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Ground Reality

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Understanding the politics of food, agriculture and hunger
Updated: 35 min 44 sec ago

A Blind Walk that turned out to be an eye opening experience

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 12:27

It wasn't a walk in the blind; it was a walk for the blind. 

Oct 12, the World Sight Day. Walking blindfolded, following a blind person, opened the eyes to the difficult life of the visually impaired. This was stated by a number of people, including students, who participated in the Blind Walk organised by the Chandigarh-based public trust Dialogue Highway, in the Sector-17 Plaza in the heart of the city. 

For the blind persons leading the walk, it was an experience. For those who walked blindfolded behind them, with their hands on the shoulder of the person in front, it was a lifetime experience. For the first time, they were able to feel how tough is the life for the visually impaired. That is exactly what I wanted the people to feel, to realise. Organising the Blind Walk therefore was an effort to reach out to more people. This was in collaboration with the Project Vision in Bangalore, which motivated more than 250 Blind Walks to take place across the country on the same day. 

More than 500 students from different schools, colleges and some from the university participated in the Blind Walk, led by blind students from Chandigarh's Blind School. A large number of citizens, including my father, who is 90, walked blindfolded. The Chief Guest Navjot Singh Sidhu, (a well-known cricketer, celeb, and now a Punjab Cabinet minister) who flagged off the walk, also led the walk blindfolded. A number of celebrities, including the PGI Director Prof Jagat Ram, Justice (retd) S N Agarawal, Punjabi actress Japji Khaira, and singers Pammi 22, Hardeep Gill, Gurkirpal Surapuri, economist R S Ghuman, farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal were on the stage. Before the walk began, I introduced the objectives of organising the Blind Walk urging people to join the effort, and also to pledge their eyes. 

Navjot Sidhu in his own inimitable style regaled the audience and also stated how honoured he felt at being invited to such a pious event. He said that this was an initiative he would never forget. Sensitising the people by making them walk blindfolded was perhaps the best way. The walk, in two rows, led by a blind student walked through the Sector 17 plaza before returning to the same place. A Police pipe band was in attendance. The media did a tremendous job with most TV Channels/media houses covering it live on their Facebook pages. Many journalist walked blindfolded covering the event. The next day, the coverage in the print media too was huge. Thank you everyone who made this Blind Walk an eye-opening activity. I am also delighted to add here that the Roti Bank in New Delhi, a group of very dedicated people towards fighting hunger and inequality, too had organised a Blindfold Walk in the Delhi University campus.

Categories: Ecological News

Stubble burning: Don't penalise farmers. Give them support to take adequate steps.

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 09:35

Pic: Business Standard 
Not to take any more risk with human health, the Supreme Court has reinstated the ban it imposed on sale of fire crackers in the Delhi-NCR region.  The “direct evidence of deterioration of air quality at alarming levels” that the Supreme Court cited to justify the ban has another player. Paddy stubble burning by farmers during the same period in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and in the outskirts of Delhi, has also been blamed for chocking the Capital.
What forces farmers to burn the paddy stubbles is the short window available between the harvesting of paddy and the sowing of the next wheat crop. In a fortnight or so, farmers have to harvest the crop, market it, and also undertake sowing operations for the next rabi crop. Burning of paddy straw therefore is the easiest way out. Unfortunately, farmer’s compulsion that leaves him little option but to burn the crop residues has not been understood properly. Instead of helping the farmers, the entire effort is to coerce them into submission.
An estimated 20 million tonnes of paddy straw is burnt in Punjab alone. As the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had observed: “70 per cent of the land covered by agricultural activity was put on fire by the farmers of Punjab who burnt farm residue,” further adding that stubble burning shoots up the carbon dioxide levels in the air by 70 per cent. “The concentration of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide rises by 7 per cent and 2.1 per cent respectively, triggering respiratory and heart problems. Also, it was stated that soil loses a significant amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and sulphur, the total loss of nutrients being estimated at 1.5-lakh tonnes per annum.
Farmers are aware of the environmental fall-out. But they need monetary help. Punjab farmers have been demanding Rs 6,000 per acre as a compensation package for the additional costs they have to incur to take measures that prevents burning of crop residues. Instead of providing any financial support, farmers who continue to resort to burning of paddy straw are being penalised, put behind bars, and threatened with withdrawal of farm subsidies. As if this is not enough, a ‘red entry’ against the plot number where stubble burning takes place is now being initiated in the land records.
Farming community is furious. Agitating farmers have now openly flouted the ban imposed by the NGT on burning of paddy straw, and a direct confrontation between the agitating farmers and the government is on an anvil. Already, several farmer unions have given call to defy the ban, and surely the incidences of crop residues being put to fire are also increasing. The confrontation is likely to worsen in the days to come.
Knowing that imposing any coercive measure against the farming community already reeling under severe distress will be politically incorrect, the Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is seeking an incentive of Rs 2,000-crore from the Centre to ensure that farmers remove paddy straw without burning it. “We have demanded that the Centre should give Rs 100 per quintal, which comes to roughly Rs 2,000-crore.” And he is right. After all, stubble burning is a socio-environment problem, and the society has to share the burden. Why can’t a proportion of the Rs 50,000-crore proposed economic stimulus package be used for address the problem of stubble burning?
It is a question of priorities. Within weeks of the inflation figures showing a rising trend, the government enhanced the dearness allowance (DA) for the central government employees from the existing 4 to 5 per cent. The hike in DA by just 1 per cent creates an annual additional burden of Rs 3,068.26-crore. If only the government had withheld the 1% increase in DA installment and instead diverted the resources to address the severe environmental consequences arising from stubble burning, the entire problem could have been fixed by now.
Two immediate steps the NGT need to ensure: First, ask the government to provide a compensation of at least Rs 200 per quintal to paddy farmers. I am seeking a higher compensation package because the labour costs have already skyrocketed. Also, there is no need to provide any more subsidies for machines like Happy Seeder, Straw Reeper, Chopper, Rotavator etc. Subsidising the machinery only adds to the burden of the farmers. My suggestion is to leave the task to farmers. let them take a call on which specific machinery they need, if at all. Secondly, make it mandatory for the combine harvester machines to incorporate a baler, which harvests and bales in one pass. I have earlier said (Stubble burning: Combine harvesters alone can provide a solution. http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2016/12/stubble-burning-combine-harvesters.html) that if you are thinking this kind of technological solution will require more time for the combine harvesters to make for a technological improvement, let me tell you a leading manufacturer of combine harvesters – Canada’s John Deere has in partnership with the US-based Hillco Technologies – already developed a next generation machine for harvesting corn wherein the corn stems are baled in one simple step. The Hillco Single Pass Round Bale system which allows the combine harvester to harvest and bale in one pass is what is required for paddy harvest and bale. I am sure the combine manufacturers will be able to provide this amendment for the next paddy harvesting season. If only NGT had tried to make it compulsory for the combine harvesters to bring in the new technology, crop burning would have been easily relegated to the past. #
Don't penalise farmers for pollution. Hindustan Times, Oct 11, 2017. http://m.hindustantimes.com/analysis/work-with-farmers-to-end-stubble-burning-and-save-delhi-from-air-pollution-in-winter/story-ypZsrWD6FJ2cI6AV47p6XO_amp.html
Categories: Ecological News

Pesticides poisoning -- Its the farm workers who pay with their lives.

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 12:32

 The next time you see a farm worker spraying the crops, just stop your vehicle and watch. Chances are you will see him without any protective gear/clothing. Pic: Ajithkumar.cc (from the net) 
It was sometimes in the mid-1980s that the Pesticides Association of India took me to a field trip. Taking me around the crop fields, they showed me the protective gear that the pesticides industry was providing to farm workers engaged in pesticides spraying. It was so reassuring to see farm workers spraying the crop dressed up in protective clothing – hand gloves, face mask, a cap and in gumboots.
Nearly 40 years later, I am shocked to read a news report of 50 farm workers succumbing to suspected pesticides poisoning and another 800 admitted to various hospitals in Maharashtra. About 25 have lost their eyesight, and an equal number are on life support system. After activists highlighted the tragedy, the Maharashtra government has belatedly launched an inquiry. It has also announced an ex-gratia grant of Rs 2 lakh to the nearest kin of the deceased.
It is quite obvious that not much has changed in the past 40 years or so. Why blame only Maharashtra, it is the same elsewhere too. Because human lives don’t matter, and especially when it adversely affects the poorest of the poor, often leading to fatalities or permanent disabilities, the society is not even remotely bothered. If only the pesticides industry, state agricultural department officials and the farmers had collectively launched an awareness campaign as well as made it necessary for the workers to wear the protective gear before undertaking pesticides sprays, the Maharashtra tragedy could have been avoided.
The Maharashtra tragedy primarily occurred because the Bt cotton crop had failed to resist the dreaded bollworms pests for a couple of years now as a result of which farmers resorted to sprays of deadly cocktails to curb the insect menace.
Pesticides are poisons. Regardless of what the ‘Lethal Dose 50’ (LD50) level that is printed on the pesticides containers, the fact remains that the chemicals are nothing but a lethal poison. These have to be therefore used with utmost caution. But when was the last time that you watched a pesticides spray being done by farm labourers wearing a face mask? Forget about wearing a mask, I haven’t even seen workers wearing hand gloves during sprays. If you think I am being unfair, just stop your vehicle and watch the next time you see a farm worker spraying in the crop fields along the highways.
It is here that the farmer too is at fault. Since the sprays are invariably done by daily wage workers, very few farmers ensure that the labourers take precaution. They push the labourers to complete the job as quickly as possible, and are least bothered about the safety and health of the workers. The pesticide residues that seep into the body take time to show the harmful impact, and by that time the labourer has finished the job, taken his money and gone. Most of the time, pesticides poisoning is not even considered as a possible cause when these labourers have to be taken to the hospital.In reality, pesticides poisoning is the least reported cause for farm fatalities.
Pesticides sprays must be undertaken during the early hours in the morning or late in the evening. Pesticides rules prescribe this precaution but it is rarely followed. For example, the ideal time for undertaking pesticides sprays is between 6and 8 in the morning or after 6 in the evening, depending upon the season. The reason is simple. First, there is less possibility of strong of winds in the mornings, and also with the rise in temperature, the chemical becomes more toxic. But since the labour is not available in the earthy hours, spraying operations are invariably conducted in the afternoon. A preliminary investigation has shown that farm workers were made to undertake sprays for 8 to 10 hours at a stretch in Maharashtra.  Pesticide sprays have to be done when the wind flowing in the same direction in which the worker is moving. This will ensure that the worker is relatively less exposed to the chemical. Again, I haven’t seen this being followed. Whatever be the wind direction, a farmer is always in a hurry to get the spraying completed. Still worse, I have seen farmers, mostly migrant workers from Nepal and northeast, conducting as many as 15-20 sprays on tomato crop in certain parts of Uttarakhand. When I asked the reason, I was told by the farmers that it was essential because of the market demand. 
Pesticides companies do provide hand gloves in the packs. It should be made mandatory for the companies to provide not only hand gloves but also a cap and protected face mask in every package. Farmers should be directed to purchase gum boots for the labourers, and it should be the responsibility of agricultural officials’ to ensure that every farmer keeps a few pairs of gum boots at his farm. Pesticides companies and agricultural departments should be directed to jointly organise training camps every fortnight on the use and application of harmful pesticides. 
Agricultural universities too have an important role to play. In fact, since the approvals are granted after the universities give the nod; the number of precautionary steps to be taken should also be spelled out in the approval process itself. If the company fails to adhere to the commitments, there should be a provision of withdrawal of marketing rights. Make it mandatory for the companies to ensure that anyone who is using the chemicals knows the precautionary steps to be taken.
At the same time, agricultural scientists must now shift the focus to crops which require less or no application of chemical pesticides. For example, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, considered to be a Mecca for rice research, has established that “pesticides on rice was a waste of time and effort in Asia“and has gone on to suggest that farmers in the Central Luzon province of the Philippines, in Vietnam, in Bangladesh and in India have shown that a higher productivity can be achieved without using chemical pesticides. But still, I find that close to 45 pesticides are sprayed on the rice crop. Why haven’t the agricultural universities been able to recommend the complete stop on the use of chemical pesticides on rice defies any and every scientific logic? #
Playing with poison. Orissa Post, Oct 7, 2017http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/071017/p8.htm
Categories: Ecological News

