There is an urgent need of defining the farmer. Is s/he an unskilled labourer? Is s/he a semi-skilled, skilled or highly skilled labourer? Is s/he a qualified trained professional who knows the job requirements for a farmer, like preparing the farm, deciding the crop, obtaining seeds, arrange fertilizers of the needed kind and quantity, sowing, weeding, watering, tending the crop, harvesting, packing, taking the produce to the market, sell it and do accounts to see if it was profit or loss. If profitable, nothing to worry. But loss makes it necessary to examine the return on investment. At the moment, the perception in India seems to be that s/he does not get even the wages of an unskilled worker. That is sad, if true.
Actually, the farmer is an entrepreneur. S/he makes the necessary investment, takes the risk and wants profit. So far, s/he has not been considered an entrepreneur. Moreover, this breed of the entrepreneur sets up business in the backward areas (no roads, schools, hospitals, banks, police station or drinking water supply) and should qualify for all the concessions available to industrial entrepreneurs like loans at low rate of interest, transport subsidy etc.
The farmer is the biggest employer in the country on a sustained regular basis. S/he has suffered financially due to unproductive schemes like the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or employment guarantee scheme in popular parlance) as the cost of farm labour has risen to the prescribed minimum but the farmer is not entitled to any remuneration at that rate. His income works out to be less than that of a MGNREGS labourer.
Arduous, hazardous, yet disadvantageous
It is a case of the worst agrarian distress experienced by the farmer in India in the last 70 years which does not appear to have genuine solutions in the near future.
What kind of agriculture economics we have practiced so far? Farming is not only a highly skilled profession but extremely “hazardous” too. We do not maintain data on farmer deaths due to snake bite (common during ploughing); serious injuries suffered while digging/ levelling/ harvesting and transporting, requiring immediate medical intervention, but treated locally with mud/ash/cow dung etc. resulting in disability or loss of productivity; wild animal attacks on man, domestic animals, farm animals or crops; loss of produce due to fire, rains, floods, storms or such other “acts of God”; deaths due to cholera, malaria, dengue, chikungunya, tuberculosis, diabetes, cancer and other life threatening diseases; violent land disputes stoked by local politicians in collusion with criminals and police; thefts; drought; floods; landslides; locust attacks and pest attacks. The industrial sector pays hefty emoluments to its highly skilled professionals and tops it too if it involves highly hazardous and even arduous duties.
The per unit return in the industrial sector is not as high in India as that in the farm sector. The per unit contribution to the GDP and employment tilts the scales in favour of the farm sector. Even then, our approach to farm sector has been deficient so far. This when the farm sector constitutes the most “critical” segment of the Indian economy!
There is an urgent need to correct the deficiencies of the Economic Policy for the farming sector. Shall we do justice to ourselves by treating the farm sector without the politician showing the farmer the mercy of the old Maharaja waiving the loans of the “poor”?
A policy built on sound economic parameters, which guarantee highly remunerative profits and motivation to the farmer-producer to stay in the farm activity, satisfaction and fair price to the consumer and high revenues to the public exchequer needs to be formulated. All three stakeholders need to be kept in the centre to arrive at a sturdy and sustainable policy and plan of action for the next stage of our national agriculture policy.
The farmer is not poor but made poor.
The mismanagement of the sugar industry and the captive sugarcane farming is the best example of politics played for decades in the name of the farmers to the sole benefit of the political class.
We have done the same damage to the farm sector which has been done to the primary, middle, secondary education or health in the country.
The rich and powerful, of whom politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats form the largest segment, have resorted to owning Farm Houses/Farms at strategic locations (distinct from backward areas) but the real farmer is leaving farming for fixed wage employment in cities, to suffer the life of ghettoes with all the disadvantages associated with it.
There would have been no suicide, no loan waiver, no need for a promise of doubling income by 2022 had we paid due attention to the sane advice of Mahatma Gandhi and tended our farms, villages and the farmers through a sound farm economic policy.