Agriculture turning into nightmare for small farmers

India, the world’s second largest food producer, is witnessing growing distress and declining confidence in agriculture as most small and landless farmers, with less of a stake, are found to quit farming

The recent unseasonal heavy rains, thunder and hailstorms originating from unusually intense western disturbances from the Mediterranean interacting with the south-easterly winds from the Bay of Bengal have ravaged the due-for-harvesting chana, lentils and wheat in Madhya Pradesh, mustard in Rajasthan and onions and grapes in Maharashtra. Instead of an expected bumper harvest on the back of excellent monsoons, farmers reaped only misery.

Compounding it is the Model Election Code of Conduct stopping any relief for months.  It is well acknowledged that our agriculture is inherently risk-prone by being highly susceptible to weather vagaries. According to a nationwide survey, 70% of over 5,000 households polled, reported crop damage in the last three years and the present National Agricultural Insurance Scheme cover is far too inadequate.  

India, the world’s second largest food producer is witnessing growing distress and declining confidence in agriculture. Most small and landless farmers with less of a stake are found to quit farming. Sharad Pawar, union minister for Agriculture blames the highly fragmented small holdings for making agriculture economically unviable.

Our Food Security is heading for an alarming toss going by the grim statistics in a Bharat Krishak Samaj commissioned survey on ‘The State of the Indian Farmer’ -

  • Agriculturists willing to quit farming to move to cities 62%,
  • Farmers who don’t see future for children in farming, preferring higher education and settle in towns 60%,
  • Youth keen on continuing farming constituted only 20%.

Mere holistic fixes like subsidies, procurement policies, minimum support prices (MSP) have been failures, loan waivers have not served their purpose as the prices obtained by the farmers are far below those charged to the ultimate urban consumers.

More of softer infrastructure for the rural population like better education,  good primary health care, decent sanitation, clean drinking water, check dams ring and bore wells,  constant power supply  to run them are the need of the hour in addition to better road connectivity.

Interestingly, the survey, reiterated the best kept of secrets of the benefits of the Governments’ farmer-related schemes are invariably availed only by few rich farmers to the detriment of many few.

The loan repayment and interest waiver schemes don’t benefit the many poor who have availed credit by borrowing from the money lenders at usurious rates of interest leading to suicides. The large and rich farmers borrowing from commercial and co-operative institutions abuse these facilities.

The Chief Minister of Rajasthan, on record had stated that the NREGA Scheme has been making the farm labour ‘lazy’ by enabling them to collect money from government project work that drive them all away from farming.

The major concerns faced by the agricultural sector in India as mentioned by Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala, in an article published by Daily Excelsior are-

Structural limitations in earnings from agriculture - even for an area of 10 hectares make it impossible to invest beyond two tube wells and one tractor.

Income from agriculture is limited essentially because the investment cannot be upped.

An average Indian farmer, with even large pieces of lands, is hard pressed to produce even Rs10 lakh worth crops.

When one hundred software engineers working out of urban building can turn out software worth many more crores, the same number of farmers can’t turn out the same from labour.

America exports large quantities of food grains and fruits like Californian apples and Washington apples to India even with less than 1% of the population engaged in agriculture.

For our planners it is more cost-effective to provide cheaper power, water, roads and sanitation to urban areas than to the rural areas.

In a study of the Water Policy of Rajasthan, it was found that the cost of reaching drinking water to rural communities was a whopping 10 times more than to the cities because of the need to lay new, longer water lines, much breakage and leakages in rural areas.

It is far less costly to provide 10 MW of power to a single urban high-rise while hundreds of kilometres of power cables has got to be laid for the same electricity supply to villages. 

In rural areas it is well-nigh impossible to recover user charges as it is compounded with high transmission and distribution losses (T&D losses) arising out of unauthorised direct pole connections that are thefts.

The absence of sustained and regular passenger traffic makes bus services to villages sporadic simply because there is not enough traffic to make trips economically viable.

Quality of education suffers because the required large numbers of students are just not available. Living conditions are not conducive also hamper good teaching talent.

Similar bad conditions equally apply to health and sanitation services.

The many rural development programmes laid out by the government fail to take off purely on economic grounds - industries can flourish where the costs for transporting raw materials and finished products are minimum. It is far cheaper to procure from farms and transport raw cane even by bullock carts and tractors to the sugar factories in the hinterlands of Maharashtra.

Flour mills have moved to the larger metros because of ease and relatively lower costs of transporting raw wheat and finished flour. The same applies to weaving.

The power situation in rural India is abysmal. The relatively more regular supply of power, availability of skilled and semi-skilled labour and easier access to markets makes metros a choice.

The rural non-tax paying rich elite also choose to migrate to the metros for their glamour and proximity to centres of power, especially the state capitals. This is despite the fact that they build jazzy farm houses/bungalows guzzling millions of gallons of scarce water in drought hit areas.

(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai based chartered accountant turned activist.)