Rs 1,682,579,000,000

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 10:55

This graph is from Tejinder Narang's tweet. 
The headline in Down to Earth magazine was startling. Just in 2015-16, India imported Rs 1,402,680,000,000 worth of agricultural commodities. This was more than three times the annual budgetary allocation for domestic agriculture.
Well, if you think the increasing reliance on food imports in one year -- 2015-16 -- is merely an aberration, hold your breath. According to commodity traders, the agricultural import bill has jumped six times in past 13 years, from $ 4.7 billion (Rs 307,709,000,000) in 2004 to reach a peak of $ 25.7 billion (Rs 1,682,579,000,000) in 2017. Such massive imports come at a time when India is reeling under a terrible agrarian crisis. Ideally, instead of allowing huge foreign exchange outgo on imports, this staggering amount of money should have gone to Indian farmers.
There is something terribly going wrong. From an exalted position of food self-sufficiency built so assiduously over the years, India is frittering away the gains of Green Revolution so easily and fast turning into a net food importer. It hasn’t drawn any lessons from the way it deliberately destroyed the Yellow Revolution – self-sufficiency in edible oils -- by simply reducing the import duties in a phased manner over the years to almost zero. From a near self-sufficiency in edible oils achieved in 1993-94, when only 3 per cent of imports were required to meet the domestic requirement, India now imports roughly 60 per cent of its needs valued at over Rs 76,000-crores.
And still, policy makers appear more than keen to allow imports at the drop of a hat. Using the argument that imports are necessary to contain rising food prices, policy makers are opening up to cheap and subsidised agricultural imports and that too at zero per cent duty. No wonder, despite a bountiful harvest, the imports continue to pour in. The more the imports, the more severe blow it strikes to the livelihood security of small farmers. With no takers for their produce, small farmers are the first to abandon farming and migrate to the urban centres in search of a menial job. With job creation already at its lowest level, uprooting small farmers to force them into the cities does not make any economic sense.
I have always maintained that importing food is like importing unemployment. The headline in Down to Earth magazine was startling. Just in 2015-16, India imported Rs 1,402,680,000,000 worth of agricultural commodities. This was more than three times the annual budgetary allocation for domestic agriculture. Well, if you think the increasing reliance on food imports in one year -- 2015-16 -- is merely an aberration, hold your breath. According to commodity traders, the agricultural import bill has jumped six times in past 13 years, from $ 4.7 billion in 2004 to reach a peak of $ 25.7 billion in 2017. Such massive imports come at a time when India is reeling under a terrible agrarian crisis. Ideally, instead of allowing huge foreign exchange outgo on imports, this staggering amount of money should have gone to Indian farmers.  There is something terribly going wrong. From an exalted position of food self-sufficiency built so assiduously over the years, India is frittering away the gains of Green Revolution so easily and fast turning into a net food importer. It hasn’t drawn any lessons from the way it deliberately destroyed the Yellow Revolution – self-sufficiency in edible oils -- by simply reducing the import duties in a phased manner over the years to almost zero. From a near self-sufficiency in edible oils achieved in 1993-94, when only 3 per cent of imports were required to meet the domestic requirement, India now imports roughly 60 per cent of its needs valued at over Rs 76,000-crores.  And still, policy makers appear more than keen to allow imports at the drop of a hat. Using the argument that imports are necessary to contain rising food prices, policy makers are opening up to cheap and subsidised agricultural imports and that too at zero per cent duty. No wonder, despite a bountiful harvest, the imports continue to pour in. The more the imports, the more severe blow it strikes to the livelihood security of small farmers. With no takers for their produce, small farmers are the first to abandon farming and migrate to the urban centres in search of a menial job. With job creation already at its lowest level, uprooting small farmers to force them into the cities does not make any economic sense.  I have always maintained that importing food is like importing unemployment. Allowing cheaper imports is the easiest way to force farmers to quit agriculture. But perhaps what is not being perceived is that turning agriculture uneconomical is part of a policy design. Considering that the National Skill Development Council proposes to bring down the percentage of population engaged in farming from the existing 52 per cent to 38 per cent by the year 2022, I will not be surprised if the increasing emphasis on opening up for agricultural imports is deliberate. The former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had a number of times remarked that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are pushed out of agriculture to move into the cities.  How can a surge in imports be justified at the time of a bumper harvest. With a record 97 million tonnes of wheat production, allowing nearly 8-lakh tonnes of wheat imports at zero duty from Ukraine and Russia makes little economic sense. In addition, nearly 4,000 tonnes of onions have already been imported from Egypt, and as per industry estimates another 6,000 tonnes of onions are expected to touch the shores in a fortnight or so. Only a month ago, farmers were throwing onion on the streets. Meanwhile, the government has allowed import of 3-lakh tonnes of sugar at a reduced duty of 25 per cent to augment supplies at the time of a festive season. Earlier, as per a CRISIL report, India imported 6.6 million tonnes of pulses at zero import duty in 2016-17, and that too at a time of a record bumper harvest. This resulted in a crash in prices forcing farmers to go in for distress sale. At a many a places, farmers were not able to realise more than Rs 3,250 to Rs 4,000 per quintal for Arhar against the procurement price of Rs 5,050 per quintal. In case of moong, the market prices have remained low throughout. Against an MSP of Rs 5,225 per quintal, moongprices have remained below Rs 3,800. Except for Chana (black gram), the profit margin for farmers fell by 30 per cent for all pulses. The disturbing trend in depressed prices still continues. The new arrivals of urad and moong are also not finding buyers, with wholesale prices not picking up beyond the last year’s low levels.   India has already signed an MoU with Mozambique for importing 3.75 lakh tonnes of pulses in the three-year period, 2016 and 2019. It is also negotiating with Brazil, Russia, and South Africa to import pulses and oilseeds. With the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggesting India to increase soybean imports, which have come down significantly after the import duties on edible oils were raised a few months back, it is quite obvious that outsourcing agriculture is becoming a norm rather than an exception. This has dangerous portents for food self-sufficiency as well as for millions of farm livelihoods.
But perhaps what is not being perceived is that turning agriculture uneconomical is part of a policy design. Considering that the National Skill Development Council proposes to bring down the percentage of population engaged in farming from the existing 52 per cent to 38 per cent by the year 2022, I will not be surprised if the increasing emphasis on opening up for agricultural imports is deliberate. The former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had a number of times remarked that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are pushed out of agriculture to move into the cities.
How can a surge in imports be justified at the time of a bumper harvest. With a record 97 million tonnes of wheat production, allowing nearly 8-lakh tonnes of wheat imports at zero duty from Ukraine and Russia makes little economic sense. In addition, nearly 4,000 tonnes of onions have already been imported from Egypt, and as per industry estimates another 6,000 tonnes of onions are expected to touch the shores in a fortnight or so. Only a month ago, farmers were throwing onion on the streets. Meanwhile, the government has allowed import of 3-lakh tonnes of sugar at a reduced duty of 25 per cent to augment supplies at the time of a festive season.
Earlier, as per a CRISIL report, India imported 6.6 million tonnes of pulses at zero import duty in 2016-17, and that too at a time of a record bumper harvest. This resulted in a crash in prices forcing farmers to go in for distress sale. At a many a places, farmers were not able to realise more than Rs 3,250 to Rs 4,000 per quintal for Arhar against the procurement price of Rs 5,050 per quintal. In case of moong, the market prices have remained low throughout. Against an MSP of Rs 5,225 per quintal, moongprices have remained below Rs 3,800. Except for Chana (black gram), the profit margin for farmers fell by 30 per cent for all pulses. The disturbing trend in depressed prices still continues. The new arrivals of urad and moong are also not finding buyers, with wholesale prices not picking up beyond the last year’s low levels.
India has already signed an MoU with Mozambique for importing 3.75 lakh tonnes of pulses in the three-year period, 2016 and 2019. It is also negotiating with Brazil, Russia, and South Africa to import pulses and oilseeds. With the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggesting India to increase soybean imports, which have come down significantly after the import duties on edible oils were raised a few months back, it is quite obvious that outsourcing agriculture is becoming a norm rather than an exception. This has dangerous portents for food self-sufficiency as well as for millions of farm livelihoods.#
A full-blown agrarian crisis? DNA, Oct 2, 2017. http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-a-full-blown-agrarian-crisis-2549693
Categories: Ecological News

Poor farm workers are victims of a predatory credit policy.

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 08:44

If the poorest of a poor woman in a village wants to eke out a living on her own and for which she decides to buy a goat, she looks for a small advance. It may cost her a little more than Rs 5,000 to buy a goat, and she is advised to go to a micro-finance institute (MFI). The MFI provides her the credit, at an interest rate of 26 per cent to be paid back at fortnightly intervals. Effectively, this comes to an interest rate exceeding 60 per cent.
Now take a look at this. The Gujarat government gave a loan of Rs 558.58 crore to the Tatas to set up the Nano plant at Sanand, near Ahmedabad. The Gujarat government has acknowledged that the massive loan was given at an interest of 0.1%, to be paid back in 20 years. In other words, this huge loan was virtually an interest free long term loan. In another case, Steel tycoon, Laxmi Narain Mittal, was given Rs 1,200 crore by the Punjab government to invest in the Bathinda refinery in Punjab. He also got the loan at a 0.1% rate of interest, which means the staggering amount was given virtually free.
If the poorest of the poor women in the village was also to be given Rs 5,000 credit at an interest rate of 0.1 per cent, to be paid back in 5 years if not 20 years like Tata’s and Mittals, I bet she would be driving a Nano car at the end of the year.
At a state-level convention organised by the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union held at Bathinda a few weeks back, I was appalled to learn that the ruthless exploitation by the Micro-Finance Institutions is a norm rather than an exception. According to Lachchman Singh, secretary of the Union, there are 23 MFI companies operating in Punjab, and they charge an exorbitantly high interest rate varying between 26 to 60 per cent. As high as 38.8 per cent of the families remain indebted to MFIs, and an equal percentage draws credit from private money-lenders and rich landlords. In other words, along with private moneylenders, the organised MFIs have emerged as the biggest blood suckers.
This is the first time I heard of such a deep penetration by the MFIs in the farming sector in Punjab. While the urban elite normally blame the unorganised private moneylenders to be the villain of the story, we forget that the organised financial institutes are no better. Interestingly, while farmers get a crop loan at an effective rate of 3 per cent (if he pays back on time), I don’t see the logic of not extending the same provision to the farm labourers. After all, a landless labourer is also a farmer and he too deserves the same financial provisions.
Why I call the khet mazdoor as the hidden face? Well, a few months back when the Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was informing the Punjab Assembly about the steps being taken to waive outstanding farm loans, he was asked what about the khet mazdoor? To this question, he replied: “We don’t have any credible information about the economic conditions of khet mazdoor.”Shocking, isn’t it? That after 70 years of Independence, we still don’t have any idea about the poorest of the poor, under what economic conditions of depravity do they continue to survive.
The Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union took up the challenge. It conducted a detailed survey, and I must acknowledge it is done in a professional manner, in 13 villages spread over six districts of Punjab. The initial findings were formally released at the Bathinda convention. Out of a total of 1,618 khet mazdoor families surveyed, 84 per cent were living in debt, with the average debt at Rs 91,437 per family. Large part of the debt, roughly 25 per cent, was drawn for constructing a house. But don’t be under a flawed assumption. When it says constructing a house, it actually means constructing a room with the basic objective of putting a roof over the head.
Roughly, 35 per cent houses had just one room, with 79 per cent houses having no verandah. And out of the sample houses, 38 per cent had separate bathroom, and another 33 per cent had temporary bathroom. For the remaining, the luxury of bathroom meant a corner of the room being used by womenfolk to take a bath. For 67 per cent of the houses, tap water was the source for water consumption. No house had an RO system for drinking water use.
At least 31 per cent houses had no toilets. While the Government’s emphasis is on building toilets, a startling fact was that 72 per cent houses didn’t have any kitchens. I am not sure whether the priority for a worker’s family would be to first have a kitchen or a toilet, but nevertheless the absence of both shows how deep rooted economic depravity prevails among the khet mazdoor families. Since khet mazdooraccount for 15 lakh families, they form roughly 15 per cent of Punjab’s population. Not a small number to be ignored, or buried under the carpet.
And this brings me back to the illustration I had given at the very beginning. If only these khet mazdoor were given credit at a rate that the industrialists get, I am sure they would have been economically well-off by now. At the same time, I don’t see any economic logic of making available premier land to the Indian School of Business or for the IT companies at Rs 1 per square meter, whereas letting the poorest of the poor pay a market price for the small patches of land they need. If only the khet mazdoor were also to be given small plots, say 25 square metre at Rs 1 per square meter (for setting up a rehri stall), I bet they would do much better than the StartUps who walk away with freebies and tax holidays.

