Farmers are those who cultivate the land belonging to them or someone else and not those who own the land. Ninety five percent of them belong to small, marginal and semi-medium farmers cultivating on an average less than one hectare of land. Most of the lands that belong to these categories are unirrigated and less fertile lands. With this background, let us consider some of the inherent crippling factors in agriculture.
The average farmer in India is steeped in indebtedness. Recent nationwide farmers’ unrest and the subsequent waver of debts by several State Governments is only part of the temporary solution to farmers’ problem of indebtedness and also is more of a political gimmick by the respective State Governments to stay on in power than finding a permanent solution. According to various studies the average expected farm household income per hectare from two successful crops in a year is only about Rs 12,000 whereas the average indebtedness is around Rs 50,000 per household (more than four times the income). The additional burden of annual interest can be estimated by anyone. Studies in twelve states have shown that 52% of agriculture households are having outstanding loans; the average indebtedness in some states goes above one lakh per farmer household. “Today the farmers in the country are facing a financial burden of 12,60,000 crores in the form of institutional loans. This does not include the money borrowed from private money lenders which is estimated to be even more than that of the debt in the public sector. Indebtedness seems to be the only asset of an Indian farmer: Invisible unjust situation.
Farmers are the least attended class in India . Indian agriculture is going through a suicidal situation and no one seems to pay any attention to it. As reported in Hindu, Dec 15, 2016 the National Crime Records Bureau recorded the suicides of 2,56,913 farmers during 15 years from 1995 to 2010 as “the worst-ever recorded wave of suicides of this kind in human history”. Regular farmer suicides were noted from 1990 onwards and the frequency of suicides is on the increase after 2010. Hence by now farmer suicides might have gone above 3,00,000. To vast majority of us such waves of suicides and agitations are no more a news and evokes hardly any response. The Tamil Nadu farmers are sitting in hunger strike at the Jantar Mantar for many days but none of the politicians have paid any notice of it. None of the national level religious organizations, or any religious congregations of men and women, or any of the voluntary organizations seems to have noticed the continuing suicidal plight of the farmers in India or at least none of them have taken up the farmers’ suicides as an issues: Invisible Injustice. Farmers are the ones who feed and clothe the nation but they go hungry and naked: Invisible unjust situation.
Farming is a primary occupation requiring very hard manual labour. Common farm works like ploughing, digging, harrowing, seeding, transplanting, weeding, fertilizing, applying plant protection measures, harvesting, threshing, storing farm products and transporting to markets are the most tedious jobs requiring on an average 3500 to 4500 kilo calories of energy per day compared to manufacturing and processing (secondary occupations) requiring on an average 2500 kilo calories and service sectors (tertiary occupations) requiring around 1500 kilo calories per day. A farmer and his family are the maximum hard working and may be most over worked people in our country. The work is so hard that already 150 million farmers have turned away from their occupation and it is estimated that every day about 2000 people are leaving agriculture and migrating mostly to different cities in our country. According to the final report of the National Commission on Farmers headed by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan (2006) 40 per cent of the present farmers in our country are eager to switch over to any other non-farm economic activities. Farming is the least preferred among the occupations in the world.
A farmer is exposed to all types of extreme climatic conditions like high temperature, humidity, heavy rainfall, desiccating wind and biting cold when his counterparts in the secondary and tertiary occupations have better physical conditions. Even readers of this write up will not realize these aspects unless they are subjected to such vagaries of climate: just dig for two hours in the hot sun in an open field for preparing a vegetable garden of a quarter of an acre; do the same in the rain and in the cold winter; or just attend the delivery of a cow in the middle of the night with mosquitoes and flies biting you all around… Certain farm operations require working at night losing one’s precious sleep. If one has domestic animals, they need to take care of them every day whether they are in use or not. No wonder agriculture is the least preferred occupation all over the world. About 350 years ago 100% of US population were farmers; today hardly two per cent are in the farm sector. Same is the case in all developed countries of the world. In the European countries not more than 5% of the people are in farming occupation. Farming is done in the most adverse climatic conditions.
A farmer does not get remunerated even for his own labour. A casual worker in a farm is paid daily or weekly; but the wage of a farmer is not realized in the returns at the end of the cropping season (normally 6 to 12 months). In any economic activity payment to the labourer is most crucial and most costly. Those who work in tertiary and secondary sectors are paid in lakhs and in thousands per month while the farmers get nothing but loss. Those who work on daily wages including MGNREGA get their wages daily or weekly. In most of the developed countries the farmers are given subsidies directly to sustain them in their occupation. In 2010 EU gave 39 billion euro to farmers as direct subsidy, US gave $20 billion in 2005, Japan gave 46.5 billion in 2009: just to give some examples. The subsidies given by the governments in India go to companies or departments like fertilizer, seed, electricity, water and agri-chemicals. For major grain crops the return comes only after 6 months of hard labour; how will a farmer and his family survive till six months without any income? No one seems to think about it: Invisible Injustice.
