Ho jaye achhi bhi fasal,
Par laabh krushakon ko kahan,
Khate, khavaai, beej,
Rinn se hain range rakkhe jahan.
Aata mahajan ke yahan,
Vah anna sara ant mein,
Adhpet khakar fir,
Unhe hain kanpana hemant mein.
Maano bhuvan se bhinna unka,
Doosra hi lok hain,
Shashi surya hain fir bhi kahin,
Unme nahin aalok hain.
Long before India’s independence, the great poet Maithili Sharan Gupt composed this poem on farmers’ plight. I heard this poem from my Babuji veteran freedom fighter Shri Jawaharlal Darda. This poem still comes to mind whenever I see the farmers. We gained freedom, and much has changed in the country and much is still changing. America once donated rotten wheat to famine-stricken India. Today, India exports wheat to the rest of the world. Today, India is self-sufficient in food production to a significant extent, but the key question is how much has the condition of the farmers, who produce food grains through their hard work, changed? According to government statistics, more than 15,000 farmers commit suicide each year. In terms of suicides, Vidarbha and Maharashtra lead the country. Small farmers with less than two hectares of land account for more than 70% of those who commit suicide.
I don’t want to get into the stattistics but to comprehend the fundamental cause of the problem, certain figures must be placed on record. Agriculture employs more than half of the rural population, but unfortunately, the sizes of the farms are constantly shrinking. Until roughly 60 years ago, the average farm size was 2.7 hectares, but this has now come down to less than 1.2 hectares. Earlier, the country had roughly five crore farms, but due to land fragmentation, the number of farms has increased to more than 14 crore. Only 3% of the farms are larger than five hectares in size. The reducing size of the farms is a major problem.
Be it America, Israel or Europe, there is a cooperative farming system in place everywhere. The calculation is simple. Farmers have increased the size of their land by working together. The farms there span hundreds of hectares. The earnings from the produce are distributed on a percentage basis. We don’t have a rainwater collection system here. Farmers hardly receive advice on how to care for their land or which crops to sow. What should the crop’s marketing strategy be? How should the storage and processing be done, and how may a fair price be obtained? Fruits such as orange, litchi and mango can be shipped all over the world from here, but there has been little meaningful action taken in this regard. It is now being suggested that millet production be boosted. Many advertisements are being published in English publications, but no one tells the farmer where the good quality coarse grain seeds will come from. What about marketing? Our farmers are not in a position to do all of this on their own. When the small industrialists are not able to do such things, how can we expect our farmers to do it? And yes, the farmers’ representatives who have made it to the local bodies, State Legislative Assemblies or Parliament have failed to raise the farmers’ voice.
I have long believed that agriculture should be granted the status of industry. Throughout my political career, I raised this issue numerous times in the Parliament. The same structure that exists for companies, from loans to inexpensive power, cheap water and assistance, should be implemented for the farmers. In advanced countries, farmers are given grants too. These countries provide various forms of assistance, but the assistance provided to farmers in our country is like a drop in the ocean. The prevailing state of affairs vis-a-vis fertilisers and seeds is no secret. Sometimes fertilisers vanish from the market and sometimes farmers get seeds which do not germinate properly. Farmers bear the brunt of erratic weather too. All this further adds to their misery. There are times when farmers in Maharashtra are forced to throw thousands of tonnes of onions on the road, while farmers in Chhattisgarh are compelled to dump tomatoes. Potatoes are occasionally purchased for five to seven paise per kg in Haryana, and farmers in Madhya Pradesh discard produce on the road since they fail to earn even the cost of transportation to the market.
Interestingly, while the farmer does not earn anything from his produce, the urban consumer is forced to purchase costly vegetables. The intermediaries become wealthy while the farmers become indebted, with no choice but to obtain loan for each crop. This loan is mostly obtained from moneylenders rather than banks. That is why, at a recent agriculture review meeting, Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister warned of stern action against unauthorised moneylenders and said such people will be imprisoned. But the question is what the farmers should do. The bank’s terms and conditions are such that the farmers cannot fulfil them at all. I had pointed out in Parliament too, that a bank manager sought a ‘milking certificate’ from an applicant once. As the applicant could not produce the ‘milking certificate’, he did not get the loan.
Our agriculture universities have become white elephants. They have no communication whatsoever, with the farmers. Hardly any instructional or study tour is planned for the farmers. Ironically, there are many projects at the government level and a plenty of meetings take place too. We hear many speeches as well, but if the farmers’ conditions are to improve, the officers must leave their air-conditioned chambers and go to the farms. They will have to understand farmers’ problems. Simply painting a rosy picture of the villages in government files will not change the situation. Let me give you an example. Dozens of pesticides banned in most of the countries across the world, are being sold openly in India. We have to save our farmers as well as the soil or else the excessive use of pesticides will make the land barren. The sooner we wake up, the better.
The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.