Jun 24, 2016

Kisan Ekta -- The Voice of the Voiceless Farmers. My interview



At the recently concluded 3rd National Convention of Farmer Organisations that was held at Shimla, June 18-20, I was interviewed, among other media, also by TV Down to Earth. In this interview I have tried to explain the reasons behind bringing all the major farmer unions of the country onto one platform. It wasn't an easy exercise considering that the farmer movement has remained divided for various reasons. Political parties have kept the house divided, keeping them at an arms length. As a result the voice of the farmers had diminished over the years. Farmers have disappeared from the economic radar screen of the country. 

The idea to bring all the major farming unions face-to-face around a table was initiated in August 2015 with the 1st National Convention at Chandigarh. This was the first time that farmer unions had come together cutting across party lines, egos and ideologies. In this Convention, some 40 major farmer unions were represented. They made a loud plea to stay together or perish. They all decided to stay under a banner -- Kisan Ekta (Farmers Unity). Consequently, the 2nd National Convention was held at Bangalore in November 2015, in which close to 60 farmer leaders participated. At the 3rd Convention at Shimla, two fishermen organisations too joined. This was for the first time that an effort was made to bring farmer and fisherfolk unions onto one platform. 

This interview gave me an opportunity to dwell at length on some of the complex issues that remains unexplained and also to focus on what the farmer organisations plan for the future. It details out how the farming organisations intend to address the serious issue of agrarian crisis, and also about the thinking to influence the 2019 Parliamentary elections. I hope you find it useful. 

Jun 22, 2016

'Punjab's drug problem is a symptom of a deeper malaise' -- An Interview



Abhishek Chaubey's crime thriller has had its share of pre-release controversy. Though much of the discussion on the film has been on the drug menace in Punjab and its possible impact on the electoral fortunes of the political parties in the coming assembly elections, the reality is that the problem is a symptom of a bigger malaise. 

In an interview with KumKum Dasgupta, Chandigarh-based food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma unpacks for our readers Punjab's real problems.   

Q: Udta Punjab is about drugs and Punjab. But is that the real problem or a symptom of a deeper malaise (agricultural distress/governance issues/unemployment)? 

The easy availability of drugs has certainly played a big role in the drug addiction of Punjab. But the point being missed is that the drug menace in Punjab is a symptom of a deeper malaise that has afflicted rural Punjab for several decades, the cumulative impact clearly visible now with alcohol and drug abuse becoming too pronounced. It all began with agriculture turning unremunerative. Over the past few decades, worsening agrarian distress coupled with growing unemployment had led to frustration among the rural youth. Once the seat of Green Revolution, Punjab's agriculture was deteriorating. Fragmentation of land holdings, and the breakdown of joint family structures that acted as a social cushion had added to the decline in farm incomes turning agriculture into a loss making proposition. With employment opportunities outside agriculture very limited, this prompted many a farmers to sell off a major chunk of their meagre land holdings to ensure that their children are sent abroad, legally or illegally, in search of jobs. The trade in illegal migration activities has proliferated in the bargain. With many a popular Punjabi singers glorifying alcohol and drug use, in lot many ways alcohol and drug abuse became the easy means to overcome frustration. You just have to see the long queues before the liquor shops in the early morning hours to get an idea of the extent of alcoholism that prevails.         

Q: What are the reasons behind agrarian distress in the state and how has it been impacting Punjab’s society? 

That the frontline agricultural state should now turn into a hotbed of farmer suicides gives a loud message. While policy makers have been emphasisng on the need to increase crop productivity as the means to increase farm income, Punjab has demonstrated that the prescription is faulty. With 98 per cent assured irrigation, and with crop productivity higher than that in America, Japan, France and Germany the kind of agrarian crisis that prevails in Punjab defies every scientific logic. And this is where policy makers and agricultural economists have failed the farmers. It is basically the denial of a right and legitimate income to farmers, through the mechanism of Minimum Support Price (MSP), that has acerbated the farm crisis. As a result 98 per cent of the rural households are in debt. With not much scope for alternate means of employment or income generation, rural youth took to drugs and alcohol as the means to seek solace.    

