Farmer suicides are a tragic indication of the seriousness of the widespread indebtedness caused by imperfections in the agricultural sector that must be corrected urgently. Good recommendations and well-meaning schemes are available on paper. But making them work for a large majority of the poor and marginal farmers is critical
"On average, one farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes in India," says Smita Narula, faculty director, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ). "It's simply unacceptable to ignore a tragedy of such epic proportions and go on with business as usual. The … limited interventions have failed to adequately assess or address this deepening crisis. …Over the past two decades, economic reforms-which included the removal of agricultural subsidies and the opening of Indian agriculture to an increasingly volatile global market-have increased costs, while reducing yields and profits for many farmers, creating widespread financial distress. As a result, smallholder farmers are often trapped in a cycle of insurmountable debt, leading many to take their lives. And according to a report by CHRGJ, which looks critically at India's farmer suicide epidemic, an estimated 250,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1995"i. Without question, India continues to be in the midst of an agrarian crisis, of huge proportions.
And every time the agrarian crisis rears its head, we cite a new programme as a potential solution, and the latest is the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). One seems to have lost track of the number of programmes for solving various such problems, but the time is now ripe to ask the question, "How to make these programmes really effective in terms of actual problem solving on the ground, with regard to agricultural and rural livelihoods?" Let's look at specific actions to begin with, that can perhaps make these so-called 'high-powered programmes' more effective, by ensuring that they (1) tackle the root causes of problems, rather than the symptoms; (2) recommend actions/solutions that can work on the ground, with a clear plan for implementation along with a time frame and accountability.
As noted earlier, the burning issue in rural livelihoods, especially over the past few years, has been suicides by farmers in various parts of the country. While theories abound with regard to reasons, several basic aspects need attention. India is one of the few countries that has consistently and continues to ignore agriculture and farmers, despite them forming a significant majority. There are very few products in India, a unit of which can perhaps be bought for less than a rupee (especially from farmers) and this clearly shows that we, as a country, have only paid lip service to farmers, whether it be the quality of agricultural credit support, market support, minimum price support, insurance, watershed linkages and the like.
While several schemes exist for small/marginal/poor farmers, they are there only on paper and, often times, are misused by better-off farmers/others. Drip/sprinkler irrigation schemes are a case in point. While the number of farmers supposedly benefited by such schemes that have a significant subsidy component, is increasing year after year, an analysis of whether these are used on the ground will reveal that very few poor/small/marginal farmers are actually using them.
The reality is that many of them sell these off for survival, while others report that the material supplied is itself poor quality and does not work. And contractors argue that when they have to give special sums to various stakeholders (local officials) to get the contracts in the first place, they can only make sub-standard products. The net result is that these schemes really add very little value on the ground to the work of farmers, and are better scrapped as the prime beneficiaries are either rich contractors and/or hierarchy of officials, often with local level political patronage.
Walk into the Ottanchattiram vegetable market in Tamil Nadu (one of the largest vegetable markets in India, or for that matter even Asia), and you will see the tragic scenes of farmers dumping and trashing their produce rather than sell at rock-bottom prices foisted on them by a cartel of exploitative middlemen. (Some times it is as low as 50 paise for a basket of tomatoes of 12kg-15kg.) One is not sure whether anything else can be bought so cheaply. I have been seeing this regularly with my own eyes for several seasons.
Go to Chintappali (Paderu ITDA), in Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh, and you will see tribals selling organic rajma (grown from podu, or slash and burn cultivation) for Rs2-Rs3 a kg to the saukar or even at the GCC (Girijan Cooperative Corporation) stall at the shandy, whereas we buy the same at even as high as Rs50-Rs55 a kg in the metros. And please do remember that this is organic rajma and for that we would have to pay as much as Rs60-Rs65 a kg. That the tribals prefer to sell to the saukar for Rs2-Rs3 a kg is a different story as the GCC and similar government market enabling mechanisms grade products and pay only for the supposedly high-grade rajma/agriculture produce-farmers argue that they would rather sell to the saukar who gives them an advance than the GCC which pays them very little and often too late.