That would be the real Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. 
खेत मज़दूरों के लिए क्यों नहीं है समान ऋण व्यवस्था ? Gaon Connection, Sept 27, 2017https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/article-of-devinder-sharma-why-not-equal-loan-arrangement-for-farm-workers-khet-mazdoor
Privation at High Rate. Orissa Post, Sept 26, 2017.http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/260917/p8.htm
Categories: Ecological News

Why is Indian agriculture in crisis? My talk at the launch of Dr M S Swaminathan's biography.

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 17:10

On Sept 8, Sept 8, I did the honours of releasing a biography (in Marathi) of the distinguished agricultural scientist and administrator, Dr M S Swaminathan, at an impressive ceremony in Pune. He is also considered as the father of green revolution in India. This biography has been written by writer and journalist Atul Deulgaonkar, based in Latur in Maharashtra and published by Sadhana Publications, Pune. Despite his ill-health (he is on wheelchair) Dr Swaminathan himself was present to receive the first copy. The book release ceremony was held in the S N Joshi auditorium, which was jam packed, with a lot of people sitting on the aisles/on the steps. There were two adjoining small halls with live streaming, and these too were full. Amazing turnout in Pune, which I was told is not known to be so responsive to any intellectual activity about farming and farmers. It was in 1996 that I had requested Dr Swaminathan to release my first book -- GATT and India:The Seeds of Despair -- in New Delhi. Understandably, it was therefore a great privilege for me to be invited this year to release his biography.

After formally releasing the biography, I delivered the main lecture explaining the reasons behind the continuing agrarian crisis. The response was simply stunning with many a people walking up to me saying they had tears in their eyes. Although the book was about Dr Swaminathan, I was instead requested to sign the copies. 

Here is my talk at the launch of Dr M S Swaminathan's biography (in Marathi) at Pune, 
Sept 8, 2017. 
Categories: Ecological News

Farmer is not a burden. It's they who continue to subsidise the nation.

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 06:44

The image of a farmer in our imagination still remains the same. Because we have designed economic policies that doesn't allow him to grow.  Pic- Down to Earth
Try to imagine the face of a farmer. The picture that comes to your mind will most probably be of a frail figure, in a dirty dhoti-kurta, with a loosely-tied turban on his head and wearing soiled juta. If he comes to your house, you’ll most probably like to meet him outside the gate then to let him in and spoil the expensive carpet in your drawing room.
Not everyone treats a farmer like this, but most people do.
At my evening walk yesterday, I met a retired government official: “Sir, why this media fuss over the loan waiver amounts to farmers being as low as Rs 10 to Rs 300? Shouldn’t that be accepted by farmers with gratitude? After all, they don’t pay any income tax, get huge subsidies and still they want loan waivers? What for? They are lazy and don’t work. If they work hard, they wouldn’t have bad loans in the first place.”
I felt outraged. I was livid with anger. But I somehow controlled my anger and quietly walked away.Reports of waiving outstanding farmers’ loans of 9 paise, 19 paise, 90 paise, Rs 2, Rs 6 and so on, with as many as 4, 814 farmers getting a waiver of less than Rs 100 are splashed all over the media. Reports say as many as 11.93-lakh farmers in Uttar Pradesh have so far received waiver certificates in the first phase for Rs 7,371-crores, at glittering ceremonies being held at the district headquarters. This is part of the total of Rs 36, 359-crores that the UP government had promised to waive-off for small and marginal farmers.
While 4, 814 farmer got a waiver of less than Rs 100, another 6,895 got their outstanding loan between Rs 100 to Rs 500 waived off; 5,583 got waiver certificates for an amount ranging between Rs 500 to Rs 1,000; and as many as 41,690 received waiver certificates for amount as low as Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000. If I add up the numbers, 57,982 farmers got a loan waiver of less than Rs 10,000. Many will say that this is a princely amount and the farmers should remain perpetually obliged for the state’s largesse, and this fits in very well with the image of a farmer that remains implanted in our imagination. 
This is only the first phase of the much talked about farm loan waiver. We still have more than Rs 29,000-crore to be waived off. Going at this rate, I am sure the number of farmers who will get paltry sums waived-off would add to a few lakh. Call it a joke or at best call it a cruel joke, the fact remains that successive governments as well as a large section of the middle class has always treated farmers as a burden, living on our alms or anything the society can afford to give in charity. Once the pride of the nation, the entire effort now is to offload the burden as quickly as possible.
But is the farmer really a lazy person? Does he not work hard to earn a livelihood?A news report published in Gaon Connection (Sept 12, 2017) provides the answer. Accordingly, as per a calculation of the UP Department of Agriculture, on an average every month a farmer incurs a net loss of Rs 1,307. Against an expenditure of Rs 6,230, the net return a farmer gets is only Rs 4,923. At this rate, the daily income of a farmer comes to a bare Rs 164. In neighbouring Haryana, a study by the Haryana Agricultural University (HAU) had computed the average income from wheat cultivation at Rs 800 per acre.At such a low level of income, I shudder to think how a farming family must be surviving. After all, you can’t even rear a cow in Rs 1,307 per month.
This only endorses what I have been saying for long: “Year after year, farmers have toiled hard to produce a bumper harvest. But little do they realise that when they cultivate a crop, they actually cultivate losses.”My assessment is based on the minimum support prices (MSP) worked out for almost all crops, which are below the cost of production. Even if you were to look at the cost of production of different crops in different states and compare it with the prices the farmers get, the net loss is glaring. As a result, farmers are left with no option but to seek credit, often from multiple sources, including moneylenders. Credit pe credit is what the farmers end up getting sucked into.
In Punjab, the food bowl, some studies have shown that as many as 98 per cent of the rural households are in debt, and in 94 per cent of the cases the average expenditure exceeds the monthly earnings. If this is situation in Punjab, the frontline agricultural state, imagine the dire straits in which farming households live in rest of the country. All this is because successive governments have denied farmers their rightful income. Agriculture has been deliberately kept impoverished to ensure that the food prices remain low for the urban population.
In other words, it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years. It is high time the middle class is made to understand how they are in a way directly responsible for the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails in the countryside.
Farm loan waiver therefore brings a short-term relief for farmers. But their expectations are belied when the state government throws spanners by ensuring that even that does not reach the beneficiary farmers. In UP, despite the government promising to waive the outstanding loans of small farmers, finally the unpaid loans till March 2016 are being written-off. Finally, the write-off is only for those farmers whose bank accounts are linked to Aadhar. This is grossly unfair.
But when it comes to striking off the corporate toxic loans, the government is more than keen to oblige the industry. As much as Rs 81,683-crore of bad debt for the financial year 2016-17 has been quietly written-off. Did you hear of any defaulting company getting loan waiver of Rs 100 or Rs 10,000 or even Rs 1 lakh? Each company gets several crores written-off and that too without any hassles. That’s how the economic policies are designed. Writing-off of corporate loan is treated as economic growth whereas writing-off of farmers loan is considered as credit indiscipline’ and a drain on the national exchequer.  #   

मध्यम वर्ग के ज्यादातर लोगों ने किसान को हमेशा एक बोझ समझा है. Gaon Connection. Sept 18, 2017.https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/debt-waiver-the-farmers-uttar-pradesh-much-of-the-middle-class-has-always-considered-the-farmer-a-burden
Categories: Ecological News

What will happen if 12,500 businessmen were to commit suicide in a year?

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 09:25
What will happen if 12,500 businessmen were to commit suicide in a year? What will happen if 12,500 lawyers to commit suicide? Or what will happen if 12,500 doctors were to commit suicide?  Just think.   But nothing happens when 12,500 farmers commit suicide. That's the tragedy.  Here I am in conversation with journalist Shoma Choudhury at #TheAlgebra, in Gurgaon. On Aug 28, 2017.

After the conversation, Rohit Kumar, who was present at the event, wrote this article in the Huffington Post. A very moving piece indeed ..

The Day I Realised The Plight Of The Farmer Is India’s Biggest Problem

By Rohit Kumar

 ....... To be honest, I had never heard of Devinder Sharma before. I had come to this event to listen to the next speaker, Devdutt Patnaik, author of DevlokMy Gita and The Leadership Sutra. But Mr. Sharma's talk had me sitting on the edge of my chair and leaning forward for the next 45 minutes and I learned some startling, inconvenient, and downright damning truths which sufficiently rearranged the way I see India.For example, I had no idea that a farmer ends his life every 41 minutes in India. Or that 12,602 farmers had ended their lives in 2015. Or that between 1995 and 2015, a period of 21 years, a total of 3,18,528 farmers have committed suicide!Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst and journalist who holds a master's degree in plant breeding and genetics—and who gets trolled regularly for his views—punctuated statistics with stories of individual farmers. One that I am quite sure neither I nor the rest of the audience will forget anytime soon was about a farmer who jumped into a canal with his ten-year-old son tied to him. Both drowned. In his mind, he wasn't trying to harm his son. In a note that he left behind, he said he was simply trying to save his son from a debt that he would never be able to repay.And here I was thinking the Gurmeet Ram Rahim story was the big story of the year!The average income of a farmer across 17 states continues to be ₹20,000 a year! That breaks down to ₹1666 a month.Agriculture is not a sexy subject. Very few people in our turbo-charged television, print and social media spaces actually want to listen to facts and figures about (furrow brow and then roll eyes) farming! When I was a kid (in the 70s) my father used to religiously watch a Doordarshan programme called Krishi Darshan on our little black and white Televista TV. (No, he wasn't a farmer. He was an educational psychologist.) I remember groaning fairly loudly every time he sat down to watch the programme. I would say exasperatedly, "Who on earth even cares about tomatoes and potatoes and fertilisers?" And my dad would fix me with a long look and say, "The farmers do. And you should too."I didn't get it then. I certainly do now.Read the full article herehttp://www.huffingtonpost.in/rohit-kumar/the-day-i-realised-the-plight-of-the-farmer-is-india-s-biggest-problem_a_23188802/
Categories: Ecological News

New India will require new economic thinking.