According to the Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP), the net returns from wheat and rice in Punjab averages Rs 36,000 per hectare. In other words, the average monthly return from cultivating wheat-rice is a paltry Rs 3,000 per hectare. This is less than what a housemaid on an average earns. With cost of production multiplying and with output price remaining almost stagnant, the indebtedness grew manifold. The total debt Punjab farmers carry is almost 50 per cent higher than the State's GDP from agriculture. According to another study by Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), farm debt has multiplied 22 times in Punjab in the past decade. The average debt is 96 per cent of the income a household receives. Such high levels of rural indebtedness has led to an increasing number of farmers to commit suicide. 72 farmers suicides were reported in a 43-day period between April 1 and May 13 this year. Last year, in 2015, 449 farmers had officially committed suicide.  

Q: Across India, agrarian societies are facing tough times. Young people want to leave farm work but there is no employment. Is the situation in Punjab a timely reminder of the effects of economic distress on farming communities?

Yes, unless of course the government wants to ignore the warning signals. What is happening in Punjab, a progressive society, should serve as a lesson before the agrarian distress worsens in the rest of the country. Already the crisis on the farm is too severe. The two years of back-to-back drought in 13 States has pushed farmers further to the margins. Several years back, a NSSO study had shown that 42 per cent farmers wanted to quit agriculture if given a choice. This was primarily because farming had been deliberately turned into a losing proposition. But in the past 12 years, after 2004-05, the economy has been able to add only 1.6 crore jobs despite a high GDP growth. The jobless growth the country is witnessing is happening at a time when an estimated 1.25 crore people join the employment queue every year. Last year, in 2015, Labour Bureau tells us that only 1.35 lakh jobs were created, not even a drop in the ocean. In such a depressing scenario, agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy. If only the government was to create gainful employment in agriculture, by providing a higher income into the hands of the farmers, more demand could be created thereby leading a revival of the industrial and manufacturing sectors. On the contrary, we have heard Confederation of India Industry (CII) say that 300 million jobs will be created by 2025. What has not been told is that 300 million jobs were not created since Independence. A senior minister has often said that more road network being built creates more job opportunities, which means the focus is on creating dehari mazdoors. I don't think dehari mazdoor is what the rural youth have in mind when they look for jobs in urban areas. 

Q: Successive governments have been aware of Punjab’s internal crisis but looked the other way. Your comments 

Punjab's depressing farm scenario is actually the worst in the areas which are represented by the leadership of both the SAD and the Congress governments. The Badals hail from the Bathinda region, the cotton belt of Punjab, and Capt Amarinder Singh comes from Patiala, another region faced with agrarian distress. Patiala is adjoining to Sangrur which is a hotbed of farmer suicides. The Badal's will find it difficult to explain how in their tenure the region they represent turned into an area of high farm suicides, worsening water crisis, increasing cancer belt, and also has the dubious distinction of highest number of farmers quitting agriculture. The phenomenon of putting village for sale also began from Bathinda district. Both the SAD as well as the Congress certainly knew of the internal crisis but focused more on real estate and industry. Even the growing drug menace was widely known, but was kept under wraps. While it was known all these years, it has only flared up as a major issue in the run up for elections.      

Q: How much will this drug issue and the agrarian problems impact the coming polls?

It is too early to say whether the drug issue will impact the forthcoming elections. Although the prevailing agrarian distress is on the radar for each of the major political parties, but none of the parties have been able to spell out a corrective course of action so far. The effort certainly is to woo the rural electorate with promises of putting agriculture on track but only time will tell how sincere the promises turn out to be.  

Source: 'Punjab's drug problem is a symptom of a deeper malaise'. Hindustan Times, June 17, 2016

Jun 6, 2016

Going by the income parity norms, paddy MSP should be Rs 5,100 per quintal.


The Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy for the 2016-17 cropping season should have been Rs 5,100 per quintal (100kg). Now don’t get startled. This is what their legitimate due is. It is however a different matter that after all the hard work they put in, despite two years of back-to-back drought, all that farmers have been promised by way of paddy price is a paltry Rs 1,470 per quintal for the common grade paddy they cultivate.
Indian farmers have been short-changed all these years.
At Rs 1,470 per quintal, the increase in paddy price is merely Rs 60 over the previous year’s price. The nominal increase in paddy price, which equals to a raise of 4.25 per cent, is less than the rate of food inflation. This is certainly a gross discrimination. At a time when the government employees get a steady increase in DA allowances every 6 months, even when wholesale prices have remained stagnant, and on top of it the DA they get is merged with the basic salary, I don’t understand the economic rationale of keeping farmers deliberately impoverished.
Denial of a legitimate income to farmers is the single most important reason behind the terrible agrarian crisis that continues to prevail. While the farmers seek a higher price, the fact remains that successive governments have ensured that the farmers alone carry the economic burden of keeping food inflation low. Forget about profit, farmers are actually being penalized to grow food.
This is a classic example of how Peter is being robbed to pay Paul.
Let me explain. In 1970, the MSP for paddy was Rs 51 per quintal. Forty-six years later, in 2016, the MSP for paddy has been fixed at Rs 1,470 per quintal. This is an increase of 28.82 times or let us says 29 times in roundabout figures. In the same period, the monthly salary government employees has gone up by 120 to 150 times; that of college teachers/professors by 150 to 170 times; of school teachers by 280 to 320 times; and that of middle level corporate employees by 300 times. I am counting only the basic salary plus the DA that was prevalent in 1970 and have analysed the corresponding increase in the next 25 years.
Although the jump in monthly salary of various organized sections of the society ranges between 120 to 300 times in the 25 year period, for the sake of an easy assessment let us take 100 times increase in the basic salary structure to be the benchmark. If the income of a farmer had increased in the same proportion, and farmer’s income is measured through the MSP he receives, the paddy MSP should have been Rs 5,100 per quintal. Yes, you heard it right: Rs 5,100 per quintal. Farmers therefore are being short-changed to the tune of at least Rs 3,630 per quintal.
Denying income parity with other sections of the society is what has made farming a losing proposition. In the absence of a living income, farmers have been pushed into a mounting spiral of indebtedness. The serial death dance being witnessed for the past 20 years, taking a heavy toll of more than 3.2-lakh farmers, is a reflection of the economic hardship that farmers are being made to undergo for no fault of theirs.
In the 7th Pay Commission report, the basic salary of a chaprasi has been increased from Rs 7,000 to Rs 18,000 per month, an increase of roughly 260 per cent. In addition, the 7th Pay Commission has pruned the list of allowances that the employees get, from the existing 196 to 108. In other words, employees get 108 allowances, while I agree not all of them get all allowances. But the MSP for farmers does not include even a single allowance. This is where the farmers are overtly discriminated against. If the MSP calculations were to include just four allowances – housing, DA, health and education – the face of Indian agriculture would have changed for the better. Indian agriculture would have turned into a pivot of development, with farming turning predominantly prosperous.
But the moment you talk of a higher MSP, economists rise in chorus warning of a higher food inflation, which in turn feed into the consumer price index (CPI). Since the guaranteed rural wages are linked to CPI it will also trigger a wage-spiral. While this is true, the question that needs to be asked is why should farmers be penalized for keeping food inflation under control for people who in any case get DA allowance linked to inflation? Why can’t the average consumer also share the burden of keeping food prices low? What economists have failed to realize is that farmer is the only community in the country which is being deprived of its legitimate income.
Producing food has turned out to be a punishment.
A 0.5 per cent service tax in the name of kisan kalyan is not what farmers need. What they need is a higher MSP in resonance with other organized sections of the society. If not, then let the Finance Ministry reject the report of 7th Pay Commission. Instead have another 0.5 per cent cess for the welfare of government employees. And, why not? Let there be parity when it comes to income distribution. One small section cannot be pampered at the cost of another, a gigantic one. Having a cess for the sake of farmers and implement the 7th Pay Commission report for government employees smacks of disparity. It’s time also to set up a Farmers Income Commission.
So what’s the way out. Well, my suggestion is that the government should procure paddy at the MSP it has announced — Rs 1,470 per quintal. The remaining difference between the legitimate price that is due to a farmer and the MSP announced, which comes to Rs 3,630 per quintal, should be deposited directly in the bank accounts of paddy growers. Since every farmer has a bank account underJan Dhan Yoyna, it shouldn’t be difficult any more. Such an approach will keep food inflation under check and at the same time address the bigger issue of income insecurity for farmers.
I see no reason why it can’t be done. If the government is willing to incur an additional Rs 1.02-lakh crore every year for about 45 lakh central government employees and approximately 50 lakh pensioners by way of  implementation cost of 7th Pay Commission report, please tell me why a similar amount cannot be provided to millions of paddy growers to begin with. The more the money in the hands of farmers, the more will be the generation of demand. This is the pre-requisite for industrial and manufacturing growth, which is lagging behind now in the absence of adequate domestic demand. In my understanding such a policy imperative in true sense will deliver what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has envisioned: Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.

