Remunerative prices key

Recently, a minister stunned the nation when he openly stated that the Maharashtra government has no solution to the problem of farmers’ suicides. It is well known that for more than a decade, Vidarbha region of Maharashtra has emerged as the capital of farmers’ suicides.

Now, this menace has spread to other parts of the country, including Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and many more states. Though government records say that three lakh farmers have committed suicide, unofficial figures suggest that more than 10 lakh farmers have ended their lives so far.

India is still predominantly an agricultural economy. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, 55 per cent of India’s working population is still dependent on agriculture.  There is no sufficient reduction in the number of people engaged in agriculture, though the proportion of working population engaged in agriculture has come down from 70 per cent at the time of independence to 55 now.

However, it is disgusting to note that agriculture which provided 56.5 per cent of GDP in 1950-51, now provides hardly 14 per cent of GDP. This implicitly implies that rest 45 per cent population engaged in non-agriculture occupations takes away 86 per cent of GDP. This fact demonstrates ill-fate of people engaged in agriculture.

There is a general belief that rate of increase in productivity in non-agriculture occupations is much faster as compared to agriculture. Therefore, we can increase the overall per worker productivity by taking people away from agriculture and engaging them in non agricultural occupations.

However, we find that even after nearly 68 years of independence, we have failed to generate enough employment opportunities in industrial and service sectors. In the absence of alternative employment opportunities, the farming community continues to engage in agriculture, despite low productivity.

According to a rough estimate, on an average, three farmers commit suicide daily. Most of the studies on this issue have concluded that the major cause of farmers’ suicides is the indebtedness of the farmers. According to the 59th report of the NSSO, major reason for farmers’ indebtedness is the loans taken for agricultural purposes. The basic question is that in the past, farmers were not committing suicide. Then why now farmers’ suicides have taken the form of an epidemic?

It may be noted that the incidence of farmers’ suicides is found more amongst cotton farmers. The land of Vidarbha is most suited for cotton farming. In the past, Vidarbha farmers used to grow foodgrain for their consumption and for supplementing their incomes they used to grow cotton. A farmer could buy 12 gram gold by selling one quintal cotton then. Now, Vidarbha farmers mostly grow cotton and price of cotton has nearly stagnated. The cost of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs has increased by 4 to 6 times. International price of cotton has declined from 1.1 US $ in 1994 to only 50 cents per pound now.

Therefore, farmers are not able to fetch remunerative price for cotton. They could fetch a price of Rs 3600 to Rs 3900 per quintal in the last season. Therefore, we find that declining international price of cotton on the one hand and increasing cost of cultivation on the other make agriculture unprofitable business.

Multinational corporations, guided by pure profit motive, also add to the miseries of the farmers, as they misguide farmers about the adoption of seeds and other agriculture inputs. It is notable that Bt Cotton seeds sold by MNCs costs these companies only Rs 20 per packet which they sell between Rs 900-1000 per packet.

For maximising their sales and profits, they not even tell farmers that this variety is not suitable for unirrigated areas. As a result, crop fails in case of failure of rains, despite making all efforts involving huge cost to the farmers. The indebted farmer is not left with any option, except to commit suicide.

BJP manifesto

It is an open secret that farmers in India do not get remunerative price for their produce. The BJP, in its election manifesto, had promised that farmers would be provided with remunerative pries by adding 50 per cent to the cost of cultivation. It has not happened. There has been a marginal increase in the price of vegetables, fruits and some other agricultural produce, and therefore, farmers’ incomes did increase marginally, but this hike is not evenly distributed.

To supplement their incomes, farmers go for horticulture and animal husbandry also. In the past two decades, farmers in different parts of the country, especially in western states (Maharashtra, Gujarat etc), have made significant strides in animal husbandry. Today, milk and milk produce add more than Rs 4 lakh crore to GDP and milk production in the country is more than any agriculture produce.

If policy makers come out of the psyche of helplessness, we can definitely stop farmers’ suicides. To provide remunerative prices for farmers' produce is government's responsibility. We must ensure reasonable income for the farmer. Farmers should be provided with remunerative prices by adding 50 per cent to cost of cultivation. Wherever essential, effective ban on imports of agricultural produce should also be imposed to stop sharp reduction in prices of agricultural produce.

To provide alternative source of employment opportunities, we need to encourage village industries, including agro based food processing industries, horticulture and animal husbandry. We need to raise incomes of the farmers to eliminate dependence on borrowing. If government does not take steps in right direction, it will remain in the
helplessness mode!

(The writer is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)

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