Farming woes

By: Imran Qureshi

The death of Gajendra Singh, a farmer, in full public glare has seen political parties fall over each other to present a farm-friendly face. But is there any understanding of India’s agrarian crisis? Where is the solution?

Last week, a drive through parts of southern Tamil Nadu reinforced what is, ad nauseam, discussed in conference halls and air conditioned rooms in the country’s metropolises. That life is not easy in the rural areas and if the farmer is lazing around the countryside, it does not mean he is relaxed. Indeed, his life is in a state of tumult though he does not behave like the frustrated city dweller who, when things get worse, can still pick up a stone and throw it at the powers-that-be.

A farmer with a one acre holding in the dry as a bone arid zone about 70km from the temple city of Madurai explains how he is making a living. He cannot grow paddy because there is no source of water. As an alternative he grows beans, sells milk from his only cow and some poultry. And, that he is able to make a living with a meagre earning of R200 (RO1.22 approx) daily for about seven months in a year because he is being advised by an organisation that helps farmers get into organic farming.

But, this 50 year old farmer does not have any intentions of committing suicide like many others have done over the years. The simple reason is that this organisation has found simple solutions like linking up the farmers’ produce to the market place where his products are sold at a reasonable price.

The organisation ensures that there is no glut of any produce in the market by enabling the handful of hundred farmers to co-operate in deciding the horticultural crop that needs to be grown given the availability of water and other relevant conditions. There are several reasons for highlighting this fairly better-placed (even if he earns only R200 a day for seven months) farmer’s story.

One of them was to also avoid talking about the morbid tale of the farmers who commit suicide unable to bear the distress in India’s agriculture system. In fact, around the same time that this writer was talking to this farmer, the entire media in the country was going overboard and the political class was playing all its cards possible to brand itself as ‘the only-farmer-friendly’ political party over the death of a farmer in the national capital, New Delhi.

Gajendra Singh (42), was unlike the farmer near Madurai. He had ten times the acreage of land than the marginal farmer in the southern state. Nobody knows yet as to why he had go climb up the tree when the Common Man’s party or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rally was being addressed by the Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal. And, worse still, why he had to join the ranks of the farmers who commit suicide burdened with crop losses, loans and penury. The real cause of Gajendra Singh’s decision to kill himself, that too, in the presence of people attending the rally and policemen around, will, certainly, take a long time to unfold.

But, the political class matched each other in pettiness and proved that they were not people who had the courage of conviction to learn anything from this suicide in full public glare. It is not that they have not had opportunities to understand the plight of the farmers. Government records show that 296,000 committed suicide during 1995-2013.

There could also be many more who have died due to ‘natural’ causes like heart attacks unable to bear crop losses or loans defaults. Not all of them could have died only due to the farm loans. There are also cases where the cause was hand loans from money lenders to conduct the weddings of their children on a massive scale to uphold the honour of the family in the village.The problem of Indian agriculture is that it is largely dependent upon the monsoons, almost 70 per cent.

For the remaining 30-35 per cent, there is no regular source of water. The unpredictability of rainfall due to climate change…more in recent years than in the past…has led to more crops being damaged or completely lost. The farmer has no ability to repay crop loans. When government relief comes, it is too late and too minimal.

The conditionalities of crop insurance make it almost a non-insurance. The investment that is called for in terms harvesting water [other than big irrigation projects], providing a supply-chain management system and preventing a glut in the market is lacking. The beneficiaries of the current system of subsidies for everything [from fertilisers to water to electricity] are the big farmers with large land holdings. And, the smaller farmers get neatly caught in what has come to be called agrarian distress.

Governments in the past have had no effective plans to deal with the problems of the farmers. Gajendra Singh’s suicide has also led to a public debate. Every member of the political class has contributed to the debate. Yet, there is no clear cut plan to deal with the issues that really confront the farmers.

The crisis in the agriculture sector is for real. Nobody has any idea as to when and how it will explode. And, it should not be forgotten that acquisition of land for urbanisation or industry is directly linked to the state of agriculture and the country’s development. The question is whether the current dispensation is capable of thinking differently instead of providing the ineffective anti-biotics of the past to Indian agriculture and, thereby, thwart its development.

Predicting aftershocks

India appears to be as much affected by the earthquake that has destroyed so much and so many in the land-locked nation, Nepal. Characteristic of any deadly natural disaster, it will take a long time before a number can be put to the death toll. What is evident as yet, appears to be only the tip of the damage caused by the shifting of the plates deep underneath the earth. As rescuers go deeper into the mountainous country, there are bound to be many for whom help could be still far away. Hopefully, it will not be too late.

There are possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of tragic stories that could move any human being. But, it is really difficult to understand the nature of those who indulge in the most hurtful of games when humanity faces a crisis of this type. Social media has been successfully used to garner help of all kinds and communicate the well being of many.

But, the deadliest of them was this illiterate of a message which said that there would be another aftershock at a specific time. It also spoke about the intensity of the quake being of a higher order than what hit the neighbouring country.In the first place, if the aftershock can be predicted, the scientific community should have been able to predict the earthquake itself. This is simple common sense. But, the most amazing thing was that educated people were also sending out the same illiterate message of fright and asking: Is it true? It made one wonder whether social media is so powerful that it can shatter common sense!

Tailpiece

A natural disaster also makes people think. Here is one from a young man on social media which speaks for itself. It is deliberately unedited to point out that good language alone does not bring about good thinking.

‘Indians in Kathmandu airport should calm and stop cribbing.

And above all TV news reporters stop giving vent to their angst. For a destruction of this magnitude everything cannot happen in a jiffy and Indians need to understand that…everything possible is being done by the Army and Air Force and all the concerned authorities.

Do not expect for Embassy people to come to you…if you are in such a hurry then go to them and find out the details. You guys are just being a nuisance by screaming and portraying a wrong picture about both the Nepalese and Indian authorities. Learn from the foreigners who are all so calm and waiting. They also do not have food and water.

All the Indians at the airport you will eventually get back home. Stop creating chaos and wait patiently.

Think of all those climbers who are stuck at Everest base camp. Stop lying and getting all dramatic on TV.

SOURCE: Muscat Daily