to reduce the dependence on agriculture as the sole source of income. Such programmes should be standardised.

Farmers should be enabled to divide their activities into three parts. One for regular crop production, one for animal husbandry or fisheries and another for timber production. These activities complement each other and also alternate sources of income of farmers can be ensured.

Need for national weather risk management system/disease alert system

Facilitating national weather risk management system that alerts farmers when there is a danger of extreme weather, would go a long way in reducing losses in agriculture.

Value added services like pest and disease alert applications, in combination with the weather forecast would equip the farmers to handle and manage their crops better.

For example, Water Watch Cooperative, a Netherlands based organization, has developed a disease alert system that sends an alarm to farmers, if probability of a pest/disease would be detected.

Similarly, system that detect the amount of water to be provided to a field based on the field water content, biomass and rainfall probability, would aid in optimization of water provision to the crop and ensure efficient crop management.

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N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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