Ajit Singh’s call for productivity and intensive farming.

Do they know the ground reality of agriculture?

Who speaks for farmers? How committed is the government for the agri sector?

At the second International Congress on Plant Physiology, the President said this. The agri minister said this. What about the Prime Minister and his distinguished Cabinet colleagues? The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Agri Minister and in an indirect way the Food Minister are all the senior politicians and ministers who have the authority and moral responsibility to give agriculture its due priority in the scheme of things.

Drought and crop failures mean in India, farmers have to resort to suicides. Indian agriculture doesn’t suffer from crop failures. India is now an agriculture surplus country. Rice, wheat, cotton, sugarcane, milk, vegetables, fruits, we produce more than we can consume. More production, more prices fall. When prices fall, farmers face distress situations. Distress drives them to suicides. In AP, in five years, the Chief Minister admits 1000 farmers committed suicides. The Opposition leader says in his letter to National Human Rights Commission, the figure is more than 2000 farmers. Coercive methods are resorted to collect co-op or EB dues from farmers in all States, notably in TN, AP and Karnataka.

Then, what is the state of agriculture and what are the pressing problems in this crucial sector?

First, there is the continuing tragic news of farmers’ suicides. Also increasingly, the farmers’ suicide news is getting reported as a minor news item in the national newspapers. A latest farmer’s suicide is reported from the Cauvery Basin State; TN. Starvation deaths are taken seriously and become highly sensitive issues. But not farmers’ suicides! The most tragic development lately is the growing insensitivity of the politicians, political parties, notably the senior politicians in Delhi and the Chief Ministers in the States. We haven’t seen the PM or the Dy. PM or their Cabinet colleagues ever mentioning these unfortunate loss of lives.

Or the very rural and farm structure that drives farmers to the desperate limits of living. For every suicide that takes place, there must be at least a few hundreds of farmers in that locality in desperate situations, right? Second, there is this tendency to treat farmer’s agitations as if the agitators are like other agitators. See the Parliamentary debate that took place after the UP farmers agitations over sugarcane price led to the killing of three farmers. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh is perhaps the only one farmers group that is still active, other farmers groups in other States, including the one led by Sharad Joshi have all become inactive or made inactive by the government in many devious ways.

We could write a full-fledged editorial about how the farmers’ leaders are “bought” by the governments, openly or secretly.

The political parties, the Congress, the BJP and the Samajwadis are claiming credit for raising farmers’ issues. BJP is most hypocritical when it accuses the Opposition for hijacking the farmers’ issues. What else is the Opposition’s main claim to be Opposition?

Third, farming is a sector that is totally neglected when it comes to getting any protection for farmers. The new finance minister, Mr.Jaswant Singh, seems no better than his predecessor. Mr.Singh wants the new Securitization Bill to recover dues from Banks would now be covering the cooperative banks too! This move, along with the use of the Bill for commercial banks to recover dues from farmers would spell disaster to the farming sector.

Fourth, the admission by the Agri minister Mr.Ajit Singh that farmers commit suicides because they are unable to repay their loans owing to various factors, including crop failures is no great discovery. We need crop-specific agri policy. Be it rice, wheat or vegetables, there must be a minimum-guaranteed price support by the government. Agri exports, we have to promote for specific commodities. If Karnataka can export Niger seeds (Rs.6 crores), rose onions (Rs.30 crores) this year, why not other States? We don’t need to raise agri productivity, or crop diversification. What we need is to regulate and restrict, if need be, the specific crops to ensure a higher price. We are sorry to say that the agri minister, in spite of his known commitment to farmers cause is proving ineffective in bringing about any recognizable paradigm shift to give farmers a New Deal. Yes, he had convened an All India Conference of State Agriculture and Co-operative Ministers on Agriculture, Credit and Crop Insurance. He had highlighted the state of affairs. The RBI had lowered the lending rates and yet farmers actually pay 14 to 16 per cent. 40 per cent of farm credit in India is still from the private money lenders. Is this not a shameful state of affairs?

What the PM can do is to give farmers a decent share in resources? The PM can ask the experts some hard questions. What do the US and EU do to their farmers? There is their huge agri subsidy. American farmers receive an average subsidy of 30,000 dollars per farm per year. Besides, they get other indirect monetary support to produce and export profitably. This fiscal year, US farm exports touched 57 bn (billion), the highest since ’97.

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