India: Rural agenda: sowing seeds for better farm growth

  • The rural economy is on top of India’s agenda. Farmers are vigorously demanding strong government support to battle severe economic hardship at a time when politicians across parties are wooing them for votes.
  • With rural distress being blamed as a key contributor to the ruling BJP’s loss in recent assembly polls, and general election around the corner, political parties are sure to put farmer issues high on their priority list. Experts, however, say what they need is more than quickfix solutions like loan waiver.
  • “On an average, income of salaried class and others is growing 5-10% annually. On the other hand, earnings of farmers are going down. Government should encourage farmers to cultivate cash crops and provide them a competitive market,” said YK Alagh, a rural economy expert and chancellor of Gujarat Central University.
  • “Processing units and markets should be created near farms to enable farmers to sell their produce at competitive prices. Farmers are at a huge disadvantage if they have to transport produce longer distances,” he said.
  • The government should manage farm tariff policies properly, as well as strengthen markets for perishable produce in small towns and create processing units close to farms, he said.
  • PK Joshi, director for South Asia at International Food Policy Research Institute, said one of the main causes of farm distress was small landholdings in India — 88% of the farming community in India is small or marginal.
  • There is a need to consolidate landholdings for farming and marketing together, and the role of farmer-producer organisations is important here to gain economies of scale, he said.
  • Sustainable growth, however, will happen only by providing employment opportunities to small and marginal farmers outside agriculture, Joshi said. “In the long run, a large number of farmers need to move out from agriculture for better employment opportunities.”
  • Farmer leader Amra Ram wants the government to focus on procurement of foodgrain at the minimum support price (MSP).
  • “The government has revised MSP but procurement is not happening. Farmers are down in debts and not able to recover input cost. They are under so much stress that farmers in several parts of the country are committing suicide… The government should have a clear-cut policy on procurement,” he said.

External Link: