An Indian farmer walks on dry land in a drought-hit area. (Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • A healthy dose of professionalism based on sound agricultural knowledge, and not politics, is the need of the hour to help the Indian farmer.

Early this month, some farmer associations under the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh banner called for a 10-day agitation demanding remunerative prices and waiver of farm loans for growers. The agitation petered out in no time despite the Congress sending its president, Rahul Gandhi, to Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, where five farmers died in police firing in 2017, to address a rally. Some farmer associations have claimed that their agitation was spiked by state governments in collaboration with the police.

The farmers’ agitation from 1-10 June came within three months of a march organised by All India Kisan Sabha, the agricultural wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), in Maharashtra. The march saw over 50,000 persons, including tribals, marching to Mantralaya, the government secretariat in Mumbai, demanding complete farm loan waiver.

These two are among the few farmers’ agitations witnessed in the country in the last few months. Last year, a group of farmers from Tamil Nadu staged a protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi demanding a loan waiver. Allegations were made that the farmers were acting at the behest of political parties.

In the case of Maharashtra, the CPI(M) was behind the march, but the same party’s government in Kerala came down hard on a group of farmers that refused to part with their land at Keezhattur village in Kannur district for a national highway. Even in Tamil Nadu, only a section of farmers demanded a farm loan waiver.

Farmers across the country have been facing problems of lower prices for their crops, especially pulses and vegetables. One of the reasons for the current woes is that there is a production glut in some crops such as wheat, pulses, sugarcane, and vegetables. The problem is, farmers take an ill-informed decision in opting for a particular crop only to realise that the whole lot of their tribe has opted for the same.

For example, in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur area, farmers last year faced problems as onion prices crashed on a production glut. This year, they chose to grow garlic only to find that they faced the over-production scenario all over again.

Not always do farmers face such a situation. For example, during the current cotton season (October 2017-September 2018), production is estimated at 365 lakh bales (of 170kg each) by the Cotton Association of India against last season’s production of 337.25 lakh bales. Higher production should, in the normal course, lead to a drop in prices. But farmers who have held on to their stocks are getting a record price of over Rs 4,500 per quintal for the raw cotton in Gujarat. In terms of pressed or ginned cotton, prices per quintal have zoomed over Rs 13,200. This has happened in the case of soy meal too, besides a few other crops over the last few years.

The problem is that farmers aren’t being guided properly. The government machinery isn’t up to the mark in providing the required details to them. Some agricultural universities have separate price monitoring cells which can actually guide farmers. But seldom does this appear to happen as no one is sure what the agricultural extension workers are doing. Second, farmers are misled by politicians or their brethren who have political ambitions. It is one of the reasons why farmer associations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union have limited success.

That, then, leads us to the question: what is the way out for Indian farmers to get a better deal and guidance? This is where a professionally run association of farmers like some abroad can come in handy. For example, in Colombia, farmer associations have tie-ups with funded research centres that give farmers a say in research and policy. Similar associations across the globe have been playing a constructive role with professionals managing the affairs of these associations.

The associations look up at agriculture as business farm to fork, advocate shift in government’s incentive structures to help raise production, facilitate credit, assist farmers in dissemination of information – including technology, negotiate with suppliers on inputs and cut uncertainty through market research on improving their livelihood.

More than this, having a professionally run organisation to take care of their interests will help farmers derive various other benefits. For example, the New South Wales Farmers Association in Australia, which has members from every sector of agriculture, has a partnership programme with some commercial firms. This helps farmers get discounts on insurance, including health, energy, and automobiles besides broadband and telecom services. Similarly, a corn farmer becoming a member of the National Corn Growers’ Association in America can get vehicles at a lower price, access to updated weather information on a daily basis, and various other discounts. The association also lobbies hard with Congressmen to take up issues that are important for corn farmers.

India requires professional farmer associations that can help farmers by not just getting better bargaining power but guidance as well to better farming practices, backward and forward linkages, and living.

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