31, Jan 2018 | Sushmita
The Economic Survey 2018 was released on January 29, 2018 at the beginning of the Budget Session of the Parliament and things are not looking up for the Indian farmer. While, the survey paints a picture of increase in growth rate, it does not gloss over the shortcomings of many sectors, especially agriculture.
In a chapter titled Climate, Climate Change, and Agriculture the report has some important revelations. The report said, “In the last four years, the level of real agricultural GDP and real agriculture revenues has remained constant” admitting the failures on this front.
The report predicted that farm incomes will be lower by 12 percent on an average in the coming years in the absence of any adaptation by farmers and any changes in policy (such as irrigation).
The overall analysis seemed to suggest at least three main channels through which climate change would impact farm incomes – an increase in average temperatures, a decline in average rainfall and an increase in number of dry days.
Taking all correlations into account, farmer income losses from climate change could be between 15 percent and 18 percent on average, rising to anywhere between 20-25 percent in un-irrigated areas. Given the already low levels of income in agriculture in India, these are worrying figures. At present levels of income generation, that translates into more than Rs. 3,600 per year for the median farm household.
The report also mentioned a possibility that the estimates arrived at in its chapter might be lower than the true effects of climate change, given the potentially non-linear impact of future increases in temperature.
Political Economy and the Indian Farmer
It noted that the promise made by PM Modi that farm incomes will double up in five years, “increasingly runs up against the contemporary realities of Indian agriculture, and the harsher prospects of its vulnerability to long term climate change” as farmers’ income remained static over past four years and in some cases also decreased.
The report concluded on a note that despite it is clear what is to be done, how it will be done is an open political economy question. But the political economy of this sector has been questionable to say the least.
Though the agriculture sector has seen a setback since 2000, demonetization announced in November 2016 exposed these fissures.
Nationwide Farmer Protests
Unlike any other time in independent India, farmers across the length and breadth of the country came out on the streets in June 2017. While farmers in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab were continuing their protests, in Madhya Pradesh 8 protesting farmers were killed by the police when they fired on a peaceful rally. In Maharashtra, a farmer called Dhanaji Jadhav committed suicide at Veet village in Solapur. In his suicide note, he stated that his body should not be cremated till the Chief Minister visits his place and announces a loan waiver for farmers. In Maharashtra alone over half a million farmers protested on the streets. They demanded a waiver of farmer loans, free electricity, appropriate support prices for their produce, grants for irrigation, pension for farmers aged above 60 years, implementation of the Swaminathan committee report.
While small farmers struggled to repay their debts, loans of big corporations were waived off.
Similarly, we watched in shock the death of more than 18 farmers due to toxic insecticide consumption during October 2017 in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. All this points to the fact that agriculture is an ailing sector in need for an overhaul but the there is an absolute lack of political will to address or bring in reformatory measures.
Apathetic Political Response
While on one hand, the Union Agriculture Minister, Radha Mohan had attributed farmer suicides to dowry, love affairs and impotency when the news of 1400 farmer suicides in India broke out in 2015, on the other, Maharashtra Government blamed farmers for their own death. The sheer callousness is appalling.
A Reluctant Mea Culpa
The economic survey in this grim context emphasised on the need for agricultural research. It highlighted that while in the 1960s, less than 20 percent of agriculture was irrigated, today this number still remains in mid-40s. Fully irrigating Indian agriculture, in a backdrop of water security and limited efficiency of existing cropping schemes is a challenge and hence technological advancements such as drip irrigation, sprinklers and water management etc may hold the key to future Indian agriculture.
It also acknowledged that while considering policy level reforms, one has to bear in mind two kinds of agriculture in India, “There is an agriculture—the well-irrigated, input-addled, and price-and-procurement-supported cereals grown in Northern India—where the challenge is for policy to change the form of the very generous support from prices and subsidies to less damaging support in the form of direct benefit transfers” and “Then there is another agriculture (broadly, non-cereals in central, western and southern India) where the problems are very different: inadequate irrigation, continued rain dependence, ineffective procurement, and insufficient investments in research and technology (non-cereals such as pulses, soyabeans, and cotton), high market barriers and weak post-harvest infrastructure (fruits and vegetables), and challenging non-economic policy (livestock)”
However tracing a pattern of response of this government which has proved to be anti-farmers and anti-poor till date, it seems highly unlikely that the government will be taking any serious measures to address this grave problem.
Feature Image courtesy PTI: ((Jammu: Members of the Jammu and Kashmir Kisan Tehreek shouting slogans during a protest against the killing of six farmers in police firing in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh last week, in Jammu)) PTI Photo(PTI6_12_2017_000060B)