“A farmer does not have the right to fix the price for his own produce”. These are words of Kedar Sirohi, president of ‘Aam Kisan Union’, a farmers’ rights organization based in Madhya Pradesh in reply to Dr. M.S. Swaminathan’s question, “What are the principal factors involved in the ongoing farmers unrest? The fluctuation of the prices of agricultural products is so erratic that the farmers are in total darkness about the return he would get for his months of hard labour and waiting. This year at Indore Mundi the price of green peas crashed by 80%, potato and garlic by 60%, tomato by 40% and onion by 25%. In Shajapur and Nimar, MP, the prices of orange and chilli crashed by 38% and 55% respectively. The price of agricultural products is mostly decided by the middle men. Every year hundreds of tons of tomatoes are abandoned by farmers in several market places in Jharkhand and Bihar. In Kerala the rubber farmers are struggling to maintain their rubber plants due to sudden crash in the price. Farmers have no power or right to decide the price of their own products while the prices of all other nonfarm products are decided by the producer. It is high time that the government fix a minimum support price for all farm products. But the minimum support price should be compatible with the cost of production, annual rise of prices of essential things and increase in the cost of living. If the dearness allowance of the regularly salaried employees of both government and private sector are revised every six months, then why not the minimum prices of agricultural products be revised at least once a year: Invisible Injustice.
Farming is beset with a number of high risk factors . There are many foreseen and unforeseen factors that make the farm sector a high risk occupation and the chances of risk mitigation are perhaps the least in it. Common agricultural chemicals including fuels, insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and veterinary chemicals cause both slow and fast killing diseases including cancer and genetic disorders among farmers and those who use the agri-products. Use of agro-chemicals requires following of their specifications prescribed on the leaflets come along with them just like any allopathic medicines used for controlling the human diseases. High as well as the low dosages are equally dangerous.
Most of the farmers are insufficiently literate. They are not able to read and understand the directions given on the leaflets attached to the packing of the agro-chemicals before their application. For example how many of us the readers of this write up can prepare 0.5% solution of a specific agro-chemical: how much of chemical and how much of water is to be mixed for half a hectare of paddy crop, if one hectare of crop requires 700 litres of solution? From my experience 99.5% of the educated will not be able to solve this question. Then how can we expect the ordinary and uneducated small or marginal or medium farmers will be able to prepare a proper mixture of the agro-chemicals. Even if one prepares the mixtures correctly then there are prescriptions on how to apply them correctly with protective measures. Field observations have confirmed that practically no one adopts any protective measures to minimize the adverse effects of the agro-chemicals. Both the user and those who use the products on which the agro-chemicals are applied will get all types of diseases in the near future and later. Do we treat our own children and family members when they get sick? Never, we go to a specialist doctor for treatment. Similarly, when our pet animals get sick, we take it to veterinarians. Even if we are highly educated we are not able to treat our own family members or pet animals. In the same way a farmer cannot diagnose or treat his crop plants but the society expects him to treat his crop plants: Invisible Injustices.
Farming is mostly depending on the climate . Indian farmer is largely monsoon dependent. Southwest monsoon in India is usually a four month affair from June to September providing about 75 per cent of India’s annual rainfall. Hence the fate of the Indian kharif crop depends on the performance of the south west monsoon. Non-uniformity of rainfall is another added negative factor in Indian monsoon. Even in the same district the rainfall pattern varies drastically. It is so common that while flooding takes place in one district or state, in the adjacent one drought is going on. There is no greater disappointment to farmer than the non-germination of already sown seeds or destruction of crop ready to be harvested. The helplessness of a farmer at those times cannot be communicated in words. The agony of famers in those moments is best faced only in self-immolation leaving the rest of the family members in inconsolable sorrow and irredeemable indebtedness. How many people lose their ready-to-harvest banana crop in few seconds of a stormy wind or vegetable crops due to overnight frost or a fruit laden orchard due to overnight stormy rain or snowfall?
In this write up we have seen that the farmers in India are steeped in indebtedness and are the least cared class of people; farming is a primary occupation requiring a very hard manual labour and is exposed to all types of extreme climatic conditions; a farmer does not get remunerated even for his own labour nor have the right to fix the price for his own produce; farming is beset with a number of high risk factors and is totally depending on climate; Most of the farmers are not sufficiently literate.
(The writer is Retired Professor in Agriculture Economics XIM, Bhubaneswar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Published on 11th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 37)