A Model For Self-Reliance: Here’s How Small And Marginal Farmers Can Be Given A Helping Hand

by Raghavan Srinivasan - Dec 11, 2020 05:57 PM +05:30 IST
A Model For Self-Reliance: Here’s How Small And Marginal Farmers Can Be Given A Helping HandA farmer in his field.
  • Optimisation of agriculture can be achieved only when scale, capital, technology, management of the business and labour are available.

    Here’s a model to rejuvenate the approach to agriculture.

Our nation’s profile of a small and marginal farmer largely symbolises him as a poor man toiling hard to make ends meet with the small pieces of land he received from his parents to secure his survival and security.

He replicates the practice to secure for his children similarly and this feature is endangering the livelihood of such large number of farmers in our country.

This is a very key shortcoming, amongst others in growing crops on the lands that is intended to feed them and make some money by selling the balance in the market.

He is usually poorly educated and adopts agricultural practices left behind by his forefathers and relies mostly upon rain-fed agriculture that can only grow one crop instead of three with irrigation. Failure of one monsoon will drive them to penury.

The challenges faced by these farmers are never-ending, as solutions offered by many are outmoded and drive them to the extreme.

Since 1995, a significant number of 296,438 farmer suicides have been reported and registered by National Crime Records Bureau of India. They are only growing unabatedly every year.

They lie at the bottom of the pyramid and nothing other than an out of the box solution can change this phenomenon.

Solutions by many have failed so far since Independence. Surprising as it appears, the scene around the world on farmer distress appear similar, for different reasons.

Fundamental economics teaches that four factors of production are vital for optimising wealth; land, labour, capital and enterprise (that includes technology and management). Deficiency even in one will create an imbalance, enough to topple the apple-cart.

That is exactly the problem with Indian agriculture today. These farmers are categorised as small, marginal and semi-medium farmers, as per government catagorisation. They have a staggering 95 per cent land-holding with 68 per cent of arable lands.

The miniscule balance is held by medium and large land owner farmers, who amazingly conduct profitable farming. They are prosperous and wealthy, politically powerful and occupy a position of influence in social life.

This vast disparity is glaring enough and as also a continuous land fragmentation by small and marginal farmers wrecks Indian agriculture and there is not enough narrative from the government or experts on solutions for redressal.

Unless these two disabling factors are fixed, the devastating situation for small and marginal farmers will continue and remain an unsolved puzzle. With the disturbing farmer distress the government devised subsidy and several schemes including freebees for their benefit, without any distinction.

This has not worked the way it was intended to, as wealthy farmers took to these subsidies and the small and marginal farmers struggle to take their due share and often fell into the trap of errant babus or middlemen.

However, these goodies and freebies fall into the hands of those who do not need them and those who need are unable to secure.

In the bargain the government’s resources are rendered futile for the poor. The government of the day is trying very hard to ensure that the poor get their dues but the system does not appear to bell the mysterious cat.

What farmers aspire to build in sustainable farming and what entrepreneurs aspire to build in a sustainable business environment appear to be synonymous, and fulfilling these aspirations for both can create satisfying opportunities.

Moreover, agriculture is indeed an intricate science that is taught to students in their colleges for five years to earn a degree in order for them to make a living.

It is a paradox that these students do not practise to produce crops and food but to earn a living; they look for odd jobs away from agriculture.

Those who never stepped into a college, produce crops and food on their tiny lands that lack every aspect of the applied science of agriculture. On the other hand, the medium and big land owner farmers with their tiny slice of land holdings and arable lands are able to engage agronomists, arrange to market or value add and export their produces profitably. This clearly exemplifies the deficiencies but why then are we missing the wood for the trees in finding a solution?

Unfortunately, not only depletion of resources that affect the lives of farmers but a lot is also to do with the greed and avariciousness on the part of certain vested political interests and misdemeanours has taken a toll on farmers’ lives.

A very recent example is witnessed at the massive protests that are afoot in the capital by inciting farmers or making three landmark amendments in the farm sector.

The benefits from these legislations have been misinterpreted to farmers and they have been pulled on to the roads from Punjab and Haryana to the capital. Despite the government assuring that the existing MSP will not be dismantled, these protests are engineered to exhibit an unfound distress.

These protests are from the farmers of the Punjab and Haryana only for the moment and could soon spread all over. It is my firm belief that farming should have nothing to do with the government or anyone but it is indeed capable of a self reliant approach as described in the following lines.

Optimisation of agriculture can only happen when scale, capital, technology, management of the business and labour is available. This is exactly how the farmers with bigger parcels of lands develop to make good money.

Applying the same analogy, by pooling the lands in a village of small, marginal and semi-medium farmers and enjoining them with non-exploitative entrepreneurs and creating a synthesis can benefit both the farmers and entrepreneurs in developing an agribusiness.

This can become a game changer in our country and could also work well in any agricultural system in any developing or even a developed economy.

Looking from another perspective, this can also help enhance world food security and become the root of the economic development of any country.

The development of the application of agricultural science should be focusing on these issues rather than just with the learning alone. This appears to be lacking throughout the world, as there is poverty with all developing and some developed nations.

