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Injustice Invisible - 67

Injustice Invisible - 67

In continuation of the earlier write up, some more of the crippling factors can be listed as follows:

Farmers do not get even their cost of living. Sufficient quantities of various food items that make up a balanced diet, enough clothes to go about in public confidently, housing at the rate of 100 square feet per adult in a family and education up to college level are most essential for any person to have a decent human living with dignity. But hardly anyone thinks of the actual cost of all these needs for human living. How can anyone talk of fundamental right to roti, kapda, makaan aur shiksha without thinking of their economic cost, especially in the case of small, marginal and semi-medium farmers who are cultivating 95% of farm lands in India? The cost of living depends on the price of food and other consumer items. At the prevailing average market rate of food items in our country, a family of five to six member require on average 1.6 lakh rupees per year for the ICMR recommended balanced food related expenditures which need to be attended daily. Hence a family requires a daily income of around 440 rupees per day for food related expenses alone which is only for their survival.

If any family is not spending on ICMR recommended food items it will spend on an average ten times more on medicines. For human beings non-food items like clothes, housing and education are also very essential to experience his human worth. His requirements for non-food expenditures will be at least about four times the food expenditures making up the total required income for food and non-food items up to 8 lakh per year. According to Indian Agricultural Statistical Institute and agricultural universities like the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University the average net income from two successful crops per year is around 12,000 rupees per hectare only. That means a one-hectare-farmer gets only 1.5% of the yearly income requirements for his family. How can a farmer’s family survive on 1.5% (15 paisa per 1000 rupees) of its required income to have a human life? There is no way for any Indian farmer to get even one-fourth (40,000) of this requirement from his small farm. At present a farmer who owns a hectare of double cropped land will be able to get only about 7.5% of total income required for food alone. An Indian farmer is a famished, emaciated, often TB infected and unpaid labourer in his own land. In fact a vast majority of the people in India are living around 10% of their normal requirement.

Poor marketing facilities for agricultural products have been a perennial problem of the farmers in India. Poor marketing facilities include lack of transport, communication, dominance of middle men, poor or absence of storage facilities. Indian farmer is mostly a distress seller. This year the wheat price crashed in M.P due to cancellation of the expected purchase by Food Corporation of India. Wheat procurement in most of the wheat growing states was below the expectation except in Punjab. Such sudden changes in the procurement policy at the government level, leaves many farmers in utter despair. Transport is a major factor in the agri-product marketing. Even in this 21st century the rural roads in India are in such pitiable condition that farmers have to head-load or bullock-cart their often small quantities of farm products to the market only to find the prices are much below the expectation or even below the cost of production. They are compelled to sell at the throw away price and to return home almost empty handed and broken dreams.

Unnecessary import: Even when there is no shortage of food production the government of India has resorted to import to keep the domestic price down. This happened several times with rubber crops in Kerala. When the rubber price was at an optimum level to the farmers, the government in collusion with rubber industries decided to import rubber and thereby reduce the price of domestically produced rubber. In the case of soya bean in the Malwa region the price was optimum in 2013. Suddenly the government doubled the import of soya bean oil. This led to the price crash of soya bean in the domestic market from Rs 4500 in 2015 to Rs 2700 in 2017 per quintal. India’s agrarian import bill last year was 1,402,680,000,000 rupees which is more than three times of India’s annual agriculture budget. The import cost of cereals in 2014-15 was 134 crore but the same went up to 9009 crore in 2016-17. The import duty for wheat was reduced from 25% to 10% in 2016 in spite of a bumper crop. Similar trends of import of other agri-products were noted in fruits, vegetables and sugar. India is becoming more and more dependent on import to meet its food requirements. Its import budget increased from 56,196 crores in 2010-11 to 140,258 crores in 2015-16 with rise of 150 per cent. In short government’s import policies adversely affect not only the farm production but also the livelihood of the farmers: they are simply unable to make a bare minimum living from farming.

The price of agricultural products is not fixed according to the cost of production . It is our experience, that as the years go by the price of things go up. Such proportional increase is not taking place in the case of agricultural products. For example as reported in Down to Earth (1-15 July 2017) “The price of six quintals of wheat in 1960’s was at par with the salary of a Grade-A government employee. Today a government employee under the category can buy 50 quintals of wheat with his one month’s salary. In the 60’s 10 gram of gold was priced at Rs 111 while one quintal of wheat was Rs 41. Today 10 gm of gold costs more than Rs 30,000 while the one quintal of wheat is only 1600 rupees. The tragedy with farmers is that they earn less and less as they work and grow more and more. Last year, farmers of Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh were forced to sell onions for less than one rupee per kg. The Minimum Support Price fixed by government for the crops is far below the cost of production and is highly in favour of the consumers. It is high time that the farmers themselves fix the price of their products as per the cost of production and the quantity produced per hectare. In all other non-agricultural products the price is fixed by the producer. If the price of petrol and stock market can change day by day by the supplier then why the price of agriculture products can’t be changed at least seasonally or annually according to the average cost of production?