May 31, 2016

When artists stand up for the cause of farmers







"Art cannot change the future, but it can touch the present" -- Liu Bolin, TED Talks 

I still remember an advertisement on the radio which was quite regular at a time when I was a child. It was an advertisement for a desi ghee brand called Mohan Ghee. "Mohan Ghee kya khaya gaon se nata hi too gaya." (Translated, it meant: After I started consuming Mohan Ghee, my link with the village has gone). At a time when Dalda ghee was easily available in the urban markets, one had to look to the rural areas to get a regular supply of desi ghee.

Mohan ghee is no longer available. But I find the moment a village lad gets educated and lands a job in a mofussil town, his/her connection with the rural areas gets snapped. Over the years I have seen many of them, not all of course, develop a kind of contempt for anything rural. I have heard many successful people blame the rural folk for not being able to emerge out of poverty. They lack the entrepreneurial spirit, are dependent on government doles, and have to blame themselves. This is a common refrain. So when news reports appear about some farmer committing suicide in some part of the country, you can see the urban educated frowning. I receive quite a lot of absurd and stupid reactions when I tweet about a farmer committing suicide. Many feel offended to even talk about it.



Over the years, the disconnect is widening. The back-to-back drought that a large part of India witnessed in 2014-15 and 2015-16 is a classic example of how severe the disconnect is. In my travel to Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, where 28 of the 30 districts are reeling under a severe drought, you don't get any inkling of how tough it is in the countryside when you walk through Bangalore. If it was not for a court case filed by an activist against the IPL cricket matches in drought-affected Maharashtra, I am sure the mainline media would have simply ignored the drought. The worsening plight of farmers, who inhabit these drought affected regions, has not evoked much sympathy. People generally believe as if it is happening some where far, perhaps in Africa.




Re-establishing the connect is therefore very important. It is time people in the cities are sensatised about the rural life, about the farm crisis, farm suicides and lack of development in the rural areas in general. It is with this objective, Dialogue Highway, a registered trust, organised an #ArtistsForFarmers painting workshop in Chandigarh on a Sunday afternoon (May 29, 2016). The basic objective, as I said earlier, was to bring the tragedy of the farm closer to the people in the cities. The event was therefore organised in a public place, and Chandigarh's famed Sukhna lake is an appropriate location considering a huge turnout expected on the weekends. Seventeen artists from Chandigarh/Punjab/Delhi came together for a painting workshop on the theme of farm crisis. They painted for some 4 to 5 hours, and during this time the crowd mingled with them, and a strong contingent of Punjab farmers was at hand as an act of solidarity. The interest and curiosity that ordinary people demonstrated showed that art is perhaps one powerful tool to provide the missing link. The response was overwhelming indeed.

The #ArtistsForFarmers event was the first of its kind in the country. I am very hopeful that it will now become a regular event across the country. Activities like this are very crucial to bridge the gap that exists between rural-urban India. People need to know that how tough it is becoming for the farmer who provides us our basic need -- food. The annadata is in crisis and the nation cannot remain absolved from the kind of economic hardship he is faced with.