Talk to onion farmers and they will tell you what the middlemen at the mandis say. 'Truck or shiploads of onions have come in today and so, our price has to be lower than expected'. Likewise for rice, the traders argue, 'the government has removed the restrictions for movement between districts and so the prices have fallen'. Similarly, sugarcane farmers will relate their woes.ii They will tell you about the poor quality sets that have hardly 30% germination; lack of timely inputs like fertiliser despite a bank loan for which the interest clock is ticking away; inadequacy of cutting labour on time, as a result of which the sugarcane over-matures and has less weight, on the basis of which farmers are compensated; complacency on the part of sugar mills, whose corrupt cane assistants (referred to with dignity as 'cane supervisors' in villages by farmers) bypass farmers and issue cutting orders for those who have obliged them; the irresponsible behaviour of sugar mills, whose lorry contractors demand a special bata (some times as high as Rs500-Rs1000 per load) for every load lifted, and refuse to upload 'cut cane' of those farmers who do not oblige them with bata-the net impact is that 'cut cane' looses weight by the hour, drying in the hot sun, thereby depriving farmers of a good return; and, last but not the least, the irregular and untimely payment schedule of sugar mills, which not only enhances the interest burden of the farmers, as the principal can be repaid only with the proceeds obtained from sugar mills.
Likewise, a trip to villages like Bodlanka in Rampachoodavaram ITDA, in the East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, exposes how the poor neither have access to financial services nor fair market mechanisms. Nonetheless, they still borrow at very high effective rates of interest (some as high as 100%-200%, when one takes into account various conditions) and sell their produce at captive and unduly exploitative prices-in some ways, the exact opposite of economic arbitrage, where you buy low and sell high. That the poor women cannot even pay back the saukar because of the low and captive price for their produce is a fact, as is their continued bondage.
Add to the above issues the fact that a very significant proportion of farmers are dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and you will understand that farmers have really no options and are often caught in a hopeless, no-win situation, their plight deteriorating day after day.
While the list of problems in the agriculture sector can go on endlessly, the key point to note is that they are exacerbated by the fact that, as a country, we have shown the least regard to strengthen a 'critical occupation' that is pursued by a vast majority of the people (over 600 million people are employed in agriculture in some sense) many of them poor. An occupation, without which, most of us will simply starve and cannot survive.
Thus, farmer indebtedness arises primarily because of long-existing imperfections in the market for agriculture and related aspects mentioned above. Lack of access to timely credit for farmers is certainly a problem and commercial and other banks are still viewed as distant by many farmers. The transaction cost of borrowing from these banks is still enormous for farmers and the livelihood loss is extremely high, especially for those dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Most MFIs do not work with farmers and yet, they are supposed to espouse the cause of financial inclusion. And where farmers are financially included like in sectors such as sugarcane, the financial services are inappropriate and more often than not, it leads to their ultimate exclusion. Furthermore, the issue of credit at the post-harvest stage that is critical for farmers is still lacking and this is another area where a strong intervention can help.
Thus, undeniably, a majority of the small and marginal farmers who are engaged in agriculture/allied activities, are enmeshed in a multi-pronged web of imperfect markets, exploitative middlemen, lack of access to a range of appropriate (vulnerability reducing) financial services apart from other enabling infrastructure such as warehouses.
In fact, in holistic terms, the establishment of warehouses nationally and availability of warehouse receipt financing can go a long way in alleviating the plight and indebtedness of farmers. This would give them the much-needed staying power, in the wake of exploitative mandis and middlemen, who usurp the profits taking advantage of the perishability of agricultural produce, even while farmers consistently have a negative return. Even here, replacing middlemen is perhaps not the solution-creating competition for them and attempting to bring in alternative channels that address existing imperfections, is perhaps one solution, as is the establishment of warehouses and availability of warehouse receipt financing on a large scale.
