India, an agrarian country with about 70 per cent of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture, is going through a deep agrarian crisis. Indian agriculture is facing a crisis of unprecedented scale. Two back to back droughts, fast-depleting ground water, weather events such as heavy rainfall, floods, drought, low productivity of small-scale farming and declining rural wages clearly point to a deepening crisis.
A recent survey by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), an NGO, of 5,000 farm households across 18 states reveals that 76 per cent farmers would prefer alternative employment. Sixty-one per cent would prefer to be employed in cities because of better employment opportunities, education and health. Seventy per cent of farmers complained of repeated losses as their crops were destroyed because of unseasonal rains, drought, floods and pest attack. Seventy per cent had never heard about direct cash transfer, 83 per cent were clueless about foreign direct investment (FDI), 70 per cent never contacted any Kisan call centers. The report says that Government schemes are benefitting mostly big farmers having landholding of 10 acres (4.05 hectares) and above. Only 10 per cent of poor and small farmers with average land holding of 1-4 acres (0.4 to 1.6 Hectares) have benefited from government schemes and subsidies.
From farm subsidies to farm loan waivers, the government spends crores of rupees on farmers’ welfare, but these efforts will remain inadequate unless they can tackle the increasingly daunting barrier which is the lack of land. In India due to the inheritance pattern, most of India’s farms (86 per cent) are less than two hectares. The bulk of these are in the poorer states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Indian agriculture is plagued by several problems; some of them are natural and some are manmade.
The land is divided into economically unviable small and scattered holdings, which have been progressively reduced from 2.28 hectares in 1970-71, to 1.82 hectares in 1980-81 and 1.50 hectares in 1995-96 and further to 0.80 hectares in 2015-16. The size of the holdings will further decrease with the infinite sub-division of land holdings. The main reason for this sad state is our inheritance laws warranting equal distribution amongst sons.
The only answer to this ticklish problem is the consolidation of holdings which means the reallocation of holdings which are fragmented by the creation of farms which comprise only one or a few parcels in place of multitude of patches formerly in the possession of each peasant.
Seed is a critical and basic input for attaining higher crop yields and sustained growth in agricultural production. Distribution of assured quality seed is as critical as the production of such seeds. Unfortunately, good quality seeds are out of reach of most farmers, especially small and marginal ones, mainly because of exorbitant prices of better seeds. Certified seed is the ultimate stage in seed production chain and is the progeny of foundation seed. Production of breeder and foundation seeds and certified seeds distribution needs to go up.
Indian soils have been used for growing crops over thousands of years without caring much for their replenishment. This has led to depletion and exhaustion of soils, resulting in low productivity. The average yields of almost all crops are among the lowest in the world. This is a serious problem which can be solved by using more manure and fertilizer.
Although India is the second largest irrigated country of the world after China, only one-third of the cropped area is under irrigation. Irrigation is the most important agricultural input in a tropical monsoon country like India where rainfall is uncertain, unreliable and erratic. India cannot achieve sustained progress in agriculture unless and until more than half of the cropped area is brought under assured irrigation.
Garlanding of canals and joining of appropriate missing link is the solution. There is an urgent need to mechanise agricultural operations so that wastage of labour force is avoided and farming becomes more convenient and efficient.
Agricultural implements and machinery are a crucial input for efficient and timely agricultural operations, facilitating multiple cropping and thereby increasing production.
Agricultural marketing still continues to be in a poor shape in rural India. In the absence of sound marketing facilities, the farmers depend upon local traders and middlemen for the disposal of their farm produce which is sold at throw-away prices. In order to save the farmer from the clutches of moneylenders and middle men, the Government has come out with regulated markets. These markets generally introduce a system of competitive buying, help in eradicating malpractices, ensure the use of standardised weights and measures and evolve suitable machinery for settlement of disputes, thereby ensuring that the producers are not subjected to exploitation and receive remunerative prices. Storage facilities in rural areas are either absent or grossly inadequate.
Under such conditions, the farmers are compelled to sell their produce immediately after the harvest at the prevailing market prices which are bound to be low. Such distress sale deprives the farmers of their legitimate income. There should be systems in place to provide storage facilities to farmers near their fields close to the village and especially to the small and marginal farmers.
One of the main handicaps with Indian agriculture is the lack of cheap and efficient means of transportation. Even now there are large numbers of villages which are not well connected with main roads or with market centres.
Agriculture is an important industry and like all other industries it also requires capital. The role of capital input is becoming more and more important with the advancement of farm technology. Since the agriculturists’ capital is locked up in his lands and stocks, he is obliged to borrow money for stimulating the tempo of agricultural production. As such there is need for a steady increase in the flow of institutional credit to agriculture over the years.
The Government has committed itself to meet the fiscal deficit target of 3.3 per cent of GDP. Economists caution that farm loan waivers would widen the fiscal deficit aimed to cap at 3.3 per cent, or Rs 6.24 lakh crore. The previous Congress party-led coalition government had announced farm loan waivers worth nearly Rs 72,000 crore in 2008, helping it return to power with a bigger mandate in 2009. Both the BJP and Congress have promised farm loan waivers in many State elections in the past few years. Seven state Governments have promised to write off farm loans worth Rs 1.8 lakh crore.
Such farm loan waivers help only relatively well-off farmers with larger plots of land, while the small farmers – nearly 80 per cent, are deprived of such waivers.
The sixteen most revered and rich temples include Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala; Tirumala Tirupati Venkateswara Temple, Andhra Pradesh; Shirdi Saibaba Shrine, Maharashtra; Maa Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu; Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai; the Golden Temple, Amritsar; Meenakshi Temple, Madurai; Jagannath Temple, Puri; Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi; Somnath Temple, Gujarat; Guruvayurappan Temple, Kerala; Amarnath Temple, Jammu; Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, Kerala; Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, Delhi; Mahalaxmi Temple in Kolhapur, Maharashtra and Lingaraj Temple, Odisha. These temples have assets with annual donations running in billions of dollars which could be gainfully utilised to resolve the agrarian crisis. While estimates of their wealth and annual donations vary, they certainly run into several thousand crore rupees.
The model can be to take 1000-2000 acres of land on lease or outright purchase in the areas around the temples from land owners and assuring them of monthly returns (to be settled mutually). All modern technological innovations including mechanized irrigation, cold storages and poultry etc. can be planned with use of waste in a cyclic manner to maximize the productivity. Landless labourers, farmers and youth can be employed on acceptable salaries with a proper revenue-sharing model.
Temple authorities should come forward for the welfare of the people whose offerings have made them financially strong. They must take up this immensely important task to help society at large. If the money and other resources endowed to temples goes to nation-building and strengthening the farm economy, that is good karma, too.
(The writer is the Chairman and Managing Director of Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Pvt Ltd and Co-Chairman of the FICCI’s National Committee on Infrastructure.)