 

     

May 23, 2016

Don't blame global warming for sizzling temperature, it's your fault too



Sizzling at 51 degrees celsius, Phalodi, a small town in Rajasthan, has set the country’s new all-time record for hottest temperature. In any case April turns out to be the hottest month ever, 7 th month in a row when temperatures have exceeded what had been the highest recorded so far. This is not a record to be proud of but is an indication of how economic growth has created an atmosphere where chopping a tree does not evoke any concern.

The rise in temperatures is indirectly proportionate to the decimation of green cover. The more the chopping of trees, the higher is the temperature. I have never felt what it is like to be in 51 degrees but have lived in northwest areas which have often exceeded temperature hikes of 47 degrees. Even in such temperature extremes, the moment I pass through a cluster of trees a wave of relatively cold breeze is such a great feeling. The temperature difference is striking. At least, a difference of 2 to 3 degrees between a dense tree shade and what you feel when you are on a highway. Even in a concrete jungle like New Delhi, where the scorching temperature exceeding 47 degrees is biting enough, imagine the soothing effect if an increased green cover had brought the average temperature down by 3 to 4 degrees.

Don’t blame it on global warming; blame yourself for the rising heat. You kept quiet when trees were being chopped mercilessly.

In a desperate race to achieve a higher growth rate, chopping a tree does not anymore evoke any reaction. It is considered an inevitable price that has to be paid for development. Ruthless chopping of trees in metros and elsewhere to pave way for infrastructure projects, expansion of highways from two-lane to four lane, and from four-lane to six-lane, and the disappearing of water bodies and cutting down of trees for residential complexes has led to what is called as urban ‘heat island’ effect. Cities and towns are increasingly becoming ‘heat islands’. The higher the concentration of concrete buildings/structures, the more is the ability to absorb solar radiation.

The National Green Tribunal has recently served a notice to Punjab government for the axing of 96,000 trees to widen a 200-km long road stretch between Zirakpur and Bathinda. But to my dismay I haven’t seen any form of public protests or citizens’ outrage over such a large scale felling of trees. We have quietly accepted that trees have to be axed for the sake of development. As I have often said that if a tree is standing, the GDP does not go up but if you chop down a tree, the GDP goes up. Now it is our choice whether you want a higher GDP by cutting down trees or you want a kind of development where trees become part of sustainable living.

The Neem Foundation tells us that temperature below a fully grown neem tree is often 10 degrees less. I read an interesting article in The New Indian Express (April 24, 2016) where the author tells us the difference in temperature between green patches and the city centre in several cities. In Bangalore for instance the difference in temperature prevailing at the GKVK Agricultural University and just outside the campus is four degrees. Even when the temperature in the Majestic bus stand was 35 to 36 degrees, it was around 32 degrees in a nearby park. 

According to a study by Prof T V Ramchandra and his team of the Energy & Wetlands Research Group Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore city has seen a rapid expansion in urban growth. In 2012, the researchers estimated that the built-up area had grown by a whopping 584 per cent over the preceding four decades. This obviously came at a heavy price. Vegetation cover declined by 66 per cent and 74 per cent of the water bodies disappeared. Bangalore no longer carries the same charm as it used to earlier. I have heard many residents complain of the haphazard growth. But then who cares. After all, it is urbanization that the mainline economists and planners are always pushing for. People are being made to believe that concrete jungles are the future, if they have to develop.

IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism group, has analysed the IISc study in a form that can be easily understood. Accordingly, four major cities in the country have seen a rapid decimation of its green cover. Bhopal tree cover fell from 66 per cent to 22 per cent in the past 22 years. Now this is something too serious to worry about. Instead, by 2018, which means another three years, the green cover in Bhopal will come down to 11 per cent. You can surely call it a sign of growth but don’t complain when the temperatures soar to record breaking levels. Ahmedabad has only 24 per cent of its green cover left, coming down from 46 per cent in the past two decades. But hold your breath. If you are living in Ahmedabad or plan to translocate to this city, think again. By 2030, Ahmedabad will be left with only 3 per cent of its green cover. Kolkata too will be left with a green cover of 3.7 per cent by the year 2030, and Hyderabad will have only 1.84 per cent of its tree cover left by the year 2024, which is not far away. The rate of speedy urbanization is clearly 
leading to a massive erosion of what is called as green lungs of a city. The rise in temperature is therefore a natural outcome.

