Farmers’ Suicides In India
Lessons for India from Unseasonal Rains
Indian agriculture sector is in a serious mess. Recent unseasonal rains, which caused serious damage to the crops & more serious damage to the nation in the form of tragic suicides by debt ridden poor farmers, have drawn the media attention to the issue. Farming is closely related to nature. Nature will at times cause losses, & at times it will be benevolent. We have to accept these with patience & gratitude respectively. The mess we are in is man made & has little to do with nature. The problem is grave & demands focussed effort. Unfortunately there are no quick solutions! Let us analyze some factors to obtain remedial answers.
50% Population generates 14% of Wealth
The population needed for farming is not more than 10%. 40% of population has to be shifted to other sectors fast, or suicides will continue. The government has to create alternative job options for farmers, nearer to their homes. The farmers also have to seek permanent engagement in other sectors to rid themselves of poverty. This process will be long, maybe 20-25 years. The urgency is grave. It has to start fast. Politicians who are delaying the land acquisition bill are the real anti farmers & they will carry the guilt to their graves!
Irrigation & Flood Prevention
Our agriculture continues to depend heavily on monsoon rains. This reality needs to be changed urgently. We incur losses due to floods, as well as drought. Government has to create canals on war footing & check dams for flood prevention. The farmers have to cooperate to create check dams, rain water harvesting & shift to drip irrigation. Farmers should realize that genuine leaders are likes of Anna Hazare & not self serving politicians who continue with the ‘mai baap’ populist approach of writing off loans & providing subsidies which have failed to improve the plight of farmers & have also caused a loss to the exchequer.
High Quality Seeds, Credit & Insurance
The poor farmer’s only wealth is his land. Since he is at a subsistence level, or below, he needs to borrow working capital. This credit is available to him at exorbitant costs from money lenders & not Public or Private Banks. The crop losses & inability to clear debts creates a sense of desperation. This is the most common cause for suicides. Crop losses can be minimized by provision of high quality seeds. Banking penetration needs to increase & so also insurance in the sector. The government should do these things. These actions will prevent leading the farmers to desperation.
Manures, Fertilizers and Biocides & Increased Mechanization
This is a problem which affects production as well as loss prevention. I feel that the problem is primarily because of small farm holdings & poverty. Once farm holdings become larger, with shift of population to other sectors & greater availability of information the problem will get resolved in due course of time. Subsidies on chemical fertilizers can be slowly eliminated. Use of chemical fertilizers & germicides should also be eliminated. Organic farming needs promotion.
Agricultural marketing continues to be in a bad shape in rural India. In the absence of sound marketing facilities, the farmers have to depend upon local traders and middlemen. Often the desperate farmer is forced to sell the produce to the money lender at a throw away price. The MSP helps only the big farmers. The small farmers continue to be at the mercy of corrupt officials & exploitative middlemen. The government must resolve this problem.
Inadequate Storage & Transportation
Storage facilities in the rural areas are either totally absent or grossly inadequate. Under such conditions the farmers are compelled to sell their produce immediately after the harvest at the prevailing market prices which are bound to be low. Such distress sale deprives the farmers of their legitimate income. The situation is acute in the case of perishables (fruits & vegetables), requiring cold chains. This problem can be resolved to a great extent by attracting FDI by the government.
Rural roads need drastic improvement to facilitate transportation. This has to be done by the government & FDI.
Conclusion On Farmers Suicides In India
The problem of agriculture sector & farmers is acute & solutions have to be found urgently. Actions initiated now will take time to fructify into meaningful results. Politicians should beware that a desperate farmer can resort to suicide, but he has greater incentive to resort to crime. Let us act fast before we reach that stage!
read my blog on State of Economy – Aug 2020