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 10:18
Will New India see the end of farmer suicides? 
The Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) releases its Global Hunger Index ranking countries in proportion to its population faced with hunger and under nutrition. India ranks 97 among the 118 developing nations, faring worse than all its neighbours except for Pakistan. This report was released almost a year back, in October 2016.
As usual, the report was written about in news paper editorials, and then forgotten. Not many knew that the Global Hunger Index was first prepared in 2006, wherein India ranked 96 among 119 countries. In these 11 years, nothing had changed as far as hunger and malnutrition was concerned. In fact, India’s track record in addressing hunger had only worsened.
But what came as a bigger shock is a report of a survey conducted by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau. The survey brings out a stark reality that the country doesn’t want to hear. Rural India is eating less than what it used to 40 years ago. According to a report published in the web news portal Scroll – “On average, compared to 1975-’79, a rural Indian now consumes 550 fewer calories and 13 gm protein, 5 mg iron, 250 mg calcium and about 500 mg less vitamin A.
Children below the age of three are consuming, on average, 80 ml of milk per day instead of the 300 ml they require. This data explains, in part, why in the same survey, 35% of rural men and women were found to be undernourished, and 42% of children were underweight.” In fact, the malnutrition levels in South Asia are twice as high as in Sub-Saharan Africa. Considering that rural India comprises 70 per cent of the country’s population, where roughly 85-crore people live, I thought this was an appropriate subject for a mid-night Parliament session. After all, a democracy cannot brush growing hunger and malnutrition under the carpet.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared removing hunger and malnutrition among the six goals that he has announced to be achieved in the next five years, by 2022. This is a very heartening development. But let me make it clear, it is not the previous Prime Ministers had remained oblivious to the growing malnutrition monster. In recent years, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had launched Garibi Hatao, Atal Bihar Vajpayee had promised to turn the infamous hunger belt of Kalahandi into a food bowl, Manmohan Singh had gone to the extent of calling malnourishment “a national shame". But hunger and malnutrition has remained robustly sustainable.
I recall an emotional Narendra Modi dedicating his government to the poor when he addressed for the first time the BJP Parliamentary party meeting at the Central Hall. Several of the government’s programmes are aimed at reaching out to the poor, including opening the Jan Dhan bank accounts for 58 per cent of the population, who had remained outside the ambit of the banking system. With programmes like Skill India still to show results, what is worrying is the growing tendency to shift bulk of the rural population to the urban centres. The National Skill Development Policy paper has set a target of reducing the population engaged in agriculture from the existing 52 per cent to 38 per cent in the next five years.
Meanwhile, the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, which was created in 1972, was disbanded in 2015. Whatever be the reason, the fact remains that how will the country ever know whether the nutritional targets have been achieved unless there is a credible organisation to monitor it. In any case, while the economic growth is measured every six months, nutritional surveys are conducted once in 10 years. Even that is not palatable. It throws a dampener in the story of economic growth. The malnutrition figures, howsoever startling these may be, get camouflaged under the glare and glitter of the economic growth figures.
Removing poverty, hunger and malnutrition is not possible without focusing on agriculture. A recent US study has established that investments in agriculture are five times more effective in removing poverty than investments in building urban infrastructure. In my understanding, this is a very significant finding which cannot be ignored simply because the Indian economists, policy makers and the bureaucracy is ideologically committed to market reforms and thereby is busy systematically reducing the investments in agriculture and in the social sector spending as well.
I have always been of the opinion that that those who are responsible for the crisis cannot be expected to provide solutions. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), an umbrella organisation that overlooks 71 agricultural universities and over 200 research institutes/bureaus, is a classic example. Add to it, the economic prescriptions being doled out time to time by the Niti Ayog, and it becomes loud and clear that the thrust is on the same kind of failed policies that brought in the agrarian crisis in the first place.
Even Albert Einstein had once said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Whether it is the Economic Survey, the Niti Ayog’s Vision and Strategy document for the next three years, or the report of the expert committee on Doubling Farmers Income, the underlying thrust is on the same strategies and approached which actually led to the crisis. The arguments invariably revolve around the same principles -- increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation, crop insurance and strengthening the electronic national agricultural market platform. 
If this was true, I don’t see any reason why Punjab, the food bowl, has not turned into a suicide hot spot. There is hardly a day when 2 or 3 farmers on an average do not commit suicide. Punjab has 98 per cent area under assured irrigation and has the highest productivity of cereal crops, including wheat, rice and maize, in the world. It also is on the top when it comes to the number of tractors, machines, fertiliser and pesticides use. And yet, farmers are dying. Although Punjab gives a picture of prosperity, some colleges in Punjab have started mid-day meal programmes to address hunger and malnutrition among the youth. Expecting all other states to follow Punjab’s success in agriculture therefore is not the way out.
Agriculture is the first line of defence against poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Ignoring farmer’s welfare and focusing only on crop productivity has been the bane of agriculture. It is high time to learn from the past blunders, and make a fresh approach if the Prime Ministers dream is to be realised. It is certainly possible but not with the same flawed thinking that actually led to the crisis. #
Categories: Ecological News

There is nothing more lucrative a business than Crop Insurance

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:12
Pic: Indian Express
I was never in doubt. The flagship programme launched with much fanfare -- Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY) – has turned out to be at best a profit insurance scheme for the private insurance companies. There is certainly no business as profitable as crop insurance.
In the crop year 2016-17, when the monsoon rains had returned to normal after a back-to-back drought for two consecutive years, a total of Rs 22,437-crore was paid to the insurance companies. Against such a huge premium, the crop loss claims finalized by the insurance companies, including 11 companies in the private sector comes to Rs 8,088-crores. Of which, Rs 7,700-crore has already been paid to farmers. Even after the total claims finalized by these companies, which totals Rs 8,088-crore as mentioned above, is distributed it still leaves the insurance companies with a staggering profit of Rs 14, 349-crores.
Instead of paying Rs 14,349-crore profit to the insurance companies for the crop year 2016-17, I wonder why didn’t the government instead use the entire amount as disaster relief to the farmers. This is primarily because the PMFBY is basically designed to help the private companies. The government either did not visualize that there were serious problems in its implementation the way the scheme was designed or probably had too much of faith on the private insurance companies. The CAG has already pointed to several discrepancies, but let’s also look at some of the structural problems in the very basic design of crop insurance.
The biggest fault of course lies in the way the average loss is worked out. In the past, the average loss computed in a block or taluka was considered while assessing the crop loss suffered by a farmer. In the PMFBY too, a village or a village panchayat has been taken as the unit of insurance. It means that irrespective of what the loss an individual farmer suffers from hailstorm or strong winds etc, the compensation he will get will be based on the average loss in crop production in a village. This is primarily the reason why farmers were never enthused to take up crop insurance.
I have always questioned this faulty methodology. Consider this, if a house in a residential colony catches fire, the owner gets the claim he filed for. Why shouldn’t the same methodology work in the farming sector? After all, 60 per cent of the total insurance is done in 50 risk prone districts across the country. Given that 11 insurance companies are into the business, I see no reason why these companies cannot be directed to assess loss on a per unit farm basis? In these 50 districts to begin with, each company can map each and every farm in five villages each. Why are the insurance companies not being directed to pay the insurance claim based on each farm is baffling indeed.
As if this is not enough, the best way to ensure profits for the companies irrespective of the extent of crop losses is to keep the sum insured at a minimal level. Given that the loss assessment is based on the average loss incurred in a village, if the sum insured is lower than the threshold levels, it is quite obvious that the claimant would get only a fraction of what his loss is. Now, this is a little complex. So let me illustrate how the companies ensure that either they don’t have to pay at all or have to pay a bare minimum for the losses the farmers suffer. 
Take the case of Bundli district in Rajastha. According to a study conducted by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), for soybean crop the farmers were insured to a maximum of Rs 16,539 per hectare against a maximum output value of Rs 50,000. Similarly for paddy, the sum insured was Rs 17,096 against the expected value of his output from a hectare being Rs 65,000. In the Beed district of Maharashtra, against the cost of cultivation worked out at Rs 34,147 per hectare in 2015-16 by the Maharashtra State Agricultural Prices Commission, the sum insured was a maximum of Rs 18,000 per hectare. Which means even if the loss a farmer incurs is more than 50 per cent he will hardly get any compensation.
For the kharif 2016 season, a civil society group -- Abhinav Rajasthan -- in an interesting investigation showed that the maximum claim that was applicable in moong had been worked out to Rs 16,130, which is roughly 40 per cent of the total value of the crop. Accordingly, if we look at the estimates prepared by the State Agriculture Department, seven quintals is the average output of moong per hectare. Going by the Minimum Support Price for moong, the total output in terms of value comes to about Rs 40,000 per hectare.  But what a farmer could insure was not more than for Rs 16,130 per hectare.
Keeping the sum insured deliberately low provide profit security for the insurance companies. As the CSE study shows, at 90 per cent indemnity level for soybean crop, the claim amount would be just 25 per cent of the cost of production. For paddy, it would have been 25 per cent.
Further, I find the crop losses and claims that are being worked out are based on open bidding. The premium limits quoted by the private companies are actually not based on risk-based premiums but simply based on their commercial gains. This shouldn’t have been allowed in the first instance. Nowhere in the world is this permitted. Crop insurance companies cannot get into an open bidding process so as to select areas where they would like to operate. This clearly shows that the government’s intention is to provide an open field to the private sector companies to maximize their profits without any accountability.
Take Rajasthan, for instance. News reports say Rajasthan will have to provide roughly 35 per cent of its agricultural budget to implement PMFBY. This is because the insurance companies are quoting a higher premium and the government has no mechanism to force them to reduce it.
In other words, crop insurance is turning out to be an excellent business proposition for the private companies since they do not have to make any initial additional investment for creating adequate infrastructure, including employing the manpower required into loss assessment and crop cutting experiments. Under the PMFBY, for the mandatory crop cutting experiments to assess crop loss, states have to undertake four samples from each village or village panchayat for major crops, while eight samples are to be taken for other crops. Since 24 crop cutting experiments are mandated for a district, the country will need 40 lakh crop cutting experiments to be conducted. First, why shouldn’t the insurance companies be directed to create adequate employment to do the crop cutting experiments? Secondly, even if the State Governments were to undertake these operations, why shouldn’t this be paid for by the private companies?
The insurance companies do not even have to make any investments in employing people to work as insurance agents. Since the premium is automatically deducted from the bank accounts of loanee farmers, this acts as a bonanza for the companies. Bankers tell me that the insurance companies only come to the bank once to get their share of premium and return the next season. Insurance companies don’t even know what crop the farmer was sowing nor did they ever care. In other words, Insurance companies often don’t even know what crop had been insured.  The prevailing practice of deducting insurance premium directly from the bank accounts of farmers should therefore be immediately stopped. #
To Benefit Farmers and Not Crop Insurers, Crop Insurance Scheme Must be Overhauled CompletelyThe Wire. Aug 31, 2017. https://thewire.in/172303/crop-insurance-pmfby-farmers/
Categories: Ecological News

Aren't we going back to the days of 'ship-to-mouth' existence?

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 11:12

Believe it or not, India imports apples from 44 countries -- an RTI reply. 
It has been a saga of an unprecedented growth, followed by a terrible agrarian distress. No country in the world probably has ever seen the pendulum of agricultural growth swinging from one extreme to another. In the past 70 years, ever since India achieved Independence in the back-drop of the Bengal Famine, Indian agriculture has not only demonstrated what it takes to attain the pinnacle and subsequently on how easy it is to fritter away the gains.
Emerging from the throes of an impending starvation, when India’s future was written-off by many doomsayers, India’s remarkable turnaround to achieve food self-sufficiency remains the hallmark of any effective and successful development policy. A right mix of policies, technology and above all the backing of a determined political will to achieve food self-sufficiency is now part of history. First with milk, and followed closely with food grains, the actual trigger for the two major revolutions in India’s history was set off within a span of two years: 1965-66.
It is not that the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru didn’t make any efforts. A number of community development programmes were initiated during his tenure.  Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 1955, he had said: “It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait, but not agriculture.” Eventually, the country’s first Agricultural University at Pantnagar in Uttar Pradesh was inaugurated by him on Nov 17, 1960. Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana came up in 1962. Bhakra dam was dedicated to the nation in 1963. So in more than one way, it was Nehru who laid out the infrastructure for what later was called as Green Revolution.
White Revolution: It was in 1965 that the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri laid the foundation of milk cooperatives, which enabled farmers to get a higher price for milk and at the same time enabled urban consumers to get the benefit of easy availability of milk at an affordable price. Hailed as one the world’s most successful rural development programme, the dairy cooperatives have turned India into the world’s largest producer of milk, with production crossing 156 million tonnes. Benefitting more than 150 million dairy farmers, a majority of the beneficiaries being women, the enhanced per capita availability of milk has turned out to be one of the strong pillars of attaining nutritional security.
Green Revolution: A year later, in 1966, by allowing the import of the miracle high-yielding dwarf varieties of wheat from Mexico, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ushered in what is popularly termed as Green Revolution. Aided and abetted by appropriate price and public procurement policies, public sector investments and food distribution to deficit regions, India became self-sufficient in food, achieving food security at the national level. Subsequently, India stopped food imports under Pl-480 coming in from North America.
The success achieved in wheat was followed quickly in rice, cotton, sugarcane, vegetables and fruits. Food self-sufficiency became the foundation for national sovereignty, a fact which is often not acknowledged. It was in 1965 that the then US President Lyndon Johnson had got upset over a statement the then Prime Minister made. In an interview to a US newspaper Lal Bahadur Shashtri had termed the American war in Vietnam as “an act of aggression”. But this was unacceptable. How could a hungry nation dare to call the US an aggressor? The US stopped food supplies, sending the Indian government into a tizzy. The then food minister C Subramaniam later told me that there was a time when the country was left with food stocks for only seven days. There was panic all around. Shashtri had urged the nation to fast on Monday, the basic idea being to share the available food with the needy.

From: Tejinder Narang's tweet, Sept 8
Green Revolution certainly ended the era of chronic food deficiencies; enabling India to meet the challenges of hunger and deprivation. Such is the resilience developed over the years that even severe droughts, some in successive years, have not cast a remote shadow of famine. Nor has it forced the country to stand with a begging bowl. The strength of agriculture attained has to be measured at how it coped at times of calamities. For 70 years, the farmers have toiled hard to produce bumper harvests. Year after year, the records have tumbled.
It also turned the country into the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables. But while food production continued to record new heights, estimated to cross 272 million tonnes in 2016-17, the share of agriculture in country’s GDP has been continuously sliding. With food easily available off the shelf, the middle class as well as the policy makers subsequently became complacent. Public investments in agriculture declined over the years. The focus gradually began to shift away from food self-sufficiency.
Agrarian Distress: Since the time the Economic Reforms were initiated in 1991, the institutional shift from planned to market-driven economy has decelerated the rural economy, casting a severe blow to agriculture. With World Bank in 1996 directing India to move 400 million people from the rural to the urban areas in the next 20 years, successive governments began to dismantle the planks of what is popularly called as ‘famine-avoidance’ strategy so assiduously built over the decades.
Consequently, with each passing year, the plight of a farming family has only worsened. Successive governments have deliberately created conditions turning farming non-viable thereby forcing an increasing number of farmers to abandon agriculture and migrate to cities. With farm gate prices remaining subdued if not static, a majority of the 600 million farmers have come under increasing levels of debt. In Punjab alone, 80 per cent of the farm families are living in debt. This is happening at a time when the focus is shifting to encouraging contract farming thereby allowing corporate to engage in agriculture. But will this work? Even while some industry projections see India emerging as an export hub for agriculture, most analysis point to India becoming a major food importer.
While food self-sufficiency is being sacrificed at the altar of international trade, food imports have soared. Already, a number of agreements are being signed to outsource food supplies, including from BRICS countries. According to Down to Earth magazine, food import bill for 2015-16 stood at Rs 1,402,680,000,000, three times more than the annual budget for agriculture. What is not being realised is that importing food is like importing unemployment. At a time when jobless growth is the norm, destroying farm livelihoods does not make any economic sense.
The dominant economic thinking is to open up the markets so as to allow agriculture to be globally competitive. While the World Trade Organisation (WTO) succeeded in pierce opening the developing country markets, it failed to make any drastic cuts in the monumental farm subsidies being provided in the rich industrialised countries. On an average, US provide farm subsidies to the tune of $ 68,910 per farm compared to $ 306 per farmer that India provides. This erodes the very concept of competitiveness.
The WTO was followed by bilateral and regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) treaty being currently negotiated between 16 countries, including the 10-member ASEAN block, will strike the final blow if and when it succeeds in making it mandatory to reduce import duties to zero on 92 per cent of the traded commodities/goods. Aren’t we going back to the days of ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence? 
Of the Agrarian Distress, Business World, Sept 2, 2017. http://businessworld.in/article/India-100-Of-The-Agrarian-Distress-/24-08-2017-124621/
Categories: Ecological News

Unfair to Penalise the States for Farm Loan Waivers.

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 17:34

Pic courtesy: The Economic Times 
At a time when Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was pleading before the Union Government to relax the borrowing limit by Rs 10,000-crore to fund its farm debt waiver scheme, came the news report that the public sector banks had quietly written-off a record Rs 81,683-crore worth of bad debt for the financial year ending March 2017. This is in addition to Rs 70,000-cr cash flow benefits that have been provided to the stressed telecom sector this year.
While Punjab is seeking relaxation under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act 2003, which limits the current annual borrowing limit to 3 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) so as enable the State government to raise additional market borrowing to meet the farm debt liability, the question that crops up is while both the industry as well as the farmers default the banks, why the write-off rules are different for the two categories of bank defaulters. In other words, States are being penalised if they cross the limits of fiscal deficit of account of farm loan waivers. 
The argument is that the State Governments are expected to maintain fiscal discipline by ensuring that the budget deficit does not exceed 3 per cent. But why then, between 2012 and 2017, when Rs 2.46-lakh crore of corporate non-performing assets (NPAs) has been written-off, no State government was asked to bear the burden from its own revenues. Why hasn’t the RBI passed on the burden instead to the State governments, where these companies were located, asking them to find resources for the write-off? For instance, one of the steel majors, having an outstanding debt of Rs 44, 478-crore has its headquarters in New Delhi. Why isn’t the Delhi Government being asked to write-off the staggering amount?
If not, then the question that needs to be therefore asked is why should the State Governments be asked to waive farm loans from its own resources? Just like the industry, why doesn’t RBI then direct the nationalised banks to waive the outstanding farm debt also?
Soon after the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had announced the farm loan waiver, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had made it clear that the States will have to find their own resources for farm loan waivers. What he implied in other words was that farm loan waivers are a state subject. But having enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) last year, and having empowered this year the RBI to launch insolvency proceedings against big defaulters, I expected the Finance Minister to also tell the banks to find their own resources or ask the State governments to write-off. After all, industry too is a State subject.
It didn’t happen. In fact, the SBI chairperson Arundhatti Bhattacharya went a step ahead. While she made it abundantly clear that the farm loan waivers leads to credit indiscipline, she had no qualms in pleading for an economic bailout for the telecom industry, which too is reeling under ‘unsustainable’ stressed loans of Rs 4.85-lakh crore. The Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian later justified the writing-off of corporate NPAs, saying “this is how capitalism works.” I wonder why capitalism doesn’t work the same way for farmers.
Moreover, if farm loan waiver ‘undermines honest credit culture’ and could affect the ‘national balance sheet’ as the RBI Governor Urjit Patel had remarked, it is time to know why does the Rs 2.46-lakh crore write-off by banks in the past five years is seen as inevitable for economic growth and makes economic sense. This certainly smacks of double standards. The discrimination that farmers face when it comes to bank defaults therefore needs to be addressed in the same manner as the corporate write-offs.
First, farm loans need to be clubbed with corporate loans. Since both agriculture and industry are state subjects, it is rather unfair to treat them separately when it comes to loan waiver. State governments should therefore refuse to write-off outstanding farm loans from its own revenues. Not only for the total farm bad debts of nationalized banks, let the cooperative bank/societies loan write-off in turn be a responsibility of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). Secondly, the FRBM Act 2003 needs to be suitably amended so as to exclude the burden of farm loan waivers from State’s expenditures. #
Capitalism isn't for farmers. DNA Mumbai, Aug 30, 2017.http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/report-dna-edit-capitalism-isn-t-for-farmers-2541628
Categories: Ecological News

Farmers are cultivating losses

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 12:55

Categories: Ecological News

Economic Survey: When mainline economists wear blinkers.

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 08:17
For nearly 10 years now, I have been a very discerning reader of the annual Economic Surveys. The voluminous document is generally presented two days before the annual budget and gives you a fairly good assessment of how the economy had behaved during the year.
At the same time, it also tells you how short-sighted the economic thinking of the successive governments had been. In fact, if you read it carefully, you realise that the economists who wrote it, blindly follow the economic thinking that the World Bank/IMF as well as the credit rating agencies have been prescribing. What becomes abundantly clear, if you have cared to read at least a few of the Economic Survey documents, is that the economists cannot even dare to think outside the box. The same hackneyed suggestions and recommendations, even if these had failed over the years.
Just like the horses are made to wear blinkers so that their gaze remains focused, I think knowingly or unknowingly what the mainline economists do not realise is that they too actually wear a psychological band of blinkers. They can’t see beyond that. Perhaps they are not even expected to see outside the box. And let’s not forget, blinkers actually deprive horses from seeing what nature wanted them to see. Our economists are no better.
When you don’t have the capacity to see beyond the dotted line, you actually end up making mistakes, often serious blunders. Take the case of agriculture, which provides livelihoods, directly or indirectly, to 52 per cent of the population. At least for the 10 years that I have carefully gone through what the Economic Surveys have been saying, I am very much convinced that the root of the terrible agrarian crisis that the country is faced with actually lies in wrong economic thinking. It all emanates from the Economic Surveys. And the worst tragedy is that those who write the Economic Surveys are not even bothered to admit that the economic prescriptions they have been suggesting is what in the first place has led to the farm crisis.
Year after year, the Economic Survey continues to make the same failed suggestions to prop up agriculture: Raise crop productivity, expand irrigation, reduce risks, provide for remunerative prices, and privatise markets. For the past 10 years at least I find the Economic Survey making the same suggestions to build agriculture, and no wonder the agrarian crisis has been deepening with every passing year. Not even the spate of farmer suicides, which shows no signs of ending have provoked them to look beyond the ideological prescriptions being doled out. After all, an estimated 3.30 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 22 years, and the fact that the economists can’t even dare to come out with some sensible recommendations is a sad reflection on the policy framework. 
As if this is not enough, and knowing that almost nothing that it has prescribed in the past has worked, the Economic Survey 2017 now shifts its focus to the controversial Genetically Modified (GM) crops. Using the same flawed argument that farm distress can only be decreased if the crop productivity increases Economic Survey is now trying to justify the cultivation of GM crops as the saviour. It even suggests that not only the junk GM Mustard variety that awaits commercialisation, India should actually open up for all kinds of GM crops.
It has even drawn up a matrix to justify the introduction of GM crops, following exactly what the GM industry has been saying all these years. Earlier, in a report presented on how to raise pulses production, a committee headed by the Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian had openly backed bringing in GM technology in pulses to increase productivity. Since the recommendation came under a severe attack from the civil society, the CEA has gone a step ahead to use the policy document to lobby for the commercial interests of the private seed companies.
The scientific fact that there is no GM crop in the world which raises crop productivity has been simply ignored. The only GM crop which has been in cultivation in India is Bt Cotton. If GM cotton had helped raise cotton grower’s income, I see no reason why farmers cultivating Bt cotton should be committing suicide. It's estimated that nearly 70 per cent of the total farm suicides in India relate to only cotton. Moreover, if raising crop productivity was the way forward, I don't see any reason why Punjab, the food bowl of the country, should turn into a hot spot for farmer suicides. Punjab has the highest productivity of cereal crops in the world, and with 98 per cent assured irrigation it has the highest area under irrigation in the world. Yet, there is hardly a day when 3 to four farmers are not committing suicide. 
Even without using GM crops, pulses production had increased manifold this year. But because the government didn’t know how to handle a surge in production, farmers suffered as the prices crashed. Against the procurement price of Rs 5,050 per quintal, a majority of the farmers were not able sell beyond Rs 3,500 to Rs 4,200 per quintal. Where was the problem with productivity? How long will economists paint a wrong narrative to promote the interests of the input suppliers?
I have no hesitation in saying that Economic Survey-II of  2017 makes a very disappointing reading. Since the economists use a blinker, it is high time they are exposed to the ground realities, to understand why farmers are dying. Otherwise we will continue to receive such shoddy policy documents. My suggestion therefore is to make it mandatory for the economists forming the team that puts the Economic Survey together to spend at least 3 months in a year in the rural areas. The team should be led by the Chief Economic Advisor, and comprise the members of the Niti Ayog too. I am sure you will agree there is an urgent need to expose the economists/bureaucrats to the rural pulse. Or else, the terrible crisis that the country faces for over a decade now will only worsen. #

खेती पर सर्वेक्षण तैयार करने वाले अर्थशास्त्रियों को कम से कम 3 महीने गांव में बिताना चाहिए Aug 21, 2017 https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/the-team-of-economists-spend-at-least-3-months-in-a-year-in-the-rural-areas-column-by-devinder-sharma 
Categories: Ecological News

Debt and farming have now become synonym.

