India’s Agrarian Crisis



More than a billion people in the world are employed in agriculture, and in India, one out of four people are farmers or agricultural workers. Farm output contributes $325 billion. ( about 15 per cent) to India’s $2-trillion economy. Small farmers—who constitute 85 percent of farmers globally—make up one of the largest constituencies among the world’s poor .Small and marginal farmers constitute 80 per cent of total farm households, 50 per cent of rural households and 36 per cent of total households in India.

These farmers and their families are among the victims of India’s longstanding agrarian crisis. Economic reforms and the opening of Indian agriculture to the global market over the past two decades have made small farmers vulnerable to unusual changes and fluctuations. The small farmers have now to compete with the larger ones who are well endowed with capital, irrigation and supplementary businesses to buffer them against any adverse shocks. As fallout the farmers are facing what has been called a “scissors crisis”, which is driven by the rising cost of inputs without a commensurate increase in output price. A crop failure, an unexpected health expense or the marriage of a daughter are perilous to the livelihood of these farmers. An adverse weather change, for example, can lead to a drastic decline in output, and the farmer may not be able to recoup input costs, leave alone the ability to repay loans. Sometimes farmers have to plant several batches of seeds because they may go waste by delayed rains or even excess rains. The problem has dragged down yields and rural consumption nationwide — a heavy economic drag on a nation where two-thirds of people live in the countryside.

Small and marginal farmers also do not have access to institutional credit. Most of them depend on village traders, who are also moneylenders, giving them crop loans and pre-harvest consumption loans. The superior bargaining power of village traders and the middlemen means that the prices received by farmers are low. On account of the small size of the farms, they can rarely apply technological solutions that work best on the large scale. Since the extension workers of the government are not properly trained small farmers do not have access to knowledge of best practices .It involves crop rotation techniques by which crops are rotated such that no single family (botanical family) has a predominance in the rotation; this ensures that pests do not build up, since pests are family specific also. Higher farm labour and input prices and depleting ground water resources add to their woes.

The current crisis in Indian agriculture is a consequence of many factors – low rise in farm productivity, non remunerative prices for cultivators, price fluctuations. erratic weather conditions affecting harvests, small landholdings, overdependence on subsidies for power and fertilizer, unfavourable trade policies, , constrained markets for their products, restricted access to capital and farm inputs such as fertilizers or seeds ,insecure land ownership limiting farmers’ propensity to invest ,poor food storage facilities resulting in high levels of wastage.. Fragmentation of land holdings and a fall in public investments in rural areas, especially in irrigation facilities have further compounded his woes.

We have opened Indian farmers to global competition and given them access to expensive and promising biotechnology, but not necessarily provided a mechanism that can equip him with higher prices, bank loans, irrigation or insurance against pests and rain. Indeed, one or two crop failures, an unexpected health expense or the marriage of a daughter have become perilous particularly when farming is both risky and unprotected by ay official safety window. which are resistant to bollworm infestation, the cotton farmer’s prime enemy. It says the seeds can reduce the use of pesticides by 25 percent .Bt cotton was touted as an answer to bollworm infestation, the cotton farmer’s prime enemy. But genetic modification has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

Once known as white gold because it was such a profitable crop, cotton is no longer a money-making venture in India. The growing sophistication of agricultural methods has made cotton farming more and more expensive over the decades, and the Indian government has gradually moved away from subsidizing farmers’ production. Cotton is more vulnerable to pests than wheat or rice, and farmers are forced to invest heavily in pesticides and fertilizer.

The promotion of Bt cotton since 2006 has increased the capital cost incurred on cotton production exponentially. Though the yield from planting Bt cotton was high initially, it has been declining continuously for the last four to five years It has gone down from up to 300 kg of cotton from less than half a hectare of land to 100 kg.

There is greater value for farmers in forming groups for mutual self help where those growing the same crops come together in organized groups to receive joint training, buy inputs in bulk and start to sell as a single body .Smallholder farmer producer groups are a key component of creating true scale because of the confidence, support and buyer/seller power they provide. This also enables a greater scale of transformation in terms of individuals and communities
The Indian farm community is at a crossroads. .Eccentric weather patterns and a dearth of government aid have seen the agrarian crisis swell since the 1990s, forcing farmers to search for other modes of income. While the rural areas are being emptied, moving the population into the urban areas is leading to the collapse of the cities. It is expected that by 2035, roughly 50 percent of India’s population will be urban based. The population shift from rural areas along with prime farmland being diverted for non-agriculture purposes will create a food deficit thereby leading to an unforeseen crisis on the food security front While farmers, particularly those with small parcels of land ,continue to work out strategies to keep their age old bond with their land alive the new generation finds farming unsustainable for their new living style .This is the key reason of their influx to cities despite the hard truth that the hopes for a new utopia in their new word is just a mirage

We need to arrest this influx and inject the rural economy with new skill development programmes to generate local employment .That is the right way of saving both the cities and villages –in a way the civilization itself.

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at [email protected]

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