Yerram Raju Behara
8 years ago
SF, MF and AL as also lease holders suffer most in times of stress because of faulty social security systems and the retrograde policies of the Governments coupled with poor governance. I have therefore called for special attention from all the political parties who have politicised the farm sector enough and who milked the sector. Farming created wealth but farmers are in distress and commit suicides. See my demands for the farm sector.
Manifesto for Agricultural Sector: Agenda for Future from the Farm & Rural Science Foundation, Hyderabad.
‘If farming fails nothing else succeeds in this country.’ Economic growth of this predominantly agrarian country depends on agricultural growth.
Target 6% growth of farm sector for an assured double digit sustainable growth of the economy.
Allocate Budget – at least 10% of the outlay should be devoted for agricultural sector.
Present Agricultural Budget in all the predominantly agricultural States preceded by Agricultural Survey.
Public Expenditure for farming should be significantly scaled up to cover the agri-related infrastructure, soil health management with localized soil mapping and solution matrix within the knowledge of the farmers and soil clinics widely dispersed and ICT solutions.
Targets to setting up bio-villages to take biotechnology closer to the farmers should be spelt out annually in the Agricultural Budget with allocable resources and monitoring mechanisms.
MNREGS should be linked with farming activity through a Voucher system administered by the Gram Panchayat where 75% of the wages would come through MNREGS and 25% from the farmer during the guaranteed 150 days of work under the scheme.
Direct cash subsidy shall be introduced for inputs and machinery.
Introduce certification courses in agricultural disciplines both online and offline – Agricultural, Horticultural and Veterinary Universities should work out such courses to develop skilled force in the villages, enrolling students after Tenth standard, akin to paramedical services.
Set up Disaster Mitigation Fund to engineer write-off of interest and principal amount of loan depending on the nature and intensity of the disaster.
Weather Insurance shall be provided by the Government – both the State and Central Governments should share equally the related premium.
Crop Insurance should be refined to make the claim process more transparent.
Set up an empowered Coordinated Forum for Farm Policy and Implementation at the State level and District Levels with participation from the Farmers’ Associations to free the farmer from the bondage of fifteen Ministries governing agriculture.
Rain-fed agriculture occupying nearly 60% of arable lands, it is eclipsed by the ineffective policy interventions and poor monitoring mechanisms. It is important that micro irrigation, tank desilting and protection of all lakes from any encroachments, specific cropping and credit plans need aggressive implementation drive with farmers’ associations’ involvement.
Since 82% of the holdings are with small and marginal farmers, ensure credit to at least 50% of them through Agricultural Credit Monitoring Mechanism under priority sector dispensation in terms of number of new accounts accessed within the next two years and to reach 75% in the subsequent two years through the Kisan Credit Card linkage with Rupiya/Master/VISA. There should be only two accounts for the farmer – one for investment credit and the other for short term expenses with outflow to get linked only through KCC comprehensive credit limit.
Interest subsidy should be credited online direct to the farmers’ accounts with the help of ICT solutions.
Computerisation of all Agricultural market yards should be done with the help of Agri-Infrastructure Bonds. Spot markets should be set up in all such markets with the help of MCX or NCDX to enable farmers’ price discovery. All the AMYs should have multi-level storage and cold storage facilities or should be tied up with the accredited warehouses.
Warehouse receipt financing at the doorstep of the facility should be available at the hands of the financing institutions.
De-bond the Agriculural Market Yards from the clutches of market wolves by instituting governance practices with only farmers’ participation. No person with political party affiliation should be heading these Market Yards.
Elections to the Market Yard Committees, PACS and Water Users Societies should be held by the State Election Commission once in every five years and the contestants should be independent of political affiliations.
97th Amendment to the Constitution Act 2011 should be implemented.
Farmers should
Social Security of farmers should be provided through:-
1. Pension of Rs.3000 for farmer family from the age of 60 of the farmer for all the small and marginal farmers, tenant farmers and women farmers, for which purpose the farmer should contribute 2% of the sale produce of the farm product – agriculture per se, animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries, bee-keeping, sericulture etc.- with matching contribution from the State Government through the National Pension Scheme.
2. Health Insurance of all these farmers shall be provided both through the existing schemes like Arogya Sree/Kutumba Sree etc.,, and through contributory premium from the farmer at 2%. Farmers’ participation would give him the right to claim the legitimate services and would not leave him to the mercy of the state government.
3. Women farm labour should be paid equal with their male counterparts for all activities on the farm.

Gyanendra Shukla
8 years ago
Empower farmers - give then reasonable credit access, provide risk cover, give them modern seeds, provide soil and water based advisory, create market with few intermediaries and see the magic! INCOME WILL GROW, FARMER WILL MOVE BACK TO FARMS & INDA WILL BECOME SUPPLIER OF FOOD TO THE WORLD!
8 years ago
Had the farmers been not so kind on the country (by not going on strike after all they are put through) they would have got a solution by now.

A strike of just 3 years (after keeping aside the food grains them and their dependents require) would have given them a permanent solution.

I think we as a country shouldn’t be so ungrateful so as to rouse them on a strike some day.
Nalin Patel
8 years ago
rural poverty is not same as urban poverty, min rural people grow their own food, in urban they grow not, any employment pay is more sort of saving for rural not so for urban poor, the rural farmer is too smart, they do not disclose correct area irrigated, they declare less irrigated land, and the irrigation clerk is hand in glove, they also collect ration at lower rate, they do not pay any income tax, they have lot many FDs on which they do not pay tax, so it is a myth that rural folks are un-educated and honest, they steal crop electricity and no water charges.
Ramesh Jaradhara
8 years ago
The woes of Indian agriculture is unlimited. The main hindrance is too fragmented land holding. If we observe the system in the US, the main advantage for them is the large size farm lands facilitating use of technology at minimum average cost.We can replicate it with our Indian modified version.Conversion of fragmented farm lands into a large size farms by forming corporates taking tenants as shareholders on profit sharing basis.Public-private partnership will be a good proposition for raising required capital.Money invested in numerous schemes intended for poverty alleviation could be use for this purpose.This cannot be done in one or two plan period. But once started it will fetch desired result on sustainable basis.There seems to be no other way around to make Indian agriculture the base of Indian economy as world class. Capital is not a stumbling block in this direction if the intention and attitude is right.
Gopalakrishnan T V
8 years ago
When even For honest and innocent people the very living is becoming nightmare, the plight of poor farmers are imaginable and pathetic. We can only sympathesie with them.
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