June 13, 2017: Due to the unfortunate erratic monsoon behaviour, farmers are facing problems of severe drought for the past few years. Although there is a bumper crop this year, farmers are not satisfied with the procurement price and are unable to repay loans from institutional sources and private moneylenders. Without repaying debts, they will not be eligible for fresh credit for kharif crop. This is why they want loan waivers, in addition to remunerative procurement price.
On Loan Waivers: Loan waivers, though temporarily necessary, do not provide a secure long-term credit system. The waiver of loans implies that banks be compensated by government. This means that money which could have gone to strengthening agricultural infrastructure will not have adequate funds.
On Causes of Farmers Suicides: The underlying causes of farmer suicides are many, but the generic cause is the economic condition of the family, aggravated by drought-induced crop failure. Past experience shows that loan waiver is not a long-term solution and comes in way of allocation for agriculture development.
On Increasing Farmers’ Incomes: Small farmers can increase income with higher productivity, multiple cropping, value addition to biomass, and crop-livestock integration. The Modi government which is now three years old has implemented several recommendations of the Farmers’ Commission in providing improved seeds, soil health cards, agricultural credit reform, improved insurance, increasing irrigated area and the addition of Farmer’s Welfare to the Agriculture Ministry’s responsibility.
On Water Security: In rainfed areas, water security depends upon rain water harvesting and efficient water use through drip irrigation and appropriate farming systems. Groundwater augmentation and management is important to ensure adequate and timely water for crops. Fortunately, the concept of ‘more crop per drop’ is being promoted by the Government. Sea water constitutes 97% of global water resource and therefore sea water farming is being promoted through crop-fish integration.
On Organic Farming: Organic farming helps improve soil fertility and avoids pesticide into the food chain, so biologically and nutritionally organic farming confers many benefits. The crisis is largely related to economic factors. Major problem is price support to organic products to compensate for yield loss. Organic farming can help farmers, who produce high-value organic products for the national and international market.
On the NCF Recommendations: The National Commission on Farmers recommended non-farm initiatives with agriculture-based enterprises for sustainable agriculture. This along with NREGA provides social protection to landless farmers. Rural women contribute about 50 per cent of agricultural work and special efforts are made to promote market-driven skills for them through agricultural universities and private sector.
On Agriculture and the GDP: In developing countries like India, agriculture occupies a dominant position in GDP. As the economy diversifies with considerable contributions from secondary and tertiary sectors, particularly IT and services, agriculture’s share goes down. This does not mean that importance of agriculture is down, but that other sectors have grown. Productivity is high in irrigated areas like Punjab and Haryana, and in coastal Andhra Pradesh, or Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Indian farmers practice multiple cropping (rice-wheat rotation) wherever there is water. Low productivity is related to higher risk contexts such as droughts, pest epidemics etc, where farmers don’t invest in inputs.
(The above are extracted from responses given to questions posed by ‘Al Jazeera‘ for an interview)
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) established in 1988 is a not-for-profit trust. MSSRF was envisioned and founded by Professor M S Swaminathan, agriculture scientist with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987.