Sampurn Krishi Utthaan Foundation

The Indian Farming Crisis and Tangible Solutions

We all can generalize and have consensus on all set of agricultural problems. They are loud and clear. But let me quote again after being three years into this sector those are generalizations and few problems are like gravity you need to accept them and then try to fly a plane. Like small landholdings, do you consider it as a solvable issue? Never. Our distorted real estate market and distorted labor force market will never allow farmers(at mass level) to be sustainable while taking the land lease contract and all. A typical Jharkhandi family. Three brothers, One is doing any Private job having a fixed and consistent source of income and living outside of Jharkhand and sending money on a monthly basis. The second one is a daily wage laborer in the local area and bringing the cash on a daily basis. Third one involved in local political gatherings chit-chat, playing cards (he has a free time of 8 months) and waits for the monsoon to do rain-fed agriculture(only 3% of the area of the state covered under irrigation facilities). They all come for farms in the monsoon and try to do most of the farming activity as a family activity to reduce the hiring cost of manpower. Typically they do paddy farming for wetlands and either brinjal or tomato for drylands. Due to the nature of harvesting (frequent harvesting intervals means regular cash flow) lesser pest attack for tomato. Even market price goes as low as Rs 15/kg farmers get 200% return on investment if the proximity of the market is within 20km (there is no information asymmetry about the market prices and lesser logistical share) and most important people love brinjal for ‘Chokhas’ in the monsoon and tomatoes are important for any dish. The above family is surviving because Agriculture is not the only source of income for the family, there is regular cash flow(from other jobs) for the working capital for farming. Doing farming for self-consuming and thus to increase there purchasing power for other grocery items. They are nearer to sub-urban areas means better infrastructure. And two brothers are insurance for any other crop failure and helping his maintaining the lifestyle and sometimes in the marriage and education of his son/daughter. Also, the third one is taking care of Grandparents and giving time to them. Although there profits are meager and divided. No one getting more out of this bigger size family but somehow mitigating the risk and maintaining cultural fabric at the same time. Restating all the problems based on my observations: Irrational Market Value of their grown product; The modern value chain is based on paying most who are at the end of the value chain. While most of the burden of risks, uncertainties are taken care of by the farmers. They get a meager share. All the time scalability is just thought of like larger land size, mechanization and all but Amul needs not to run dairy with thousands of cows under one roof. Scalability is in terms of decentralized processes. So for a single farmer, there is a huge value chain disturbance. So primary processing should be done at the village level or maybe agripreneur locally but not by the middleman of the centralized bigger processing units. Manufacturing units never pay fair value to the farmers. But once grading and primary processing is done. Value addition benefits go to the farmer. Labor/Manpower shortage issue; Other sectors have grown disproportionately with agriculture. Laborers seem to have consistent and better income source while doing the civil work-like activity. Again welfare schemes while tend to balance the society and kind of populist policy distort the capacity and willingness to do the work. While welfare schemes are good for political leaders and democratic electoral procedures. It also helps to avoid issues and lessen the anger at the bottom of the pyramid. So their voices become too timid to be heard. Don’t consider mechanization here.It is not a profitable proposition for small farmers. Not able to attract youth; Leverage Issue The quality and quantity of output are directly proportional to the quality and quantity of inputs. Means leverage is too low there. A trader can scale up with time, his network grows with time but a farmer having a fixed set of physical assets, he cannot scale up or use his years of experience. He is dependent on market inflation for his price increase. Not a typical promotion or hike as other professionals get. This really frustrates younger generations. If one is thinking to build large assets and earn more in life, he will not probably choose agriculture. There are no shortcuts and easy money in farming. You cannot bluff nature. While choosing high-value crops like Papaya commercial level needs huge capital backing, unaffordable by most of the farmers. Youth could focus more on doing leadership of the local farming community and try to connect them with the internet and at least try to diminish the information asymmetry. Farming is a community-based business, collaborations are a must. Yes, I am telling these small farmers with small landholdings can survive, if they do farming collectively and also having a legal identity with proper leadership and a good community base. If our society is becoming nuclear as in urban areas, it will not help for rural people. They need to do meetings at regular intervals and trying to solve the problems (may not related to farming). Let me say again if farming is not community-based, each farmer needs to think of fencing (animal menace), irrigation, transportation, seed purchase, price negotiation with the traders, local money lenders and so on. So if they do all these collectively. They can get “Sangathan mein Sakhti”. Also, the cheating rate will be much lower. One of my farmers told me that he was not able to fight with foreign seed company after his whole papaya farm failure. Even that seed company is not listening to his concerns. But with a community being fear of kicked out of greater market share, it will not happen most of the time, although cotton crises were an exception. Few farmers if they have good oratory skills. They see higher leverage in being connected to a political party and fight for subsidies or farm loan waivers. So in the end, they may loose discipline and professionalism in agriculture and poor farmers again got setback with a lack of proper farmer leaders and many FPO’s and SHGs fails after the halt of Funding & Subsidies. Sustainability has never been a priority. So to strengthen farming; strong community and clusters should be the first priority. FARM MECHANIZATION IS NOT A SOLUTION for most of the Indian farmers (small frugal designed tools do not have prime mover based on oils are more helpful) Those who are telling about