Why are Our Farmers Distressed?

The recent farmers’ agitations in different parts of the country are a grim reminder of the distress that India’s farmers are going through, especially in the last 25 years. According to National Crime Records Bureau, the number of farm suicides since 1995 crossed the 3 lakh mark in 2014. The figures for 2013, 2014, and 2015 are 11772, 12360 and 12602 respectively i.e. almost 1 suicide in every 40 minutes. Though measures like loan waiving and increase in minimum support price (MSP) offer a temporary soothing balm to few, the distress cannot be reversed unless the structural problems of this growth paradigm are addressed.

The market fundamentalism introduced by the LPG (liberalization, privatization and globalization) paradigm has resulted in a sharp increase in the cost of agricultural inputs because of the withdrawal of subsides and controlling of prices of agricultural produces by big agribusiness companies. The poor, emaciated cotton farmer from Vidarbha, in absence of much government support and limited resources, has to compete with the US government subsidized global agribusiness company.

Diversion of agricultural credit is a painful reality. The NABARD, which is the apex financial institution for agricultural credit, is supposed to play a vital role in this arena. In the 2016-2017 credit plan of NABARD for Maharashtra, 53% of the outlay was allocated for the city of Mumbai and its suburbs which hardly have any agricultural land. Each of the finance ministers belonging to successive governments have claimed to have doubled or trebled agricultural credit. However, the money has not gone to the farmers. Between 2005 and 2013, the loan composition of less than Rs25000 almost collapsed which basically includes the loans taken by marginal and small farmers. What increased was the percentage of loans above Rs 1 crore. In absence of institutional credit, the farmer has to borrow from the moneylender, who charges an exorbitant rate of interest, to buy non-subsidized agricultural inputs from the ‘free market’. The farmer fails to get a proper price for his produce because of factors such as poorly designed MSP, apathy from state controlled procurement agencies, lack of access to mandis by small farmers, etc. This often leads to loss of land rights of the farmer to the moneylender. The next season the farmer has to again borrow from the moneylender and follow the same vicious cycle, ultimately leading him to suicide under the burden of burgeoning debt. Even in case of a good agricultural season the farmer ends up being poor. The prices of the agricultural produce drop drastically as the supply exceeds demand. The Indian farmer is forced to realize that agricultural is unviable; often he is compelled to leave agriculture as a whole and convert himself into a casual worker in the construction industry or in one of the city mills.

Government policies are gradually moving towards an insurance based system (serving the corporate) as compensation for crop failures. In this process the farmer who is distressed due to a crop failure gets hardly any direct support from the government and is almost impossible for them to access the claim. The condemnable act of killing 5 protesting farmers in Mandsaur in 2017 is only a reflection of the attitude of the government towards our farmers who had been agitating for their just demands. We need to give a serious thought whether the attitude can at all change, without a change in the power structure in our society.

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