The combined effect of urbanization is what is leading to soaring temperatures. Considering that urbanization is the easiest way to enhance GDP growth, I see no reason why people should be complaining. You asked for it. #

Don't blame global warming for sizzling temperature, it's your fault. ABPLive.in May 22, 2016
http://linkis.com/www.abplive.in/blog/HD1fy

May 16, 2016

When stock markets crash, Finance Minister is on his toes; And when onion/tomato prices crash ....


An angry farmers dumps onions onto a street in Gujarat. 

This is a story which rarely gets to the front page headlines. This is a story which does not bring visibly angry TV anchors shout at the ruling party spokespersons for the government’s failure to bring down the soaring prices. This is a story of dried tears, when farmers in distress are left with
only a Hobson choice – to throw away their produce in anger on the roads.

First the story of tomato. Prices of tomato had crashed across the country – from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra, to Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Reports Financial Express (April 2, 2016): “A bumper tomato crop has led to a fall in the prices of tomato across Nashik and Pune districts in Maharashtra leading to despair among farmers who resorted to dumping the commodity on the roads in protest.” The Hans India published from Hyderabad (Feb 16, 2016) said: “Tomato growers in the Nalgonda district are in distress as prices have plummeted to as low as less than Rs 3 per kg due to a glut in arrivals.” If you noticed, the two news reports are spread over a three month period -- February to April – when the tomato crop hits the market in central and south India.

If you think 2016 has been an unusually bad year for tomato farmers when over-production of tomato led to an unprecedented glut, hold your breath. The story is the same in the previous five years – 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Let’s first look at a news report from The Hindu (Aug 13, 2015):
Price drop – angry farmers throw away tomatoes. This report was Chikkamagaluru town in Karnataka. A year earlier, in 2014, The Hindu had reported: Crash in tomato prices comes as a shock to farmers ... while farmers in the villages of Tumkur district (in Karnataka) are getting 60 to 80 paise per kg of tomato, consumers in the city are buying it for around Rs 10 per kg. Another report in The Times of India (Oct 30, 2014) stated: Tomato prices have dropped to Rs 2 per kg from Rs 40 per kg in the Nashik (in Maharashtra) wholesale market over the past few days, triggering speculation of a state-wide cascading effect.

Remember the stock markets crash in August 2015 when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured the market nerves by saying the government is keeping a close tab, and attributed the crash to global factors. He held a press conference during the day and set up a group to monitor the developments. But when it comes to farmers, and that too when prices have been crashing year after year, I have never seen the Finance Minister step out to help the farmers in distress.

Coming back to tomato prices, I am aware that tomato is not a crop that has the capability to bring down an elected government but that is no reason to remain indifferent to farmer’s sufferings. The hard work a farmer puts in cultivating tomatoes gets ruined by an unexpected crash in prices. Economists may call it as an outcome of supply and demand situation but the question that needs to be asked is where is the fault of farmers who invested in tomato cultivation? This year, a large number of farmers in the tomato growing belt – extending to 10,000 hectares – in Bemetera district
of Chhattisgarh had reportedly left the tomato crop unharvested as it was not even worth it to spend money on plucking and packaging. The story of tomato price debacle was followed by a crash in the prices of onions.

After three tumultuous years when onion retail prices literally shot through the roof forcing the government, following a media outcry, to take a number of steps to bring down the prices, there is no one this year to wipe the tears of the farming community. Even an overtly alert media, which starts screaming every time onion market prices go up by 25 to 30 per cent remained conspicuously quiet when it came to onion prices dropping to as low as 30 paise a kg. The plight of onion farmers wasn’t enough to shake up the media, which otherwise remains hyper-sensitive to anything related to onion prices.