mechanization, land holdings, infrastructure is basically pointing towards corporate farming or Industrial farming. That is for corporates. They can take the land lease of 100 acres (land ceiling act will come into play) and try to achieve productivity and efficiency or automation. But in the end, it cannot solve problems for the farmers but can solve issues of farming. Don’t take like I am against all these industrial-based farms, I am just saying they are not feasible. Feasible not just economically, they produce lesser. Yes! with mechanization; output per unit of landmass decreases. So it is the small farmers that feed the world. These farmers have resourcefulness. So technically if ten farmers are doing farming in 10 acres, they will produce more (always) collectively than one farmer in 10 acres. So if any agency tries to cluster 10-acre land with 10 farmers and introduce mechanization and does farming and after selling the produce and divide the revenue. Each farmer will get lesser than earlier. But here is a catch; If a farmer having 10-acre land does not introduce mechanization, he cannot use his whole land holding due to labor shortage issues and capital cost handling inefficiencies. But we all know only 13% of agricultural households owned landholdings bigger than 5 Acre and maybe they are farmers on paper only. So landless want to do farming and landowners see opportunity in selling as a real estate property. Playing with variables Farming is always a game of Variables from market price fluctuations, irregularities in weather patterns, crop failure due to pest attacks, cash flow are not regular and the basic nature of agri-products are that they are perishable items and which are not perishables like grains do not fetch enough for the farmers. It is an unusual sector that needs higher WORKING Capital and sometimes even lesser than FIXED capital. So poor farmers generally short of the cash all of the time. You have read three brothers' examples. How cash flow was always maintained by two brothers. Also, farmers need to understand that they cannot earn on top of the curve. If One does multi-cropping, he may not get the highest benefit of yield and revenue per acre but he can reduce the fluctuating force of the market by having a diversified portfolio of products and diversified timing of harvesting of the crops so somehow streamlining the cash flow. Let's say Sugarcane and Wheat are planted together. Now wheat is much prone to weather fluctuations but sold to smaller unit mills, not unlike the sugar mills. Atta mills pay on time while Sugar mills do not, but it is more immune to pests, weather fluctuations and fetches more money. Now interchanging plots of particular crop gives time to the soil for its replenishment. Now is there any typical crop insurance thing? We need to understand Insurance is for the benefits of insurance companies first. If farmers are feeling the crises collectively, how an insurance company can pay. Localized weather monitoring with the advancement in Artificial intelligence and integrating with insurance companies can have some hope. But beforehand farmers need to learn more frugal ways of insuring themselves before technology cost comes down. Integrated Farming can help to minimize the cost of cultivation (Farm waste management, Water conservation, Soil Management, Weed Management) and even help in mitigating the risk. So more the farmers control the variables, the more consistent his income will be but it will be lesser. Conventional management at the time of Non-monsoon season At the times rural people always moved towards the forest for the search of wild fruits, medicinal plants sometimes hunting fish. They were of most value for those at the margins — the landless, and small farmers. Each village typically had a common grazing land and common forest, along with water bodies — ponds, tanks, and wells — often set aside for different caste groups. So now farming should include all these things too. Sometimes going for heavy-duty irrigation facilities to do farming round the year will require electrical connections which will add another factor in the farming. Constant voltage fluctuations and power cut will force to go for generators; adding to the cost in the farming. Govt Programs They should provide basic Infrastructure from connectivity to electricity and irrigation and storage facilities. Selling seed, doing business with farmers and involving themselves in agricultural activity is just a waste of time for both. Farming is a game of timing, very precise timing while we can praise anything about the bureaucratic system but time. Viability Gap funding can be done by the govt. to the Entrepreneurs or the incubation centers. From decades what entrepreneurs should do was done by the Govt and the whole ecosystem was driven to protect the consumers not the farmers. Because our country is poor by nature and their food safety also need to be catered. Policies were formed to pull out more farmers to other sectors. Now 8% of our population are agriculturists but the definition of a farmer is not clear in our country. Whatever the schemes govt want to implement got trapped and exploited by the privileged. While all state govt. want to improve their Transaction Governance Capacity (TGC). It is very far from visual changes on the ground. So Govt. intentions are good but Institutions that implement these programs are not eligible to do the extension services. They should support agripreneurs or selected FPOs, not the farmers. Database and Blockchain-based mechanisms are necessary. While the economic measures are undeniably important to mitigate the current crisis, they will be inadequate unless they are supplemented with a widespread, systematic initiative across the country to document and restore the village commons, keeping in mind the link between pond and pasture, and field and forest. I believe mainstream agricultural institutions entered a monoculture of ideas and failed to innovate. They copied solutions from the West and never entered a dialogue to discuss the farmers’ crises. The world has now recognized and moved on to agroecological approaches. So while I talked earlier about farming crises and reasons are loud and clear but the strategy was basically facilitated consumers, MNCs, and political parties more than the farmers. Now if farmers are in distress whole value chain will feel the distress. Solutions and development is an evolving process. Let us wait the ecosystem to be more literate, transparent, connected and consider farmer also an integral part of the economy. Technologies are there already just wait for the right moment when it becomes feasible and environmentally sustainable too. Ravi Singh Choudhary Director Sampurn Krishi Utthaan Foundation

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