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 15:50

Pic: From Web
It was exactly in the month of August 2016. A suicide note left behind by a 22-year-old graduate student, Gopal Babarao Rathod, son of a small farmer from Yavatmal in Maharashtra, made such a poignant reading, but at the same time he in his own humble way questioned the very premise behind the prevailing economic policies. He asked: “A teacher’s son can easily afford to pay a fee of Rs 1-lakh to become an engineer but tell me how a farmer’s son can afford so much fee?” He then went on to add: “why is it that the salaried employees get dearness allowance without even asking for it whereas farmers are denied adequate compensation for their produce?”
More recently, in April this year, another 21-year-old student, daughter of a Maharashtra farmer, committed suicide. Unable to bear the stress her parents were undergoing in trying to find a suitable match for her and to get her married, Sheetal Yankat decided to end her life by jumping into a village well. In a suicide note she left behind, she wrote: "My parents are extremely poor and have been unable to raise money for my marriage. I am committing suicide because I don't want my parents to come under a debt burden. The economic condition of my family has worsened over five years because of the failure of crops. My two sisters got married somehow with very simple marriage ceremonies. My father is trying his best for my marriage. But since the middlemen are not able to lend money, my marriage has got delayed for two year. Therefore, I am ending my life with the hope that my father will not be burdened by anymore debt and perhaps my death will also end the dowry practice.”
A few months back in Punjab, a young farmer Jaswant Singh committed suicide. He owned three acres of land and had an outstanding debt of Rs 10-lakh. The distress that he was undergoing was clearly visible. But one fine day he took his five-year-old son for a bicycle ride. Eyewitnesses say that he first tied his son to his waist before he jumped into a nearby canal. In a suicide note he left behind he regretted carrying his son to the watery grave but categorically stated that he knew his son would not be able to repay the outstanding dues and so it wasn’t worth living. 
The tragedy that struck these farming families symbolises the agony that the entire farming community is living with. There is hardly a day when farm suicides are not reported from one part of the country or other. The serial death dance on the farm continues unabated. Majority of these deaths are because farmers are unable to pay back loans. They can’t pay back loans because agriculture has over the years turned uneconomical. They are in reality buried under piles of credit taken from multiple sources. In the absence of adequate income, they have no option but to rely on credit. After all, they too have to bring up their families; they too have to educate their children; they too have to provide for health expenses; and they too have to meet the aspiration of their children.
The Union Minister of State for Agriculture in November 2016 had acknowledged in Parliament that farmers are reeling under an outstanding debt of Rs 12.60-lakh crore every year.
In the past 22 years, mounting indebtedness has pushed an estimated 3.30 lakh farmers to take their own lives. Those who have refrained from taking the extreme step are no better. They continue to somehow survive, living in acute distress, and hoping against hope. Several studies have shown that almost 58 to 62 per cent farmers sleep empty stomach. They are the victims of an economic designWhile the policy emphasis has been on increasing crop production, the more important issue of whether this is accompanied by a rise in farm incomes has been simply pushed under the carpet.
For all practical purposes, debt and farming have now become synonym. Seventy years after Independence, and 55 years after the Green Revolution was launched, economic freedom continues to elude farmers. Economic Survey 2016 made it abundantly clear. Accordingly, the average income of a farming family in 17 States of India does not exceed Rs 20,000 a year. In other words, farming families in roughly half the country are surviving on less than Rs 1,700 a month. Knowing that it is not possible to rear a cow in the same amount, I shudder to think how these families survive year after year. 
Year after year farmers have toiled hard to produce a bumper harvest. But little do they realise, when they cultivate a crop, they actually cultivate losses. In order to keep food inflation under control, successive governments have denied farmers their rightful income. The entire burden of keeping food prices low has been very conveniently passed on to farmers. In other words, it is the farmers who are bearing the entire cost of subsidising the consumers. Farm incomes remain almost frozen or bare enough to cover only the cost of production. Over the past few decades, agriculture has been deliberately kept impoverished.
The Commission for Agricultural Cost and prices (CACP) computes the net returns. Let’s try to see whether the net returns have increased. In Maharashtra, which has been faced with massive silent protests by Marathas, and which I believe is the primary reason for the discontent, the net return per hectare for paddy is Rs 966, which means if worked on a monthly basis it will come to less than Rs 300 a month. For Ragi, Maharashtra farmers actually incur a loss of Rs 10,674 per hectare; for Moong (minus Rs 5,873); for urd (minus Rs 6,663). Even for cotton, the net return is only Rs 2,949 per hectare. Considering that cotton is sown in June and its harvesting begins in October, with the pickings going on to November, December or even January, the average income per month from cultivating cotton comes to a paltry Rs 700 per hectare. 
Viewed from the national level, the net returns for crops like paddy, sugarcane, maize, and cotton have actually declined in the past three years. For most of the dryland crops, the returns are in the negative. If the farmer is destined to harvest losses, I wonder what kind of technological and financial support can bail them out. Giving them more credit, even if it comes from institutional agencies/banks, has only pushed them further into a debt trap. As a former Prime Minister Chaudhury Charan Singh had once remarked: A farmer is born in debt and dies in debt.
Keeping food prices low is in consonance with the dominant economic thinking aimed at drastically reducing the work force in agriculture. This is what the World Bank had desired way back in 1996. It had expected 400 million people to be moved out from the rural to the urban areas in India by the years 2015. Successive governments have therefore created conditions of economic hardship to make it possible. Public sector investments have declined over the past few decades, especially after the economic reforms were unleashed in 1991. Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan used to say that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are moved out of agriculture, to meet the ever-growing demand of cheaper labour for the infrastructure industry. The National Skill Development Council already has spelled out plans to bring down the population in farming from the existing 52 per cent to 38 percent by 2022.
It is all going as per the design.
Farmer is no longer seen with pride. Gone are the days of Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan. Today, farmer has become a burden on the nation, and the entire effort of policy planning is to off-load the burden as quickly as possible. #
Agrarian crisis: Gone are the days of Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan; the debt-ridden farmer is a liability. FirstPost. Aug 15, 2017. http://www.firstpost.com/india/agrarian-crisis-gone-are-days-of-jai-jawan-jai-kisan-the-debt-ridden-farmer-is-now-a-liability-3932941.html 
Categories: Ecological News

Trees in Amazon make their own rain. Be sure, tropical forests in India also do the same.

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 13:19
Pic: tourmyindia.com
Whenever I drive up the mountains, what often strikes me first are the low hanging clouds in the midst of the mountain ranges. I had always thought that the formation of the vapor clouds, considering that the monsoon clouds were still far away, was because of the trees. The higher the density of trees, the higher the probability of vapor clouds.

I couldn't say for sure because I had no scientific backing to prove my point. Most people, I am sure, too thought they knew it but like me were unsure in the absence of a proper scientific explanation. The low hanging clouds were simply dismissed as 'mist' and that was it. “All you can see is the water vapor, but you don’t know where it comes from,” says Rong Fu, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. (See the Science report, link below)  

Like many of us, Rong Fu too thought it was possible that plants were releasing enough moisture to build low-level clouds. But she needed to explicitly establish the connect, between moisture and the forests. To find out, she and her colleagues began researching in the tropical forests of Amazon, using NASA’s Aura satellite, a spacecraft dedicated to studying the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere. While the low hanging clouds over Amazon were clearly visible but what needed to be established was that these were not as a result of a drift of moisture from the ocean. Satellite data helped her prove the point. Two significant conclusions are: 

1) Moisture that evaporates from the ocean tends to be lighter than water vapor released into the atmosphere by plants. That’s because during evaporation, water molecules containing deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen made of one proton and one neutron, get left behind in the ocean. By contrast, in transpiration, plants simply suck water out of the soil and push it into the air without changing its isotopic composition.

2) From the satellite data she found that the early moisture accumulating over the rainforest was high in deuterium—“too high to be explained by water vapor from the ocean,” Fu says. What’s more, the deuterium content was highest at the end of the Amazon’s dry season, during the “greening” period when photosynthesis was strongest. 

This explained, as a news report -- Trees in the Amazon make their own rain -- published in the American journal Science (Aug 4, 2017) states: The Amazon rainforest is home to strange weather. One peculiarity is that rains begin 2 to 3 months before seasonal winds start to bring in moist air from the ocean. Now, researchers say they have finally figured out where this early moisture comes from: the trees themselves.

What is true for Amazon is also true for the rest of the tropical forests, which we have been mercilessly cutting down in the name of development. While rainforests are threatened by climate change, the reverse is also true. Indonesia for instance had experienced several severe droughts in recent decades. The worst occurred in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 when millions of acres of forest burned. Even in the Amazon, between 2005 and 2010,  severe droughts were recorded. Rivers dried up, isolating communities, and millions of acres burned. (http://kids.mongabay.com/elementary/501.html#cc). It now becomes apparent as to why Western Ghats need to be saved from the kind of economic growth that Amazon has been lashed withIn India, the monsoon period is not only shifting but is also squeezing. If you want the rains back, save trees. 

Environmentalist Usha S from the Thiruvanthapuram-based voluntary society Thanal, says: "This is what tropical rainforests used to do. South Kerala used to have rains for 11 months in a year." 
Ironically, Kerala was faced a severe drought last year, some considered it to be the worst in 125 years. Well, the policy makers may not agree but the fact remains that the imposition of a flawed development model had actually acerbated the drought crisis. 

So far it was believed that trees play a crucial role in producing oxygen and absorbing carbon-dioxide, which helps to reduce the climate change impact. But while Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) and the resulting heating of the climate was being blamed for freaky weather, extended periods of acute drought, more flooding in some regions, and the monsoon going topsy-turvy, the role trees play in maintaining an ecological balance was not considered economically significant. According to Nature (Sept 2, 2015), since the beginning of the civilisation, 46 per trees have been axed. Every year, 15 billion trees are being felled. 

Well, if the rains have disappeared don't blame the raingods. 

Over the years, I have seen, followed and admired the role of the World Rainforest Movement. What the WRM has been saying for long, and which makes terrific economic sense, has been simply ignored by the policy makers as an 'anti-development' stand by a bunch of activists. Its recent statement about climate change and forest crisis makes a very important point about the fallacy of the recent proposals by aiming at a 'zero net deforestation'. Accordingly, “zero net deforestation” means that large-scale deforestation can continue as long as large-scale industrial monoculture plantations of eucalyptus, acacia, pine and other trees continue to expand.  

It further states: The New York Declaration on Forests that includes a pledge to end “net” deforestation, which means they will continue logging if the damage can be “offset” somewhere else. The Declaration was signed in 2014, on the sidelines of the UN Secretary General’s climate summit. Yet, this Declaration, stating that it aims “to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020, and strive to end it by 2030”, does not spend a word on what its agri-industry signatories will do to actually halt plantation expansion. This very expansion continues to lead to deforestation in direct and indirect ways." (Read the fill statement here: http://wrm.org.uy/actions-and-campaigns/the-climate-and-forest-crises-cannot-be-solved-with-number-games-and-false-solutions/)

Rong Fu's latest study reinforces what sensible people have been pointing to for quote long now. I think it should make the world to sit back and re-think about the very basis of what constitutes growth economics. Destroying pristine forests and commodifying natural resources is not growth economics; it is violent economics. We cannot allow growth economists to confuse us with numbers anymore. We need adequate rains. #

More reading: 

Trees in Amazon make their own rain. Science, Aug 4, 2017. 
Categories: Ecological News

RCEP will undo the gains of food self-sufficiency built so assiduously over the decades

