Experts point to the need for a shift from culture of relief packages; weather and price insurance needed for farmers
At Rajiv Kumar Palania’s living room in Bharna village of Hapur district, Uttar Pradesh, farmers are debating whether or not the government has failed to address the crisis resulting from unseasonal rains, non-payment for the sugar cane crop and a fall in commodity prices.
“Where is (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi, who had promised 1.5 times the crop cost to farmers during his election rally?
“Today, the selling prices of paddy, milk and poplar trees have fallen significantly,” says Palania.
Others join him in criticising the government for its decision to import milk powder. “What was the need to import so much milk powder from Denmark?
“This has resulted in a fall of Rs 10-12 in milk prices. The Bharatiya Janata Party lied to us.
“It will not get the support of farmers in the coming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh,” says Anil Kumar, a farmer from the same village.
The resentment against the government has increased after acres of farmland in the northern and western parts of the country were hit by the recent rains and the Centre cleared changes in the land acquisition Bill.
Many say a way out could be moving from the culture of doles and relief packages to fixed guaranteed incomes.
“The time for painkillers in the form of relief packages is over,” says Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, a non-partisan farmers’ advocacy group.
In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP had promised a minimum support price -- 50 per cent profit over the production cost.
However, even after two crop seasons, there are no signs of such a policy.
The government had appointed a panel to reform the Food Corporation of India.
In its report, the panel had pointed to the need to revisit the MSP policy, as it was skewed in favour of cereals.
Besides, the government’s ambitious project to provide water to every field through a network of small and micro irrigation projects hasn’t received adequate funds in the 2015-16 Union Budget.
“The funds provided for irrigation schemes will not be sufficient to construct even a single large canal project, let alone a network of canals and dams, as is being promised,” said Sudhir Panwar, president of Kisan Jagriti Manch and member of the Uttar Pradesh Planning Commission.
He added Wholesale Price Index-based inflation had gone into negative territory and farmers were bearing the brunt.
“Consider the case of any crop in any part of the country, prices have dropped and realisations are down,” he said.
In Uttar Pradesh, about half the standing crop in 22 districts was completely destroyed by the recent bout of unseasonal rains and hailstorms.
Crops in Haryana and Maharashtra were damaged, too.
“The state government should identify the affected pockets and get an estimate of the damage due to unseasonal rains and hails.
“Then, it should quickly provide interim relief from the state disaster response fund and, subsequently, assess losses and provide relief according to the norms of the National Disaster Relief Fund,” said Ramesh Chand of the National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research.
“It could also reschedule the payment of cooperative loans and give interest subvention.”
Jakhar feels farmers need polices that ensure long-term economic and environment sustainability.
“We don’t want to be dependent on the discretion of a bureaucrat or a minister. Farmers should have access to the market and get weather and price insurance,” he says. Panwar agrees.
“The solution should be some sort of income guarantee for farmers, on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
“The current volatility in prices and input costs is killing growers,” he says.
For Palania and others of his ilk, suggestions are welcome.
What is missing is implementation on the ground.