Farmer suicides are not peculiar to India alone but are also a malady in the US and other developed countries. The average holding of an unviable farmer in the US is 444 acres; whereas in India is 2.7 acres. Secondly, the use of fertilisers and pesticides has taken a toll on poison-free food and soil health all over the world. In this context growing organic farming (that nature taught us) takes a perfect displacement for growing food crops with fertiliser and pesticides used at the centre of production all over the world.

When agriculture commenced to deliver crops for the humanity and animals, fertilisers and pesticides were not required for crop production.

Nature showed its way and it was only during 1990s that fertilisers and pesticides were manufactured to grow more from the same unit of land. Greed and agrondisation took centre stage in agriculture all over the world that turned to rapaciousness.

In the minds of an average uneducated Indian farmer, fertiliser alone produced more crops and so he dumped chemicals that overtime destroyed their lands and polluted the subsoil water resources.

Whole-foods in the US, an enterprise that is bought over by Amazon, sell only organic food in its chain and is gaining momentum with sales touching $15 billion and is very popular.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the pollution in the air has depleted the amount of carbon resulting in the exhaustion of soil organic carbon (SOC) levels. Use of fertilisers depletes SOC levels. A rejuvenated approach is necessary for agriculture to take care of all the adverse aspects enunciated above.

The way ahead is to install a simple model as described hereunder:

1. Pool contiguous lands of small and marginal farmers in a village, to begin with around 200 acres.

With pooling, the large tracts can contribute to several advantages, the biggest being arresting physical fragmentation of land and give rise to a scale.

However, on paper, a farmer can continue to apportion land amongst his children.

Next, this enables water storage by harvesting rainwater or installing bore wells and or open wells to move away from rain-fed irrigation.

This edge cannot be available to individual farmers without pooling.

Similarly, profiling the entire soil can create a basket of crops that can be grown providing selection of the most profitable crops in terms profitability, value-addition, export or domestic sales.

When this happens the value of the lands of the farmers will increase. Without pooling these benefits are unavailable to farmers with their small pieces and this is the biggest advantage in pooling the lands.

2. The pooled lands offering the scale provide great attraction for entrepreneurs to develop a business with the farmers. This does not happen automatically but we need to find a catalyst in a village that can communicate skillfully to farmers and create an interest.

Thereafter farmers and entrepreneurs can join hands and create a business enterprise and register to give it a legal status. It can provide equity shares to farmers and entrepreneurs that build ownership in the enterprise.

The entrepreneurs with their skills in managing business, can list the company to raise funds for the future and build valuations along with growing profitability of the enterprise. This also builds resilience to repay any borrowed funds by the enterprise.

In other words, the entrepreneurs bring in what is lacking with the farmers in terms of capital, technology (including management of the business), production and marketing the produce including value-addition and export.

3. Farmers will work under the guidance of the agri-experts and remunerated like a factory worker throughout. This will remunerate a farmer for his work that in his own operations goes unremunerated for his toil.

Farmers generally do not get remunerated unless they are able to sell their produces profitably and they severely lack this area of their endeavours.

Farmers usually do not maintain accounts to know what they actually spent to grow the crops and, therefore, the MSP concept does not make sense to him nor are a majority aware of.

4. In this collaboration, the farmers should be treated with dignity and respect by the entrepreneurs and operate in an inclusive manner by involving them in decision making.

Some farmers are intuitively well enlightened and such farmers will be a part of the management as well, to express the inclusiveness in operations. This is a very important ingredient in the model and a significant winner in the approach and a miss-match can even collapse the model.

5. After accounting for all the expenses of running the enterprise, the profits will be divided amongst the farmers in the proportion of the acreage pooled in the formation. This will be the second source of remuneration for the farmers that he never receives for the value of his lands.

6. The remuneration for the entrepreneurs will be in the form of salaries paid to them and will be provided with accommodation and food to remain in the village with some comforts to be attractive.

A critical analysis of the model represented above will elucidate the removal of the existing impediments as enumerated and also shows how farmers can operate without any external or governmental support of any kind.

This is indeed a very significant change that can free farmers from the malady and not impound them in any manner. This will make farmers proud of their contribution to the society and security of food for the community will be best served by these initiatives.

One sample project properly curated can pave the way for replication in many villages. We have many young agricultural graduates coming out of the college and if the curriculum can juxtapose principles of agri-business appropriately enough, this can become a great game changer throughout the world.

Based on the above lines, a project for execution is ready in a tribal village in Maharashtra. An expert in zero budget natural farming technique, who is associated with the initiative, has drawn up a crop plan after visiting the village and examining crops grown by the villagers.

There is a large water body nearby and a plan for drawing water from a nearby lake can be initiated.

Marketing through an outlet is also available to absorb the produce. There are also staff members who are assigned to the project from the local NGO who was instrumental (as a catalyst) in bringing together the tribal villagers by explaining the model and clarifying their doubts along with me.

Financing has become an issue as no institutional finance is available without mortgaging the farmer’s lands and this is not an option envisaged in the model, as this will jeopardise the lands belonging to these farmers.

Therefore, a grant is the best option and the profitability is such that the grant money can be paid back. One successful model can lend for replication in many villages in the country and can turn agriculture into an industry.

A persistent effort is on to get a grant from some institution.

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