As early as in February, reports of onion prices on the downslide had started appearing. In Feb, The Times of India reported: “The average wholesale onion prices fell to a two-year low of Rs 700 a quintal at the markets of Nashik due to excess production. Prices had been steadily falling for a week now, heightening worries of farmers who cannot hold on to this perishable commodity till prices stabilize.” On April 13, India Today stated that onion prices had crashed to 30 paise a kg in Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh. And a few days back, on May 13, this Time of India had a more heart touching report: “Ravindra Madhikar is yet to get over the shock of earning only Rs 175 after selling 450 kg of small onions in the Lasur wholesale market. “I used to wonder why farmers take the drastic decision of ending their lives. But after Wednesday’s deal, I am also feeling suicidal.” Madhikar is an onion producer in his early thirties from Gangapur taluka of Aurangabad district in Maharashtra.

I can understand that this year onion is not bringing tears in the eyes of urban consumers but is that what the supply demand equation is all about? If the consumers get hit the media goes on an overdrive but when onion farmers suffer the media remains quiet. While this urban media bias is worrying the resulting indifference by the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs remains baffling. A year before, in May 2015, the government had provided a corpus of Rs 500-crore for setting up a Price Stabilization Fund to support market interventions for price control of perishable agri-horticultural commodities during 2015-2017, I didn’t see any initiative to help the farmers in distress.

Since the Price Stabilization Fund is initially aimed at undertaking price control operations for onions and potatoes, I thought the crash in onion prices was a fit case to help onion farmers to be paid the difference between the selling price and the market price. But I soon realized this is not the intended objective of the Price Stabilization Fund. It’s only objective is to procure onions directly from farmers or farmers organizations at the farm gate or mandi levels at the time when inflation is inching upwards so as to make it available cheaper to the consumers. And what about the organised retail trade like Reliance Fresh and Easy Day? Didn't they promise to remove middlemen? If this was true, Reliance Fresh should have been selling onions at Re 1 to Rs 2 in their stores. After all, with middlemen gone, and farmers selling at 50 paise per kg, the proce advantage should have been passed on to consumers. But it didn't happen. Only to show what i have been saying for long. The organised retail only replaces one set of middlemen with another.

Whether it is the organised retail or the indifferent government, when the prices crash, farmers are left alone so as to allow them to quietly wipe their tears. #

Let the farmers cry. No one is willing to wipe their tears. ABPLve.in May 15, 2016
http://www.abplive.in/blog/let-the-farmers-cry-no-one-is-willing-to-wipe-their-tears 


May 9, 2016

Farmer suicides: Have the economists failed farmers?