Finally, while well-meaning schemes and good recommendations are available on paper, making them work for a large majority of the poor/small/marginal farmers is very critical. This would require a thorough and honest analysis to understand which of these work on the ground, to what extent and why and what else can be done to make them more effective to reach the intended target group. A good starting point would be for the so-called 'high-power' programmes like NRLM to become grassroots oriented and hold national/state public hearings, conducted in cooperation with Civil Society institutions, in several places across the country where small and marginal farmers can come and relate their problem/issues. Practical solutions to tackling large-scale farmer indebtedness and suicides are possible only if these programmes go to the grassroots and are more 'small farmer-led' in their orientation. Otherwise, they will become one more centralised programme with great sounding reports, waiting to bite the dust.
iSource: Every 30 Minutes: Farmer Suicides and the Agrarian Crisis in India, by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, (May 12, 2011)
ii<a data-cke-saved-href="" href="" http:="" www.moneylife.in="" article="" financial-inclusion-of-sugarcane-farmers-in-modern-day-india="" 19425.html"="">Financial inclusion of sugarcane farmers in modern-day India by Ramesh S Arunachalam, (September 03, 2011)
(The writer has over two decades of grassroots and institutional experience in rural finance, MSME development, agriculture and rural livelihood systems, rural/urban development and urban poverty alleviation/governance. He has worked extensively in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe with a wide range of stakeholders, from the private sector and academia to governments.)
Investors learn how to be safe with their money along with the rules of smart investing
After successful seminars at Gurgaon and Bengaluru, Moneylife Foundation together with Indiabulls, held its first seminar in Chennai on Saturday. The day-long programme, "Investor, Empower Yourself", was addressed by Sucheta Dalal, trustee of the Foundation, and Debashis Basu, editor & publisher, Moneylife magazine. Both focused on the dos and don'ts for savings and investments that most people either don't know too well, or unfortunately don't care about too much these days.
Ms Dalal began the session with a word of caution for investors to stay away from scams and fraudulent schemes like Speak Asia, and not to be lured by deceptive e-mails. She explained about the hidden costs and interest payments associated with credit cards and such other products. "Saving money is as good as earning. Stay away of these fraudulent schemes and companies, do your homework," Ms Dalal said.
Ms Dalal said that it is always best to check the credentials of a company or the broker, or product on offer, before investing one's hard-earned money. This involves verifying the registration with regulators like the Reserve Bank of India, the Securities and Exchange Board of India or the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority. "I don't say that having their authentication is a guarantee against losing money, but it is safer," Ms Dalal said. She also talked about the importance of wills and nominations, and explained the process of working this out.
Mr Basu described the rules for smart investment, like choosing the correct mutual funds and such other financial products. He also gave a brief presentation on the subject of gold, explaining how the value of the yellow metal was related to the movement of the dollar, and he asked investors to understand this co-relation properly before deciding to invest. "This is because gold is not a company which automatically gives returns. You have to buy and sell gold to get money," he said.
Mr Basu also explained the importance of choosing the correct portfolio, instead of going for hyped-up products or big names. "If we look at their track record, we will see that most of these fancy schemes and products have failed to outperform the market. It is better to be wary of them," he said.
During the discussion, one participant suggested that the deposit insurance should be raised to Rs5 lakh. Another participant wanted to know why structured products should not be banned. There was a lively discussion on the mis-selling of products.
Sachin Chaudhary, director and head of Indiabulls Housing Finance, made a presentation on the housing market and critical aspects to consider when buying property. "Whether you are a home buyer or an investor, it is better to understand how mortgage works, and what you should and shouldn't do about it," Mr Chaudhary said.
He pointed out that with developers under financial pressure these days; buyers have an opportunity to strike good deals. Like if, about 20 prospective buyers could get together, they could bargain for as much as 20% discount.
Mr Chaudhary advised home seekers not to be attracted by freebies such as modular kitchens, as builders get these items in bulk at low rates and add this to the cost. But these do not add to the value of the flat. "Lavish complexes attract high maintenance charges. Many of those who have gone into lavish complexes are regretting it after discovering these hidden charges," he said.
