Feb 18, 2013

Farmers Income Commission is now a reality in India. Karnataka becomes the first state to establish it.

Karnataka has done it. Last week it announced the setting up of a Farmers Income Commission. The terms and conditions have yet to be formulated. If implemented properly, and followed up in Punjab, it can be the game changer for Indian agriculture which is reeling under a terrible agrarian distress. 

Noted agricultural scientist Dr M S Swaminathan sees merit in this. Thanking me for persuading the Karnataka government to establish an income commission, he wrote in a personal communication: “The National Policy for Farmers calls for a paradigm shift from measuring agricultural progress in terms of production to measuring progress by the real rate in the growth of the farmers income….This is the need of the hour.”   

Six years after I first demanded the need to provide farmers with an assured monthly income, the nation is gradually waking up to the desperate need for such a body to address the fundamental issue of income security among country's exasperated farming community. Credit will go to former Karnataka Chief Minister Y S Yeddurappa who very patiently listened to me, discussed its pros and cons and agreed to set up such a body. Present Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar finally announced it as part of the agricultural budget presented in Feb 2013. 

By providing income in the hands of farmers, the mainstay of the economy, we are actually providing the real stimulus to kick-start the economy.

In my opinion, modern farming leads to two kinds of agriculture. First, is the highly subsidised agriculture in the western countries. And second, it results in subsistence agriculture, as is being witnessed in the developing world. The only way to bail out subsistence farmers is to provide them with direct income support, as is being done in the rich and industrialised countries.

Let us make a comparison. In the 10-year period, between 1997 and 2008, the National Crime Record Bureau tells us that approximately 2.40 lakh farmers had committed suicide primarily to escape the humiliation that comes along with growing indebtedness. Another 42 per cent want to quit agriculture if given an alternative. In the US on the other hand, between 1995 and 2009, farmers have been paid Rs 12.50 lakh crore as farm subsidies, including direct income support. In other words, while our farmers were reeling under mounting debt, US farmers got a fat cheque sitting at home.

In Europe, the economic handouts are more lucrative. Farmers receive a per hectare subsidy in the form of direct income support of Rs 4,000. In the case of cereals alone, if you multiply Rs 4,000 with 2.2 lakh hectares area sown in 27 countries of European Union, it comes to a staggering Rs 90.40 lakh crore.

At a time when all out efforts are to launch the 2nd Green Revolution, buoyed with genetically modified crops, and stricter IPR laws that will shift the control over seed into the hands of private agribusiness companies, the market structure being laid out -- contract farming, food retail, commodity exchanges, and future trading -- all aim at making farmers economically viable, will actually allow the companies to walk away with more profits and leave farmers with empty pockets.  

If all this was workable, and was bringing income to farmers, there is no reason why the US and EU governments for instance would be providing huge subsidies, much of it in the form of direct income support or income transfer in one form or the other, to their miniscule population of farmers.

For 45 years, the dominant breed of bureaucrats and technocrats, have been telling farmers that the more they produce the more will be their income. By saying so they were actually not helping farmers, but in the name of farmers promoting the commercial interests of fertiliser, pesticides, seed and mechanical equipment companies. No wonder, the average monthly income of a farming family in 2003-04, which includes five members of a family plus two cattle, had been worked out by NSSO at a paltry Rs 2115. The NSSO has since stopped measuring farm income.

Under the 6th Pay Commission, a peon or a chaprasi in government service gets a minimum monthly salary of Rs 15,000. A farming family earns less than Rs 2115 (in terms of prevalent prices, it would be around Rs 2,400 a month). Can’t we as a nation even think of providing farmers with an income that equals what a chaprasi gets?

If Rs 2115 is the monthly income of a farming family (in Punjab, it hovers around Rs 3,200) shouldn't we as a nation hang our head in shame? If agriculture was indeed profitable, I see no reason why rural despair would increasingly drive farmers to take their own lives. Even in the frontline agricultural state of Punjab, two farmers commit suicide every day. As per a recent house-to-house survey, 19 people succumb to cancer ever day in Punjab ostensibly from the excessive use and abuse of chemicals in agriculture.

Farmers were made to believe that putting more inputs would bring them more profits. They are now being told that free markets -- commodity exchange, future trading and food retail – will make farming profitable and economically viable. What is not being told is that it didn't work in the US and the European Union. And it will therefore not work in India.

Look at the way such a flawed approach is being aggressively promoted in India. The beneficiaries of future trading and commodity exchange are not the farmers but speculators, the consultancy firms and rating agencies, and the business. And again, this is being done in the name of farmers. On the other hand, farmer unions have been only asking for a higher minimum support price (MSP). None of them have visualised that there are barely 35 to 40 per cent farmers in the country who ultimately get the benefit of procurement prices since they have some surplus to sell in the mandis.  

The rest of the farming community, which is in a majority, also produces food. Even if they hardly have anything to sell, they at least produce food. If they were not to produce food for themselves, the country would be importing that quantity of food. In other words, they produce economic wealth. Therefore they too need to be adequately compensated for the economic wealth they produce for the country. #


Farming Equipment said...

Great news to all farmers!! They are at a safe side.

अमित भारतीय said...

Good News for Us, but Sir, despite Such facts Why is Ajay Veer Jakhad, Chairman of BKS, still endursing FDI in Multi Brand Retail & contract farming.?