Karnataka has announced a separate budget for agriculture. Considering that agriculture continues to be the largest employer, and with a terrible agrarian crisis sweeping the state, agriculture does merit special focus.
Agriculture growth in Karnataka has remained at a dismal 0.5 per cent in the past decade. The neglect of agriculture is evident from the abysmally low expenditure on agriculture. Despite popular perceptions of a highly pampered farming sector, the fact remains that expenditure on agriculture has marginally risen from a low of Rs 228 per acre in 1985-86 to Rs 928 in 2005-06.
The neglect and apathy is all apparent. Although bulk of the population remains engaged in farming, the share of agriculture in GDP is steadily coming down. This gives an impression as if agriculture is no longer important. The huge population in farming is seen as a national burden. Nothing could be further from truth.
The Tennessee University had sometimes back challenged this notion. The share of agriculture in America’s GDP was barely 4 per cent and with less than 1 per cent population remaining in farming, agriculture should have been abandoned. What is not so well known is that agriculture’s share in the US economy was as high as 65 per cent. It is primarily for this reason that US refuses to compromise its agriculture in the ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organisation.
Prof T N Prakash of the GKVK, University for Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, has come out with a similar analysis that tells us how cleverly the contribution of farming in the economy is underplayed. In case of sugarcane, for instance, one tonne of cane produces about 100 kg of sugar, 150 units of electricity and about 35 litres of alcohol.
Market value of all these manufactured products exceeds Rs 20,500. What is not known is that Karnataka’s tax revenue from the various value additions comes to Rs 2,040 crore every year. And what do the farmers get? On an average, cane growers get a price of Rs 2,000 per tonne, of which 85 per cent is already incurred as the cost of production.
The nation therefore must acknowledge that farmers produce economic wealth for the country. But unfortunately, as the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) 2003-04 showed, the average income of a farm family in India is Rs 2,115. The minimum monthly salary of a chaprasi is Rs 15,000 and what the farmer gets is only a fraction. Isn’t this a national shame?
The proposed agriculture budget provides an opportunity for chief minister B S Yeddyurappa to make a historic correction. I suggest setting up a State Farm Income Guarantee Commission. Based on the agro-climatic conditions, the commission should work out a viable and assured monthly income for the farmers depending upon the topography and crop production. Let us not forget, the National Farmers Commission too has called for an assured monthly income for farmers.
As an immediate succour to farmers, Karnataka should by way of gratitude to its ‘annadata,’ who have also served the country by producing food, provide a monthly pension to all farmers who attain the age of 60. The monthly pension should not be less than Rs 5,000 per farmer. It should rename millets as Nutri Cereals, and Rs 1,000/quintal should be the bonus for those farmers who cultivate millets.
Yeddyurappa has already announced Karnataka’s intent of providing cooperative credit to farmers at 1 per cent interest. This facility also needs to be extended to self-help groups (SHGs) linked to microfinance institutes. As is well known, MFIs are charging an exorbitant interest of 24 to 36 per cent which is leading to multiple borrowings and also has pushed a large number of small borrowers to commit suicide. MFIs have in reality become loan sharks.
Economically also it appears that the government is unfair to the poor and marginalised. On the one hand it is willing to provide cooperative loans for farmers at 1 per cent and on the other hand farmers’ wives (who may be part of the village SHGs) are made to pay 24 per cent interest, which effectively comes to 36 per cent on weekly recovery. Cooperative credit therefore needs to be extended to SHGs.
In addition to declining farm income, the other major problem Karnataka confronts is the destruction of the natural resource base — poisoned soils, drying aquifers, and pesticides contamination. It is because of the destruction of the farm lands that agriculture is increasingly becoming un-remunerative thereby forcing farmers to quit agriculture.
Instead of promoting GM crops, and precision farming technologies, which actually bring profits to the manufacturers, Karnataka needs to follow the Community-based Sustainable Agricultural system of Andhra Pradesh.
In 28 lakh acres spread over 21 AP districts, farmers have stopped the use of chemical pesticides, and are now phasing out the application of chemical fertilisers. The yields have not declined, and because no pesticides are used, health expenses of the rural population have drastically fallen by a minimum of 40 per cent. Karnataka should adopt this sustainable farming model. It does not lead to farmer suicides, and nor does it cultivate naxalism. #
Source: Deccan Herald, Feb 16, 2011