He also advised investors on how to deal with rising interest rates. He suggested that one should keep the tenor of the loan the same and increase the EMI. Most borrowers make the mistake of keeping the EMI amount the same and increasing the repayment payment and end up paying more money.
Events over the next few days will influence the indices
Concern over another possible rate hike by the Reserve Bank of India at its monetary policy review on 16th September and the indecisiveness of the US Federal Reserve to detail a new package to stimulate growth in the US led to a flat closing of the market this week. However, the positive bias ensured a green close for the second straight week.
The dismal US jobs data published last weekend pulled the market lower on the first trading day of the week. Positive economic news on the domestic front pushed the indices higher on Tuesday. Institutional buying support helped the market close in the green for yet another day. Gains in the European markets saw the domestic market close higher on Thursday. However, traders turned cautious on Friday on account of US worries and the market closed down. The Sensex closed at 16,867, a gain of 46 points for the week, and the Nifty settled at 5,059 with an overall gain of 19 points.
The Nifty is at a position where the direction of the market will likely be determined by the happenings over the next few days.
In the sectoral space, the BSE Consumer Durables surged 5% and BSE Capital Goods gained 3%, while the BSE TECk and BSE Metal both lost 1%.
The key Sensex gainers during the week were Jaiprakash Associates (up 9%), Hero MotoCorp (up 7%), Larsen & Toubro (up 5%), Hindustan Unilever (up 4%) and Mahindra & Mahindra (up 3%). The main losers were Sun Pharma, DLF (down 4% each), ITC, Hindalco Industries (down 3% each) and Tata Steel (down 2%).
The top performers on the Nifty were JP Associates (up 9%), Hero MotoCorp (up 7%), Punjab National Bank (up 6%), L&T and Ranbaxy (up 5% each). Sun Pharma (down 5%), DLF (down 4%), Reliance Power, Power Grid Corporation and Hindalco (down 3% each) were the major losers.
According to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), domestic passenger car sales declined by 10.08% in August 2011 to 144,516 units, from 160,713 units in the corresponding month a year ago. Motorcycle sales grew by 15.43% in the month to 839,772 units from 727,542 units in the corresponding month last year. Total sales of vehicles across categories registered a growth of 11.85% to 1,412,945 units in August, as against 1,263,239 units in the month last year.
Food inflation fell to 9.55% for the week ended 27th August, down from 10.05% in the previous week. The finance minister has expressed the hope that the rise in food prices would moderate further after the end of the festive season.
India's exports grew by annual 44.2% to $24.3 billion in August, showing an impressive year-on-year expansion, but the commerce ministry clearly sees "difficulties down the road", making out a case for stimulus to exporters.
Disclosing the monthly trade trends, commerce secretary Rahul Khullar said merchandise shipments for August looked quite good, compared to August last year. But the correct way, he said, would be to compare the August performance with that of July when exports grew by a whopping 82%. Mr Khullar said, month-on-month, the consignments were down 17% in August from July. The good annualised showing was on the back of the low base of comparison, he pointed out.
Global ratings agency Moody's has pegged India's growth at 7.5%-8% for the current fiscal, saying that higher interest rates and global economic uncertainties could affect economic expansion in the near term. In its annual sovereign credit update on India, Moody's, however, added that the 'cyclical slowdown' is unlikely to change its credit outlook for the country.
On the international front, top German official at the European Central Bank Juergen Stark resigned unexpectedly on Friday, in a conflict over the bank's policy of buying government bonds to combat the euro zone's debt crisis. While Mr Stark gave no public explanation for his resignation, he sent an article to the German financial daily Handelsblatt, for publication on Monday, in which he has said that the only solution to the debt crisis was for governments to cut spending.
Meanwhile, US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has asserted the central bank's commitment to provide stimulus for the sagging US economy, but he offered no specific promises or details about what action could be taken. He also repeated his call for Congress and the White House to implement proper fiscal measures to control the national debt and the budget deficit.