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 17:26

Pic: Global Politics and Law
The damage caused by climatic change is not going to be the biggest worry that a farmer is likely to face in future. There is a still a bigger disaster would be a price crash after a bountiful harvest. Farmers know when the drought is approaching; they know what precautions to take when the heat spell extends for long. They remain prepared to face insect attacks and know how to minimise crop losses at times of heavy rains. But just imagine the severe blow that a farmer receives when he finds that after an abundant, the prices crash.
This is what I call as ‘Produce and perish’. Farmers produce a record harvest, only to suffer an unforeseen disaster. 
After two years of back-to-back drought, the rain gods finally smiled. Expecting a normal crop season, farmers put in their labour hoping to partly offset the losses suffered in the past two years. A bountiful harvest would result in good prices for them, they thought. But the markets suddenly crashed. Prices of dal, tomato, potato, onion, sarson, and all other vegetables crashed forcing farmers to dump the produce on the highways at many a places. Farmers’ anger imploded into a massive protest that began from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, eventually resulting in five farmers dying from police farming. 
But there is more trouble brewing on the farm front. At a time when farmer unions are planning for a jail bharo protest from Aug 9 to Aug 15 seeking farm loan waiver and implementation of the Swaminathan Committee recommendation of providing 50 per cent profit over the cost of production, what they are not aware is that an international trade negotiations currently underway holds a much bigger threat to the future of Indian agriculture. In fact, as and when it comes into existence, it would allow unbridled imports of highly-subsidised agricultural commodities at zero duty thereby pushing small farmers to abandon agriculture.
Let’s examine what is at stake. Over the past few decades, especially after 1995 when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) came into existence, the effort has been to force the developing countries to remove trade barriers and import duties. What was attempted initially through the WTO was aggressively pushed under the bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between two countries or a group of countries. While numerous studies have shown that India has hardly gained from the opening up of the domestic market, the damage done to agriculture has been enormous.
Sridhar R from Thanal, a voluntary society based in Thiruvanthapuram, explains how the FTA with ASEAN trading block has already hit the livelihoods of plantation growers in Kerala. “Seven years ago, we, as civil society and the Govt of Kerala, had predicted that reduction in import tariffs would impact Kerala seriously, especially in rubber, and spices.” He says that as per the prediction the imports have increased and prices have fallen. The Central Government, which went ahead and signed the deal, has done nothing whatsoever to compensate or support the farmers whose lives and livelihoods have been affected. However, Kerala is left to shoulder the burden of providing Rs 5 billion every year to compensate the rubber farmers for the price fall. Only about 30 per cent farmers get the compensation, with the rest of the community gradually moving out.
As if this is not enough, a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) treaty, which concluded its latest round of negotiations at Hyderabad in July, is considering removing import duties on 92 per cent of the traded commodities. Still worse, the import duties that will be reduced to zero under the treaty cannot be raised later, a provision that even the WTO did not impose. In other words, the RCEP treaty, if India agrees to sign, would open up the Indian market for zero import duty for all times to come. It will take away the right from India to protect and ensure the livelihood security of its 600 million farmers. The treaty is being negotiated between 16 countries, including South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and China. 
Surprisingly, every time India enters into a trade negotiation, it seeks ‘greater market access for its services, including easier norms for its professionals to move across borders for short-term work’. While this is certainly important but I what I fail to understand is why agriculture is being deliberately sacrificed in the process. After all, protecting domestic agriculture, which entails the livelihoods of 600 million farmers, cannot be placed on the chopping block of international trade. Take the case of dairy sector. According to Jayan Mehta, senior general manager of Amul dairy cooperatives, 15-crore livelihoods engaged in dairy farming will be severely hit from the current RCEP negotiations.
India is the biggest producer of milk in the world. Presently, the imports of milk and milk products are allowed with an import duty ranging between 40 to 60 per cent. This provides enough protection for the local dairy industry to build its competitiveness. Opening up the flood gates will inundate India with cheaper milk flowing in from Australia and New Zealand. Let us not forget that while Australia which has only 6,300 dairy farmers; and New Zealand with 12,000 dairy farmers are pushing in aggressively to protect the economic interests their small dairy farming community, India is willing to sacrifice the livelihoods of 15- crore farmers.
Since India has a huge domestic demand of milk, it doesn’t have the kind of export surplus that Australia and New Zealand have.  Just because Australia and New Zealand are willing to provide more access to IT professionals does not mean India should put dairy farmers on the chopping block.
Dairy is not the only commodity for which the market is to open up. India will have to open up for all kinds of fruits, vegetables, pulses, potatoes, spices, plantation crops, seeds, silk, processed foods etc. Although India is still insisting on allowing zero tariff import on only 80 per cent of the traded goods, and is seeking a three-tier structure, the negotiations are led by the dominant and aggressive stance of countries like China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, which will eventually have their say.
It has taken so many years for the world to understand that WTO was designed to serve the commercial interests of only the top 1 per cent. Not drawing any lessons, the RCEP treaty is being negotiated under a complete secrecy. What was negotiated at the Hyderabad round of talks has not been made public. A few people sitting in heavily guarded negotiations take decisions, which eventually impact the future of 99 per cent of the population. This is grossly unfair. # 
Categories: Ecological News

Global Agriculture -- What the World Failed to Follow

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 21:06

Pic courtesy: 123RF.com 

It has been exactly 13 years since I was invited by the UK Food Group and Sustain to make a presentation on My Vision for a Global Agriculture at a Dialogue on Agricultural Trade Reform, Subsidies and the Future of Small and Family Farms and Farmers, held at London, on June 30, 2004. But looking at the recommendations I made, and I would like you to look at them carefully, you will agree that crisis wouldn't have been of the order that we see today. had the world taken a wise step towards ushering in equity and sustainability. Not only this would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions and in the bargain limited the damage by climate change, what I suggested would have also reduced the yawning inequality.
This was written in 2004. It certainly needs to be updated. But the essence remains the same, even now. This is what I wrote: "My Vision for a Global Agriculture comes at a crucial time in the history of international agriculture. I wish the powers that be, and that includes the agriculture ministers of the G-8 countries, and international agencies like FAO/IFAD/World Bank and the likes had paid some attention to it, and the world wouldn't have been faced with the kind of crisis that we are confronted with now. It is my strong belief that sooner or later the world will have to return to a sustainable pathway in agriculture, the sooner it happens the better it will be for humanity.
Well, the short of it is this didn't happen. And the crisis on the farm meanwhile has meanwhile worsened, the environment already devastated. Climate change has the world sitting on a tripping point, and inequality has only multiplied so much so that the world is in dark without any silver lining visible on the horizon. 

On how to resurrect agriculture.  
Restoring the pride in agriculture should be the obvious challenge for the global community. Numerous international approaches show emphasis, through the use of cliches like strengthening marketing infrastructure, scientific management of scarce water resources, empowering farmers to take informed decisions and so on. A growing volume of evidence now clearly suggests that such jugglery in presentation has not helped. Hidden in the jargon is the intention to commodify natural resources. What is needed is a fresh approach that takes the ground realities into consideration before embarking upon any policy imperatives.
I am trying to spell out a series of parameters that should underline all international approaches to agriculture. These are based on Mahatma Gandhi's Talisman that suggests: 'Think of the poorest person you have ever known, and ask if your next step will be of any use to him. In short, the effort should be to wipe every tear from every eye.'
Sustainable Livelihoods: focusing on tackling the causes of poverty, hunger, the inequitable distribution of income and low human resource base with the objective of providing everyone with the opportunity to earn a sustainable livelihood. The green revolution areas are encountering serious bottlenecks to growth and productivity. Excessive mining of soil nutrients and groundwater have already brought in soil sickness. If the livelihood of the marginalised in the society (and that in the majority world is in agriculture) it must be secured by economic activities that are sustainable, that do not threaten the integrity of the environmental assets on which they depend.
Food Sovereignty: Every country should have the right to food sovereignty. It should result from the interplay of three determining factors: food production, food availability and access to food. A sustainable livelihood approach is the strength of food sovereignty. It should be people centric, based on community strengths, eco-friendly and gender sensitive. Food production, a central pivot of food sovereignty, must be based on minimal use of external inputs and that includes chemicals, transgenics and water. Access to food cannot be left to the market forces, it has to be the obligation of the society and the state.
Local Solutions: For the past three decades, more so after the introduction of the land-grant system of education, the focus is on finding global solutions to local problems in agriculture. The World Bank/IMF, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and now some of the major donors like DFID and GTZ have been embarking of translocating alien approaches to agricultural improvement and have thereby exacerbated the crisis on the farm front. This process must be immediately stopped, if not reversed. Given the diversity of the agro-ecological regions, sustainable agriculture needs location-specific solutions.
Multiple Cropping: Emphasis on commodities has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged food trade in some commodites, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and humans. Thrust on farm commodities have also pushed in trade activities, encouraged food miles, adding to greenhouse emissions, water mining, and destruction of farm incomes. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, thereby meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings.
Away from Cash Crops: For the past two decade at least, the World Bank/IMF and some other academia and donors have been pressing developing countries to diversify from staple foods to cash crops in what is being projected as the right approach to add to farm incomes. This is a politically motivated advise and runs counter to the sustainable approached spelled out above. Many Latin American countries are faced with a serious land degradation crisis and increasing hunger as a result. It also pushes farmers into a death trap since the developing countries do not have the resources to provide for adequate marketing infrastructure.
Reversing Farm Exodus: The disappearing family farms in the developed countries and the process of further marginalisation of the farming communities in the developing world are the symptoms of the same malaise. Farmers are being pushed out of agriculture through a farming system that is becoming increasingly unremunerative and industrialised. To maintain ecological balance, and to maintain the multi-functionality of agriculture, as well as to ensure sustainable livelihoods, the focus of any policy imperative should be to restore the pride in family farms. This will need adequate state protection and support and at the same time should be based on the principle of mutual compatibility with the small farmers in the majority world.
Reorienting Farm Research: International agricultural research, as well as the national agricultural research systems, should re-orient the focus of farm research based on the principles of - farmer friendly, environment friendly and long-term sustainability. Instead of the 'Lab-to-Land' approach, which has done immense damage to agriculture globally, the emphasis should be on learning from the land, meaning going back to farmers and the traditional farming systems. Technology need not always be high-tech and sophisticated. It can be simple and effective. This can only be ensured if the effort is to fit the new and improved technology to farmers need rather than asking farmers to fit into the technology package developed. This can only happen if farm research is brought back to the public sector. All technology should be freely available, and should not come with any proprietary tags.
Changing Food habits: Obesity has already emerged as the biggest killer in America, leaving tobacco-related deaths to the second position. This is the outcome of the private industry efforts to change the food and dietary habits to suit their commercial interests. First junk foods, and now genetically modified foods, the industry is desperate to ensure its acceptability irrespective of the human costs involved. Changing food habits of the urban consumers, that dictates the market demand, is certainly a difficult task. No effort can be meaningful as long as the food industry is allowed to use advertisement space. Food advertisements should therefore be banned. If hospitals are not allowed to advertise, there is no reason why the food industry cannot be directed to stop media advertisements.
Encouraging Local Markets: Creating a global market for farm produce is the bane of modern agriculture. The seed multinationals, the food giants, and the supermarkets, have cornered the food chain in the process thereby destroying livelihoods, local markets and also drastically reducing food choices. Such a market strategy has resulted in the disappearance of locally produced nutritious foods as a consequence of which micro-nutrient deficiency in human populations have grown manifold. Encouraging local markets will also reduce the dependence upon long distance transportation thereby minimising global warming. It will also help in bringing back the traditional and neglected crops, and help in changing the food habits.
Jai Kisan: A happy farming family is the base for any and every strong economy. It is also the foundation for an all-round economic growth and development. It is also the pre-requisit for sustainable development at the local, national and international level. Unfortunately, the farmer (called Kisan in India) has become a burden on the global society. Every government is keen to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Globalisation, economic liberalisation and the free trade paradigm are all aimed at pushing farmers out of agriculture. This political process and the mainline thinking has to be reversed for the sake of the global economy as well its sustained future. We need a world where every country is proud of its farmers, and where every farmer is proud to be the food provider - the annadata

For the detailed paper, just see the 2nd item on this linkhttp://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=7850

Read also: An 11-Point Agenda for resurrecting Indian agriculture and restoring the pride in farming. May 2014. http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2014/05/my-11-point-agenda-for-resurrecting.html


Categories: Ecological News

70 years after Independence. With each passing year, the economic crisis on the farm has only worsened.

