Farmers grapple with delicate sludge of bad credit, weird monsoon, crop loss
Frequent crop failures due to the vagaries of the monsoon, lack of secure water resources and pest / disease attacks are reasons why farmers commit suicide
India is the world’s second largest agricultural producer with a 7.68 percent contribution to global production. Closer to home, it contributes around 17.32 percent of India’s gross value added. More than two-thirds of the country’s population live in rural areas, of which around 58 percent depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
According to the World Bank, India is the second largest producer of rice, wheat, cotton, sugarcane, farmed fish, sheep and goat meat, fruits, vegetables and tea. The country has some 195 million hectares of cultivated land, of which about 63 percent is rainfed (about 125 million hectares) while 37 percent is irrigated (70 million hectares).
Over 60% of the Indian population is engaged in agriculture, but unfortunately over 28 farmers / farm workers commit suicide every day in the country (according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau). Over 90 percent of our farmers live in poverty, 25 percent of which are below the poverty line.
While the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is silent on why farmers end their lives, the Causes and Policy Prescription report from 2016-17 cites frequent crop failures due to the vagaries of the monsoon, the lack of secure water resources and pest attacks / diseases. as reasons for farmers to take the extreme step.
Switch from grains to legumes and non-vegetarian foods
Over the past decades, with increasing per capita income and access to a variety of food groups, the country’s food consumption pattern has changed dramatically. Dependence on grains for nutrition has decreased and protein consumption has increased. The main sources of protein are legumes, meat, seafood, and eggs, among others.
According to a finance ministry report aimed at “encouraging legume production in the country”, low levels of nutrition suggest that increasing protein consumption should be the government’s policy priority. The report estimates that the cost of pulses as a source of protein is lower than that of other sources. In the current national scenario, India faces a shortage of pulses, which is hampered by imports.
A majority of farmers, mainly in Green Revolution beneficiary states like Haryana, Punjab, UP, MP and Bihar, are more focused on growing wheat and rice. Total food grain production increased from 51 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 252 million tonnes in 2015-16. Wheat and rice production took off after the Green Revolution in the 1960s and, in 2015-2016, wheat and rice made up 78% of the food grains produced in the country.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana say they only get the government minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and rice and therefore continue to grow them. Taran Grewal, a farmer based in Ludhiana, said he was ready to grow pulses and vegetables, but was unable to recoup even half the cost of his inputs. “When we grow grain, we are assured that the government will buy it, but for other crops, there is no security. Last year I harvested cauliflowers, but no one bought them. So we only grow food grains, ”he said.
“Farmers want the reach of the MSP to be expanded – adding more crops to the list while also offering higher prices. If the government wants farmers to switch from monoculture wheat and rice to multiculture, it should grant MSP for more than the 23 crops that are currently covered by the MSP scheme. Our farmers are smart. Once they realize that they can make more profit by selling other crops instead of wheat and rice, they will immediately make the switch, ”says Arun Kumar, Malcolm Adiseshiah Chair Professor at the New Delhi Institute of Social Sciences.
Although there is a common belief that India has a surplus of wheat and rice, the Agriculture Ministry has forecast that the country will need 300 million tonnes of food grains by 2025, which implies that agricultural production is expected to increase by an average of 2 percent per year.
“Despite good production, 15% of the population remains undernourished. It is a false perception that we have a grain surplus. We lack a better public distribution system. Every year, Indians die from lack of food. The food grain production projection for 2025 is 50 million tonnes, much more than what we are currently growing, ”added Arun Kumar.
A constant decrease in land ownership
Over 86 percent of farmers are small or marginalized, owning less than 2 hectares of land. The number of marginal land holdings (less than one hectare) increased from 36 million in 1971 to 93 million in 2011. Marginal and small land holdings have limitations, mainly with regard to mechanization and irrigation.
Since small farms are mostly fragments of large farms, which have been passed down within the family or have been rented informally by a large landowner, the farmers who cultivate these farms often do not have a contract. formal lease. The absence of such land records does not allow these farmers to access formal credit or be eligible for government benefits such as input subsidies or crop insurance programs.
Access to agricultural credit is linked to the holding of land titles. As a result, small and marginal farmers, who account for more than half of total land ownership, and may not hold formal land titles, are unable to access institutionalized credit. Farmers may need credit for short-term uses such as purchasing inputs, weeding, harvesting, sorting and transporting, or for long-term uses such as investing in machinery and agricultural or irrigation equipment.
Farmers with land holdings of less than one hectare mainly borrow from informal sources of credit such as pawn shops, while those with land holdings of two hectares or more mainly borrow from banks. The other major sources of agricultural credit are traders, relatives or friends, and cooperative societies.
Often, farmers who are unable to pay the loans commit suicide. Some farmers earn no more than Rs 2,000 per acre per month, even with the MSP.
The less land there is, the harder it is for a farmer to survive. Grewal said, “I own four acres of land and have to take out a loan at the end of each season, which I pay off at the start of the following season. The money I get from farming is used either to cover household expenses or to maintain agricultural production. I have never been debt free in my life. I think I’m lucky that a natural calamity hasn’t hit my fields yet.
Arun Kumar pointed out that in India, or for that matter anywhere in the world, we cannot put the government out of the system. “Agriculture is not like any other business where government can be left out of the system. The government has to take care of the prices farmers get and their living conditions. Even developed countries offer subsidies to farmers, ”he added.