Agricultural economists have always been for raising crop productivity to enhance farm incomes. I have seen mainline economists invariably blaming low crop productivity to be the reason behind the continuing agrarian distress. We are often told that in an era of globalization, farmers can only survive if they become globally competitive. Those who are not able to match the higher crop yields in countries like America or China are left with no option but to commit suicide.
For nearly four decades now, I have heard economists repeat the same prescription year after year – use technology to raise productivity, reduce cost of production, go for crop diversification, improve irrigation efficiency – per drop more crop and shift to electronic trading to bypass the hoard of middlemen who squeeze farmers income. Listening to all these suggestions most people genuinely believe that the agrarian crisis is primarily the doing of farmers.
There is no denying that all the suggestions to prop up agriculture are definitely required but that's not the end of it. Keeping them deliberately impoverished by denying them their due return and then expect them to provide us cheaper food year after year and still make a decent living has certainly been too much of an imagination. This is in reality a grave injustice with Indian farmers. And let me make it clear. Farmers in United States/European Union are well off not because of higher productivity but because of huge subsidy, including direct income support, they receive. In the US for instance, as per the Farm Bill 2014, agriculture will get a massive federal support of $ 962 billion in the next ten years.
In the past 20 years, an estimated 3.2 lakh farmers have committed suicide with 42 suicides on an average in a year. Unseasonal rains, hailstorm in the rabi season followed by a drought in the summer months had exacerbated the farm crisis in 2015 as a result of which an unprecedented spurt in farm suicides was witnessed in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra. Consequently, the annual death rate on the farm in 2015 had gone up to 52.
Punjab is the latest to emerge as a farming graveyard. In 2015, as many as 449 farmers had committed suicide. This year, till March 11, as per information laid in Parliament, 56 farmers had ended their lives in Punjab, which was just a shade less than Maharashtra. Punjab, the food bowl, has now the second highest rate of farmer suicides in the country. If lack of irrigation and low crop productivity is the reason why farmers are being driven to despair than how come a spate of farm suicides should continue to rock a progressive state like Punjab?
This is where the entire prescription being doled out for improving farm incomes goes wrong. Agricultural economists have so far blamed farmers. But I wonder whether it is farmers who have failed or is it agricultural economists who have failed farmers. It is their recommendations/analysis that are eventually taken up by policy makers. Are faulty recommendations responsible for faulty policies? 
In a state which has 98 per cent assured irrigation and where the yields match international standards I see no reason why farmers should be committing suicide. As per the Economic Survey 2016, the per hectare yield of wheat stands at 4,500 kg/hectare which matches the wheat yield in America. In case of paddy, the average yield is 6,000 kg/hectare, quite close to paddy productivity in China. With such high yields and with abundant irrigation why Punjab farmer should be taking to suicide?
If you are still not convinced, here is a study undertaken by Prof H S Shergill of the Institute of Development and Communication, Chandigarh. He has compared Punjab agriculture with developed country agriculture using mechanization, chemical technology, capital intensity and productivity as the matrix. Accordingly, the number of tractors per 1,000 hectares in Punjab stands at 122 compared to 22 in US, 76 in UK and 65 in Germany. As far as fertilizer use is concerned Punjab tops the chart with 449 kg/hectare per year compared to 103 kg in US, 208 kg in UK and 278 kg in Japan. Irrigated area is 98 per cent in Punjab which is much above 11.4 per cent in US, 2.0 per cent in UK, and 35.0 per cent in Japan.
Let’s look at the crop yield now. Punjab has the highest annual per hectare productivity of cereal crops (like wheat, rice and maize) with 7,633 kg. With all the crop matrix in its favour, Punjab leads the productivity chart leaving behind US (7,238 kg), UK (7,008 kg), France (7,460 kg) and 5,920 kg in Japan. If raising productivity is the major factor I see no reason why Punjab farmers should be committing suicide. But the fact that economists don’t want to acknowledge is that it is actually the low price that farmers being deliberately paid that is the primary reason for the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails.
The procurement price of wheat in 1970 was Rs 76/quintal. In 2015, MSP for wheat was fixed at Rs 1,450 per quintal. This is an increase by 19 times over a period of 45 years. Compare this with the increase in incomes of various other sections in the same period. The jump in salaries of government employees (just the basic salary plus DA) in the same period has been 120 to 150 times; the increase in salaries of college/university teachers is 150 to 170 times; of school teachers in the range of 280 to 320 times. So much so, in the 7th Pay Commission, the salary of a chaprasi has been fixed at Rs 18,000 per month.
At a time when the monthly wages of contract labour has been fixed at Rs 10,000, and states like Haryana are contemplating a monthly wage of Rs 9,000 for unemployed youth for putting in 100 hours of work every month, the average monthly income for farmers in Punjab, who are no less efficient and productive than farmers anywhere in the developed world, stands much lower. According to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) the net return for wheat and rice in Punjab, the dominating cropping pattern, is about Rs 3,000 per hectare. Therefore the question that needs to be asked is how come with a productivity level higher than in America, income of Punjab farmers is a pittance?
This is in reality not even a living wage. The net return is low because policy makers have intentionally kept the output price low. 
Looking at the salary jumps for other sections of the society, and if I were to go by the minimum yardstick of a 100 times increase in procurement price for the same period, wheat price should be Rs 7,600 per quintal. This is the legitimate price of wheat, which has been denied to farmers. I agree that such a high price for wheat will push food inflation. But then that's not the farmers fault. Why should a farmer be penalised for producing food? Why not procure wheat at Rs 1450/quintal and transfer the remaining Rs 5,500/quintal to his Jan Dhan bank account?
Agricultural economists therefore must acknowledge that the answer lies in correcting the great imbalance in incomes. A parity between farm incomes and incomes of other section of the society has to be maintained. Farmers are dying not because they are in any way less efficient but because they have been denied their legitimate income all these years.