Sat, 07/29/2017 - 13:27

When Will the Sun Dawn on Indian Agriculture? -- pic from Web
“Woh Subah Kabhi to Aayegi”
Whenever I see the face of a farmer I am reminded of this Raj Kapoor song from a yesteryear film. With misery writ all over, the resulting despondency is clearly evident. But while Raj Kapoor was able to sing his way out for a happy ending, the Indian farmer is getting deeper and deeper into the clutches of a chakravayuah.
It has been an endless wait. For 70 years, the farmers have toiled hard to produce bumper harvests. Year after year, the records have tumbled. But with each passing year, the plight of a farming family has only worsened. For a country, which was somehow surviving not long ago in what is generally referred to as ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence, with food aid rescuing a large section of the population from starvation; the valiant farmers have pulled the country out from the throes of what many writers had predicted to be a fit case for a mass slaughter.
Once the pride of the nation, farmers have now become an economic burden. An ungrateful nation is waiting for every available opportunity to offload the burden.
It was in 1965 that the then US President Lyndon Johnson had got upset over a statement the Indian Prime Minister made. In an interview toa US newspaper Lal Bahadur Shashtri had termed the American war in Vietnam as “an act of aggression”.  But this was unacceptable. How could a hungry nation dare to call the US an aggressor? The US stopped food supplies, sending the Indian government into a tizzy. The then food minister C Subramaniam later told me that there was a time when the country was left with food stocks for only seven days. There was panic all around.
In response to the deepening food crisis, Shashtri had appealed to the nation to fast on Mondays. Realising the great role farmers can play in bringing food self-sufficiency, he coined the popular phrase Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.
After Lal Bahadur Shashtri successful launched the milk cooperatives, which later brought in the white revolution, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi literally sowed the seeds of Green Revolution. While the government imported high-yielding seeds of dwarf wheat from Mexico, and made available irrigation along with external inputs like chemical fertiliser and pesticides, farmers did the rest. In 1967, the first harvest after the Green Revolution technology was introduced was a record 5 million tonnes higher. Since then the country has not looked back. From an era of food imports, India graduated to food self-sufficiency.
But what is little known is the financial impetus the government provided to farmers. In 1970, when the salary of school teachers was Rs 90 per month, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat was Rs 76 per quintal. Giving a higher assured price to farmers as well as an assured market (by setting up the Food Corporation of India), the policy makers have to be appreciated for ushering in what was essentially a famine-avoidance strategy. For a country which witnessed 28 famines during the British Raj, the remarkable turnaround was only made possible by a valiant farming community.Defying all prediction, famine had become history in India.
The ‘glorious’ period for farmers lasted for a decade and a half. Although Green Revolution had bypassed small farmers, an effort was made to paint a rosy picture of prosperity. The image of a progressive farmer driving a tractor was flashed as a sign of prosperity. In reality, the increase in production did not commensurate with an accompanying increase in farm incomes. While the successive governments were content with bumper harvests, farming as a community remained neglected. Coupled with a declining rate of public sector investments, the demise of agriculture began soon after the mid-1980s.
I remember when Punjab and Haryana, comprising the food bowl, registered a shortfall in wheat procurement in 1983-84; the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had made an air dash to Chandigarh. She was visibly upset and made it loud and clear when she pulled up the Chief Ministers – Darbara Singh of Punjab and Bhajan Lal of Haryana – at the airport itself. She was furious at the failure of Punjab and Haryana to meet the food procurement targets.
And then began the downslide.
By 1991, when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) came into existence, a complacent nation began to shift focus from agriculture. With Europe and America too building mountains of food, milk and butter surpluses in the same period, the dominant economic thinking turned to global competitiveness thereby reducing import tariffs to allow for cheaper imports. At the same time, the entire burden of keeping food inflation under control was passed on to farmers. Farm output prices globally remained frozen. According to an UNCTAD study, between 1990 and 2010, a period of 20 years, farm gate prices had remained static.
The dismal trend has since continued. While farmers were denied their rightful income, huge salary jumps were provided to other sections of the society. From a monthly salary of Rs 90 per month in 1970, the salary of school teachers for instance jumped by 280 to 320 times by the year 2015, a period of 45 years. In the same period, salary of government employees went up by 120 to 150 times; and that of college professors by 150 to 170 times. Wheat price for farmers on the other hand increased by a paltry 19 times in the same period. Agriculture turned uneconomical, and repeated demands for providing a level playing field fell on deaf years.
It was in 1996 that the World Bank directed India to move 400 million people out of agriculture in the next 20 years, by 2015. Since every World Bank loan comes with roughly 140 to 150 condionalities, each loan re-emphasised the urgency to move farmers out of agriculture. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had time and again expressed the need to shift 70 per cent farmers. Raghuram Rajan, former Reserve Bank of India governor had said that the biggest reforms would be when India moves farmers out of agriculture. Then only will cheap labour be available for infrastructure development.
For nearly three decades, more so after the economic reforms were ushered in, agriculture has been a victim of deliberate neglect and apathy. Successive governments had deliberately created conditions turning farming non-viable thereby forcing an increasing number of farmers to abandon agriculture and migrate to cities. Meanwhile, food imports have soared. According to Down to Earth magazine, food import bill for 2015-16 stood at Rs 1,402,680,000,000. This was more than the annual budget for agriculture.
The shift to imports comes at a time when the emphasis is to drive farmers out of agriculture. As I said earlier, to keep food inflation under control, farmers have been routinely paid less, not even to cover the cost of production, thereby driving them against the wall. Signing MoU with African and BRICK countries for importing pulses, oilseeds and wheat in future is simply an effort to shift from food self-reliance to meeting the domestic food requirement through imports. What is not being realised is that importing food is like importing unemployment. Food imports first hit the small farmers, who are the first to abandon farming and migrate to cities.
But I doubt if such details mean anything to mainline economists and policy makers. Their focus is on creating economic conditions that force farmers to move out of agriculture. This is exactly what the mainline economic thinking prescribes, and Indian policy makers are blindly following a strategy that has failed the world over. After all, with country after country facing jobless growth, and India being no exception, what is not being realised is that only agriculture can bail out the economy.
Nevertheless, with the markets crashing after every harvest, and with the government reluctant to save farmers by ensuring that they get at least the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that has been announced, farmers are pushed deeper and deeper into chakravuyah -- a never ending cycle of debt. Even the MSP being given is often less than the cost of production. In Maharashtra, for instance, the production cost of tur dalhas been worked out at Rs 6,240 per quintal. The MSP announced was Rs 5,050 per quintal, and in reality what the farmers were able to sell tur, and that too after waiting for a week or so in the mandis, was between Rs 3,500 to Rs 4,200 per quintal.
Take another case. A farmer in Haryana toils hard for three months, putting all his labour to reap a bountiful harvest of potato, only to find the prices crashing thereby forcing him to sell 40 quintals of potato for just 9 paise a kg. These are not isolated cases. It is because of distress prices becoming a norm rather than an exception that the country faced an angry protest by farmers in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh recently. The shock a farmer gets when prices crash often turns fatal. But the fact remains the government has rarely come to his rescue. And in my understanding, the recent protests were only a trailer; the full movie will follow.
Poor farmer has been left to live in indebtedness, which keeps on multiplying with every passing year. The economic crisis farmers are facing is compounded by the denial of a rightful income to farmers for his produce. To keep food inflation under control it is the farmers who have paid the price. In reality, it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years. Successive governments have therefore deliberately kept agriculture impoverished. An estimated 58 per cent of the farmers go to bed hungry every night.
With each passing year, the economic crisis on the farm has worsened. The Economic Survey 2016 tells us that the average income of a farming family in 17 states of India, which means roughly half the country, is a mere Rs 20,000 a year or less than Rs 1,700 a month. Such a dismal income, merely enough for subsistence, was the outcome of economic policies over the years. I shudder to think how these farming families must be surviving all these years. After all, it is not even possible to rear a cow in less than Rs 1,700 per month. Will these farmers ever be able to witness a new dawn; a new dawn that bring back the pride in farming? Woh subah kabhi to aayegi?
I have my doubts. Despite the farmer protests, the policy push is to drastically cut down the number of people on the farm and move agriculture into the hands of corporate. The National Skill Development Council report makes it abundantly clear. It has already laid out a target of bringing down the population engaged in agriculture from the existing 57 per cent to 38 per cent in the next five years, by 2022. While the job market is drying over the years, with only 1.6-crore jobs created in past 13 years, against 16.25-crore jobs expected to be created in the same period, pushing small and marginal farmers out of agriculture will only worsen the employment prospects. After all, if a daily wage worker or a dehari mazdoor is what the government has in mind when it talks of job creation then it is high time to revisit the economic policies. 
Agriculture is being killed deliberately to keep economic reforms going. To achieve economic growth, mainline economists tell us that it is absolutely essential to move bulk of the population from agriculture to the cities. Food can be produced by promoting corporate farming or can be imported. This is exactly the roadmap that has been laid by the World Bank and the financial institutions. Credit rating agencies provide a higher ranking for achieving the target. The economic design is well laid out. #

आजादी के 70 साल से भारत के किसानों का कभी न खत्म होने वाला इंतजार Gaon Connection. Aug 9, 2017 https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/70-years-of-independence-endless-waiting-of-indian-farmersस्वतंत्रता दिवस विशेष : अपने हक की‍ आय भी नहीं मिलती किसानों को, पार्ट-2. Gaon Connection. Aug 9, 2017. https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/farmers-did-not-get-their-income-even-70-years-of-independence-column-by-devinder-sharma
వేకువ వచ్చేనా.. Sakshi, Hyderabad. Aug 10, 2017http://epaper.sakshi.com/c/21235166
Pawning Nation's Spine. Orissa Post. Aug 9, 2017http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/090817/p8.htm 
Categories: Ecological News

Need to look beyond farm loan waivers.

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 12:45
Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has time and again reiterated that his government will waive small farmer’s loan up to Rs 2 lakh. This will cost the state exchequer close to Rs 9,500-crores benefitting 10.25 lakh farmers. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said that Rs 34,000-crore farm loan waiver will benefit 89 lakh small farmers.  And yet there is a spurt in farmer suicides.
Punjab has recorded 21 suicides in the past 20 days. The Chief Minister himself says that he doesn’t understand why the suicides have risen ever since he announced a loan waiver. In Maharashtra, 42 farmer suicides have been recorded in the past two weeks. In Marathwada region alone, 19 farmers have ended their lives in 7 days, between June 19 and June 25. In Madhya Pradesh, 38 farmers have committed suicide since the day 5 agitating farmers were shot dead in police firing.Ideally, the number of farmer suicides should have come down after a loan waiver is announced. After all, if not all the farmers, the loan waivers do benefit a section of the small and marginal farmers. That the number of suicides pick up after a loan waiver is announced shows there is something terribly wrong in our understanding of the farm crisis. Either the loan waiver isn’t the right way to address the prevailing farm crisis or the way loan waivers are designed and implemented, even small farmers don’t see much benefit.
With no hope of an economic price, farmer’s problem is how he will repay back the loan that he is going to take for the next crop that he plans to cultivate. After all, even if a fraction of farmers’ outstanding loan is waived, he still has to take credit to sow the next crop. While I agree that farmers have been deprived of their rightful price all these years, and therefore the loan waiver should be seen as an opportunity to payback the gratitude, I think the time has also come to look beyond loan waivers. Economists and policy makers need to be a little more imaginative and suggest measures that can provide real income in the hands of farmers in the long run.
Take the case of Punjab, the food bowl. With 98 per cent assured irrigation and productivity of cereal crops (wheat, paddy and maize) being the highest in the world, I see no reason why these progressive farmers should be committing suicide. Punjab has now become a major hot spot of farmer suicides. This is primarily because farmers have been deprived of their rightful income, which essentially comes from Minimum Support Price (MSP). I have always wondered why Punjab, which has a wide network of APMC regulated mandis and village link roads, cannot provide farmers with 50 per cent profit over the cost of production (C2 cost) as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission. But then this is only a practical solution for Punjab and Haryana, which have a fairly well-developed network of crop procurement. For the rest of the country, I have always been suggesting setting up a Farmers Income Commission. 
If Punjab, for instance, were to announce that it is willing to provide farmers with what the Swaminathan Commission recommends, it will entail an annual expenditure of Rs 8,237-crores. My calculation shows that in case of wheat, the C2 cost comes to Rs 1,203 per quintal and adding 50 per cent profit, the total comes to Rs 1,805 per quintal. Since the MSP being paid by the centre is Rs 1,625 per quintal, the remaining Rs 180 per quintal is what the State government needs to pay. In other words, given that 106.5 lakh tonnes of wheat was procured in 2016-17 marketing season, the total burden on Punjab government will be Rs 1917-crore. 
In case of paddy, the C2 cost plus 50 per cent profit, is a little higher. The C2 cost of Paddy is Rs 1,484 per quintal and adding 50 per cent profit takes the price to Rs 2,226 a quintal. Since the MSP is Rs 1,550 per quintal, it leaves a margin of Rs 676 per quintal. Considering the paddy procurement of 93.6 lakh tonnes in 2016, the total burden to implement Swaminathan Commission recommendation comes to Rs 6,320-crore. For both the crops, the annual burden that will accrue to the Punjab government would be Rs 8,237-crore. 
If you think Rs 8,237-crore is too big an amount, and would be a waste of scarce resources that the Punjab government has, think again. Punjab farmers have been deprived of their rightful price all these years. According to Dr R S Ghuman committee report, which was instituted by the previous Badal government, Punjab farmers had lost Rs 62,000-crore between 1970 and 2007 on account of being paid a low MSP which did not even compare favourably with the wholesale price. The economic deprivation of agriculture therefore is not a recent phenomenon, it has been going on ever since the formative days of Green Revolution. Isn’t it therefore the time to pay back? How long can we go on treating farmers as second class citizens? Whenever there is a talk of raising the MSP for farmers, I see an uproar saying that it is not wanted, the prices should be kept low because otherwise the retail food prices will go up. In other words, farmers have been kept impoverished to provide cheaper food for the consumers.
Much of the drug problem in Punjab is also related to the demise of agriculture. With agriculture becoming uneconomical over the years, and with little possibility of employment in cities, rural youth had taken to drugs. Turning farming profitable is perhaps the only way left now for the policy makers to create sustainable livelihoods. We are talking of 18-lakh farming families, and if these families can see an economic worth is farming, Punjab can restore the pride in agriculture. It is high time Punjab takes the Udta Punjabimage in its stride and makes a course correction that can lay a model for the rest of the country. Punjab government’s job is not only to take care of its employees, ensure they get monthly income package plus a plethora of allowances. Its job is also take care of farmers and farm workers. #
Categories: Ecological News