Agricultural operations are highly caste based. Table 1 shows the percentage of people engaged in agriculture. It is clear from the table that vast majority of the agricultural operations are done by scheduled and backward castes. 98.5 % of the scheduled castes, 86.3% of the backward castes and 63.4% of other lower castes are engaged in farm works whereas only 41.1 per cent of the scheduled tribes are involved in agriculture. Various farm operations are divided between different sub-castes among the scheduled castes.

Table 1: Percentage of caste and tribal people in agriculture

Caste/Tribe

Percentage of population

Scheduled tribes

41.1*

Scheduled caste

98.5

Other backward caste

86.3

Others

63.4

All social groups

69.4

*  Many tribals are partly farmers and partly forest dependent

Traditionally every caste is assigned with a specific works like, cattle rearing, sheep and goat rearing, pig rearing, ploughing, making implements for farm works, cleaning animal sheds, removing dead animals, skinning the dead animals, climbing trees, etc. these division of farm works is attributed to immutable divine will. But anyone can notice that it is only a narrative to keep the scheduled castes under control and to get all the agriculture work done.  In their poverty the upper castes can have cheap labour. Scheduled castes and tribes are generally illiterate or least educated and innovation in their work is least possible. Though there are claims of social and political development among them their economic situation is often worse than before. The traditional agricultural works make them untouchable too.

The role of women in agriculture is not recognized enough in our country . Dr. Swaminathan, the world famous agricultural scientist established several years ago that it was the women who first domesticated crop plants and thereby initiated the art and science of farming. Men used to go out for hunting in the forests and fishing in the waters and come back often empty handed. The women started gathering seeds from the native flora and began cultivating them for food, feed, fodder, fibre and fuel to maintain the family. Women have played and continue to play a key role in the conservation of basic life support systems such as land, water, flora and fauna. They have protected the health of the soil through organic recycling and promoted crop security through the maintenance of varietal diversity and genetic resistance. Women still remain the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. They comprise 43% of the world's agricultural labour force, which may rise to 70% in some Asian-African countries. Eighty per cent of the agricultural production comes from small and marginal farmers whose women bear most of the burden of the production responsibility but are never considered worthy of any remuneration.

In rural India, the percentage of women who depend on agriculture for their livelihood is as high as 84 per cent. Women make up about 33% of cultivators and about 47% percent of agricultural labourers. These statistics do not account for work on livestock, fisheries and various other ancillary forms of food production in the country. In 2009, 94% of the female agricultural labour forces in crop cultivation were in cereal production. Studies have shown that women's participation rate in the agricultural sectors is about 47% in tea plantations, 46.84% in cotton cultivation, 45.43% growing oil seeds and 39.13% in vegetable production. While these crops require labour-intensive work, the work is considered quite unskilled and not payable. Women participation is substantial in some of the ancillary agricultural activities like fisheries where Indian women have a share of 24% as fish farmers.

In India, the typical work of the female agricultural labourer or cultivator is limited to less skilled jobs such as sowing, transplanting, weeding, irrigation, fertilizer application, plant protection, harvesting, winnowing, storing etc. that often fit well within the framework of domestic life and child-rearing, water collection, fuel wood gathering, household maintenance, cattle management, fodder collection, milking animals etc. Many women also participate in agricultural work as unpaid subsistence labour. An estimated 52-75% of Indian women engaged in agriculture are illiterate, an education barrier that prevents women from participating in more skilled labour sectors. In all activities there is an average gender wage disparity, with women earning only 70 percent of men's wage. Lack of employment mobility and education render majority of women in India vulnerable, as dependents on the growth and stability of the agricultural market. Despite women's extensive and varied participation in agriculture, they continue to have less access to modern agricultural inputs. As a result, their farm work is labour-intensive and yields meagre economic returns.

In collusion it should be noted that the farmers do not get enough even for their own food. They are unable to sell even whatever they produce due to poor marketing facilities and unnecessary import of the same products. The greatest irony is that someone else is fixing the price of their own products without considering the cost of production. Above all the caste based slavish system of agricultural work distribution and the use silent and unpaid womenfolk as farm labourers are the cruellest aspects of age old Indian agriculture and its glorious culture. Ours is a culture giving lip service to the “ Annadatas” and dump them like untouchable human wastes: Invisible Injustice.

(to be continued)

(The writer is Retired Professor, Agriculture Economics from XIM, Bhubaneswar.   Email: ktchandysj@gmail.com)

(Published on 18th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 38)