Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
Focussing on marginal farmers
A rising concern
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 2,195 marginal farmers and 3,618 small farmers reportedly committed suicide in 2015.
Curiously, a larger number of small farmers rather than marginal farmers reportedly committed suicide in States like Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka.
This shows that even small farmers are not spared by the agricultural crisis, and it is not observed only in traditional drought stricken states.
Small farmer= Has or cultivating agricultural land between 1 to 2 hectares.
Marginal farmer= Has or cultivating agricultural land upto 1 hectare (2.5 acres)
Where does the major concern lie?
Farmer suicides have largely been attributed to debt, drought, crop failure or poor returns. However, farmers have been taking the drastic step regardless of a good rainfall year or bad, a good price year or a disappointing one.
This is because they have low incomes but high costs of cultivation which is financed through loans. Somehow they manage to breakeven in a year and pay off their debts, a weather shock or price fluctuation will push them into yet another cycle of borrowing.
Hence, there comes a time when they are unable to cope with mounting debt and the inability to take care of their families, they go for the extreme step.
Agriculture became unviable when input costs associated with fertilizers, crop-protection chemicals and seeds rose, along with fixed costs associated with agricultural equipment such as tractors and submersible pumps.
Prices of many raw materials like fertilizers have jumped which raises the ultimate prices of crop too.
Hiring of agricultural labourer has become expensive with labour cost shooting upto Rs. 20/hour compared to Rs. 6-9/ hour previously.
Hiring of animals for agricultural mechanics is also rising.
Even the cost of labour, associated with both animal and machine labour, has also undergone a substantial jump.
Thus, rise in input costs have risen the cultivation costs. It is evident from the fact that total cost of cultivation for wheat rose three times from 2004-05 to 2012-13.
Traditionally, the blame for farmer suicides is cast upon local moneylender. But NCRB data highlights that 2,474 of the 3,000 farmers who were reported to have committed suicide in 2015 had loans from local banks. Whereas, only 9.8% of farmers had taken loans from moneylenders.
Thus, formal indebtedness have cost more life than traditional moneylenders which seem to be more flexible than local banks.
An inclusive approach is the solution
Integrated pest management
The indiscriminate and unilateral use of pesticides was the only plant protection tool during sixties and seventies for sustaining of agricultural production potential of the high yielding varieties under the intensive cropping systems.
This has led to several ill-effects like human and animal health hazards, ecological imbalance, development of resistance in the pests to pesticides, pests resurgence and environmental pollution, destruction of natural enemies (bio-control agents) of pests and increased level of pesticides residues in soil, water, food with the increased use of pesticides.
Hence, IPM was needed as it is an eco-friendly approach which aims at keeping pest population at below economic threshold levels by employing all available alternate pest control methods and techniques.
The farm policies should encourage integrated pest management with focus on combining biological, chemical, mechanical and physical means to combat pests with a long-term emphasis on eliminating or reducing use of pesticides.
The use of chemical pesticides is advised as a measure of last resort when pest population in the crop crosses economic threshold levels.
Support local fertiliser industry
The timely delivery of subsidies would improve working capital requirements, enabling industries to manage costs through internal sources rather than external loans.
Delayed payments can cause loss of interest of Rs. 3,500 crore for fertilizer firms annually.
Also, the state seed policies should focus on encouraging contract farming, along with identification of new genotypes for treating pest and disease syndromes, as well as adverse weather conditions.
Improved farming technologies
The farm equipment policy needs a revamp with a focus on manufacturing farming equipment and implements that are currently imported.
Precision-farming techniques like Systematic Rice Intensification can help increase seed production.
Subsidies should be timely given to farmers seeking to buy equipment so that they have lower collateral requirements, longer moratoriums and payback periods.
Even the entrepreneurs who seek to set up Custom Hiring Centres (CHC) for agricultural equipment should be given subsidies on timely basis.
CHCs will encourage farm mechanisation through upgradation of technology for raising agriculture and horticulture crops.
It will give farm machinery on rental basis to farmers who cannot afford to purchase high-end agricultural machinery and equipment apart from servicing old machinery. The centres will play a pivotal role in introducing high technology agriculture machinery to even ordinary farmers with the objective to boost crop production and improve quality of agriculture operations.
Burden-less institutional financing
It has to be ensured that institutional finance is available and accessible. The benefits of such finance should be simplified and disbursed funds should be effectively monitored.
States should seek to establish early warning signals, monitoring farmers who go past set limits and seek unsustainable loans.
Village-wise lists of deeply indebted farmers should be prepared annually to identify farmers who are becoming extremely poor and may be potentially driven to committing suicide.
Then, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, along with the local administration, should be tasked with analysing such lists for macro and local policy interventions, and devise timely loan restructuring initiatives, insurance claim settlements and better counselling to prevent farmers from losing their lives.
Responding to vagaries of nature, insurance coverage should be expanded to all crops while reducing the rate of interest to nominal levels, with government support and an expanded Rural Insurance Development Fund.
Right to dignity
Farmers should be also looked from eye of humanity and treated with dignity and respect.
Agriculture is facing tough times currently and thus farmers are struggling to survive, make a living, sustain families and educate children by being associated in agricultural sector.
Systematic changes are required to make agriculture a sustainable and stick-to-employment sector. Indian agriculture is still rainfed which has increased the chances of becoming vulnerable to climate changes. Small and marginal farmers should be encouraged to use new farming techniques like rainwater harvesting, watershed management, micro-irrigation by providing them financial support to create and maintain such agricultural infrastructure. Adequate crop insurance will motivate them to carryout their agricultural practices without huge concerns. Farmers should be educated about new techniques and schemes through KVKs, interaction with scientists and various mediums of communication. Thus, an integrated farm management approach should be undertaken to support the marginal and small farmers who require more support to sustain their livelihood and prevent them from taking their lives.
Connecting the dots:
Indian farmers have long been susceptible to political, economic and climatic conditions of the country, which has resulted into their loss of lives. Determine how the farmers, especially small and marginal, can be made to move away from path of suicide?