Friday, 4 November 2016

FB Discussions - Agricultural Blues

Cry, The beloved Country.

In my village i have seen the farmers as a completely dejected lot. None of their children is brought up to farm. They want them to somehow get any job in a city. When an honourable 7 acre farmer from the Kamma hamlet became a driver in a city, salaaming people far more worthless than him, it demeans him and us.

But nobody feels farming is a honourable and viable profession at all. This has been so for our past many years in the village. And this is the case for both the farmers and the landless agricultural labour. The sector has been kept depressed and denied. The labour and farmers see each other as enemies. While the real enemy is the urban sector that feeds off the rural sector.

The farmers introduce themselves as 'we are only farmers'. When our friend used to go from the village to see his daughter in the hostel in his white veshti, kurta and green towel, as her friends would ask in some surprise and disdain, "Is your father a farmer ?" This is the respect accorded to those who produce our food for us.

(Devender Sharma)
The near-freezing of crop prices in India is adding to farm distress

The writing on the wall is loud and clear. For three years in a row, wheat farmers have received a paltry increase of Rs 50 per quintal (100 kg) per year in the form of minimum support price (MSP), which translates to 50 paise per kg every year. This corresponds to an insignificant 3.6 per cent increase in the price being paid to wheat farmers this year. For the paddy crop too, the price farmers got this year was Rs 50 per quintal more than what they received a year back.

Former Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s analysis is right on the spot. Accordingly, the average cumulative increase in the paddy and wheat MSP during the Congress-led UPA regime, between 2004 and2014, was Rs 70 per year. Before that when NDA ruled, from 1998 to 2004, it was only Rs 11. While some may say there is no difference between BJP and Congress when it comes to farmers, what is perhaps not being seen as clearly is that the era of price policy for farmers is over. No amount of shouting and sloganeering is going to be of any help now.

Not only have the successive governments for all practical purposes managed to put a cap on the MSP, internationally too there is no support for higher prices to farmers. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is demanding the withdrawal of the procurement prices in India, and even though India is standing firm on its resolve to protect the interests of domestic farmers but back home the Ministry of Food has already directed the State governments not to provide any bonus over and above the MSP to farmers. The underlying message therefore is absolutely clear. It is only a matter of time before the government abandons the price policy in agriculture.

These developments are happening at a time when most mainline economists are blaming the hike in MSP as the primary reason for the rising food prices.

So when Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal seeks a revision in wheat MSP asking for another Rs 150 per quintal, he too knows that his plea is going to fall on deaf ears. In fact, he knows it much better than anyone of us. He is under tremendous pressure to do away with massive procurement of wheat and rice that Punjab undertakes every year. Freezing MSP, and amending the APMC Act that allows setting up of private terminal markets, are the immediate steps being suggested to kill official procurement.

While all efforts are on finding ways and means to cut down on the prices that farmers’ get for their produce, compare it with the 7 per cent additional installment of Dearness Allowance (DA) to Central government employees in September over the existing rate of 100 per cent of the basic pay/pension to compensate for price rise, you realize the step-motherly treatment being meted to the majority farming population in the unorganized sector. Employees are getting 107 per cent DA allowance today.

For the government employees, the previous UPA regime had even announced setting up of the 7th Pay Commission. No one blames the rising pay scales to be even partly responsible for rising inflation. It’s only farmers who are blamed.

In addition, as per a Centre government notification, whenever the DA crosses 50 per cent, there will be an automatic increase by 25 per cent in allowance such as Children Education Allowance, Travelling Allowance, Conveyance Allowance, Cash Handling Allowance, Risk Allowance, Bad Climate Allowance, Hill Area Allowance, Remote Locality Allowance and Tribal Area Allowance, among others. Agreed, not all employees get all these allowances but they do get some of these. In other words, the Central and State government employees are completely insured against any and all kinds of price rise.

Interestingly, while the Central Government Employees Federation is demanding a minimum monthly wage of Rs 15,000 for contract workers/other unorganized sector employees; and a minimum monthly salary of Rs 26,000 to the lowest aid employees of the Central Government, there is no talk at all of providing an enhanced minimum monthly package to the farmers. As per answers provided in Parliament, the average monthly income of a farming family is at a pittance -- Rs 2,115 for a household comprising 5 people on an average.

No wonder, several studies show that more than 58 per cent of the 600 million farmers sleep empty stomach. Ironically, the people who produce food for the country themselves go hungry.

