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Farmers’ impoverishment won’t help maintain food security

| | in Bhubaneswar

Farmers’ suicides have continued to persist with their recurrence. Just before the monsoon brake, we had the unusual site of vegetable, milk, etc., being destroyed by throwing them on the national highways. Prices of some vegetable have been erratic. The aberrations in the price structure are conditioned by the demand-supply imbalances. When the crop or the yield is good, the farmer lands up facing some insurmountable problems. The first event is that there will be excess production and there is lack of sufficient demand. The resultant price may not appropriately meet the cost of production. The marketing infrastructure and connected credit facilities are not effective in an adequate manner. Consequently, distress sales take place and the abundant yield becomes a vagary and source of harassment to the farmer. In fact, it leads to further impoverishment. The other scenario is one of limited supply and excessive demand resulting in unethical profiteering and unjust enrichment.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to take remedial measures without delay for providing the agro-rural infrastructure, warehousing, marketing, transportation, etc. This can be organised through cooperative banks and marketing organisations. The rural credit facilities are grossly inadequate. The banking officials, who operate the grassroots level, are apathetic. They are insensitive enough to turn a loan of a few thousands of rupees or, maybe a lakh and a half, driving a person to committing suicide.

Waiver of loans may sound a populist proposition. It would hardly find a solution so that the scenario is not repeated. This is inevitable because of the factual scenario. In this context, the minimum support price becomes significant and important. The Swaminathan Committee recommended a minimum support price (MSP) to be 50 per cent above the cost of production in the agro-rural sector. The Prime Minister promised in several meetings during election campaign that this proposed MSP would be implemented by his Government. We now have a situation in which in many cases the cost of production is higher than the MSP. This leads to a systemic malady of compelling a person to be indebted, there being a deficit as against the cost of production and the price realised. There is a cash crunch in the hands of farmers and servicing a loan becomes difficult. The Swaminathan Committee was an agricultural commission, and a similar exercise now becomes imperative to assess the actual situation so as to evolve the remedial measures. Meanwhile, structural changes have taken place to facilitate disbursement of loans and ensure an appropriate promised increase in the MSP. Unless the two are taken together, they will continue to play foul with the agro-rural sector, on which there is economic dependence of more than 50 per cent of the population.

The Government’s hesitance in fixing the MSP at the promised level, as recommended by the Swaminathan panel, may be prompted with the simplistic notion that this may give rise to inflationary tendencies in the agro market and being a vital and subsistence sector and the produces being of mass consumption, the increased cost of food grains, etc., would impact the prices of other goods so as to bring in an inflationary tendency. But in reality, the MSP being hiked up would lead to structural rectification reforms in which the Government must take the pioneering step.

The Panchayati Raj system has to be further fine-tuned and the development from within must start from the Palli Sabhas and find its way into the Panchayat and Zilla zones activities. It is on the wellbeing of farmers that the rest of the economy would be healthy. But our policy seems to be quite different. Keeping the farmers impoverished and yet deriving the benefits out of their efforts for maintaining food security seems to be the order of the day. Food security is integrally fundamental and essential to our sovereign integrity. It is not reasonable for the urban communities to poach on the agro-rural community and indulge in a continuing exploitation, which leads to the impoverishment of farmers. This has become chronic and has now become a systemic malady. The agro-rural and allied sectors require immediate attention, and implementations are to be undertaken in a mission mode. Even unusual interventions by the State would be welcome (like in the US) and they could be undertaken in the interregnum pending implementation of a new policy. The US Government intervenes and buys the agro products at a predetermined price (not to the disadvantageous to the farmers) and ensures stability in the market and adequate food security.

The input cost in agriculture has also gone up. However, in order to ensure increased production, scientific and partly mechanised methods of farming -- drip and sprinkle irrigation, provision of improved seeds, etc., are the essential ingredients of pragmatic action for causing structural changes therein. In the sphere of rural credit, suitable facilities of the rural banks, cooperative banks and other similar financial institutions have to come into place. This has to be backed up by a critical modicum of operational efficiency; otherwise, the Sahukar will continue to dominate the field and the very movement would stand defeated. In this endeavour, the focus is in favour of agro-rural industries and connected credit facilities have to be immediately ensured. A comprehensive review of the outstanding loans has to be undertaken by each banker and they are either rescheduled or brought in for a one-time settlement. Writing off the loans should be the last resort and not the first one. But if need be, such a measure is to be undertaken and has been undertaken by some Governments.

A concurrent case study of these is also another need of the hour to achieve this paradigm shift in the priorities and motivations in the context of the agro-rural sector.

But in moving towards this, public opinion and pressure of the civil society along with support of the media are sine qua non. The youths have the highest stake in this suggested structural changes and it is, therefore, expected of that section of the society to come up with concrete proposals for their respective areas. It is their tomorrow, which is being built today. They must involve themselves with this demand for policy shift and have a continuing communication channel with the agro-rural sector. In this context, the MSME Act and the pursuant policy directives should also be studied and implemented as a part of this movement. But the youths have to be guided and in that context the elders have to play their directional and advisory role. If the youth power delays actions in time, each day will cost them dear. We should take the bull by the horn so that our next generation is not deprived of its inter-generation equity. In this relay race of human life, let it not be said that we neglect our duties and we do not provide for a future better than ours for the next generation. But in a movement of this kind, cohesive, purposive and combined and united action has to be the modality for implementation of our dreams of the future. And surely this concerns us all!    

(The writer, a Senior Advocate, is a former All India Service officer, a former diplomat, a former editor, a former President of Orissa High Court Bar Association and a former Advocate General of Odisha. (jayantdas@hotmail.com) 

 
 
 
 
 

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