It’s therefore time to shift to a more inclusive income policy for farmers. With Jan Dhan Yojna taking the reach of the banks to the poor and unreached, it should be possible to provide direct income support to farmers. Setting up a State Farmers Income Commission, and merging all agricultural subsidies into the monthly income package that a farmer receives, is the only plausible way forward. Farmer organizations as well as political leaders must see the light of the day. I don’t think even a High Court directive to extend procurement to all crops will make any difference to farmers livelihoods. Time for the Court’s too to see beyond the price policy. #

Mahima Thangappan Why is it that only government has to procure grains.Cant the farmers organize their own market locally ?
Aparna Krishnan Prices are depressed. A MSP (minimum procurement price) guarentees some assured returns. MS Swaminathan report made detailed calculations and recommendations on the MSP. 

Rahul Banerjee Its a cardinal principal of capitalist industrialisation to keep food prices low and so farming has to suffer unless it is subsidised. Unfortunately the fiscal situation is forcing a reduction in subsidies. even though the permanent government employees get various benefits their numbers are going down as more and more work is outsourced. Thus without a comprehensive critique of capitalised industrialisation and a well worked out decentralised communitarian alternative there cant be any solution.
Aparna Krishnan Rahul Banerjee, that critiqueing seems to be on no one's agenda. Things are moving towards corporate agriculture (if at all, and if there is any water left at all). Agriculture was made so unattractive, that the next generation has moved away (often to a nowhere space - unfit for the urban jobs or village work, but thats another saga). Once Ambanis and Adanis get into agriculture we will watch food prices shoot up and agriculture become very profitable maybe. But where the large agricultural population will get absorbed, who knows or cares.
Aparna Krishnan Offered a good price, farmers will sell away their lands - its all that bleak and unattractive.
Krishna Prasad Aparna Krishnan it is nice comprehensive right up on agriculture policy and perils there off. While culture shift is one of the many causes but is major one,By cultural shift I mean people in general are more inclined to 'earn more with less effort'. the children of farmers are not interested in farming.In my village in my child hood I observed a pooled labor help system.i.e all farmers plan and work on every one's field. Now that has disappeared.there is no next of kin for farming. Hence the dependency on agri-labor. Now we cannot hire a one person labor because no one is interested in working alone and want to work in group- so that he/she can scrounge.Farmers are vexed with this scrounging, and have resorted to mechanization. which increased the cost of production. The labor who used to work in scrounging groups now jobless have found an alternative- migrating to cities for daily wage building work. 

Over and above the labor problems there are too many risks, like pests, cyclones. the cost of production is never in control of the farmer. a slight in crease in petroleum price will effect the cost of grain because all the fertilizers are derivatives of crude.adding to this there is no insurance company who can devise a policy for farmers. MSP and other schemes only work when there is no middle man. A farmer cannot decide the price. He is forced to sell the grains to settle the borrowings, There is a Kisan credit card thing which is only in the books and never implemented.Unless agricultural land is recognized as an asset it is impossible to sustain agriculture.What we need is a system with insurance facility, organic farming promotion. co-operative farming. a distribution network to store and sell the grain -probably a co-operative warehousing at village level may be a good idea.But still there is no way to restrict labor migration unless government takes steps to provide job security and other amenities made available in a village.
Rahul Banerjee corporate agriculture as practiced in the developing countries is highly subsidised

Aparna Krishnan Mission Allwayspossible each point is as is in our villages. Labour quality and situation became very difficult. NREGA contributed to this substantially (as has schooling, by delivering a generation that is unwilling to muddy its hands). Farmers trapped between a difficult labour, and non remunerative prices started leaving lands fallow (even prior to our current drought.). 

The harvesters and threshers started appearing, and we knew that it would be the death knell for labour. But who cared ... Just as the bore wells went deeper and deeper, we all knew that if water was not accepted as community property, that would be the end ... but who cared. 

Well now we are high and dry - no rains, no groundwater, no agriculture, no employment. Yes, and the farmer has always been at the mercy of too many variables - natural and artificial - and when he sows his seed, it is with a realization that the seed may not even get recovered, especially in rainfed agriculture. The Kisan credit card works, but you need land deed - and the landless labour which is most is need borrows at 100% rates.) Yes, unless there is a very integrated and proactive engagement with the rural sector, things are finished.  

Aparna Krishnan Rahul Banerjee, the Ambanis will get the lands, and the subsidies, and make a whacking profit. Time to read up on corporate agriculture as in other countries - i suspect its just a matter of time.

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