Loan Waivers will not Stem the Tide of Farmers’ Disaffection

The farmers’ agitation is the result of the long and systematic neglect of the agricultural sector in India.

Kailash Yadav is a farmer from Madhya Pradesh. The state has seen massive farmers’ protests since early June. Asked why he was participating in the protests Yadav says, “We have to buy expensive seeds, fertilisers, pesticides. These are not available from the government. Yet, when the harvest is finally ready, the crop prices fall. This is why farmers have been continuously falling behind.” On 6 June afternoon police fired on protesting farmers in Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh killing five and injuring many more. This is the nadir of the government’s treatment of farmers. The large scale agitation by farmers from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu has once again shone the light on the agricultural sector. Far from the occasional reporting on farmer suicides--according to official figures about 12000 per year, although unofficial figures put the numbers much higher--farmers and agriculture have been dominating the headlines for the last couple of months.

The story of farmers in India today is one of systemic neglect and false promises. In 2014 BJP’s election agenda included the promise to implement Swaminathan Commission's recommendation of minimum support price (MSP) that would ensure 50% profit to the farmers. Yet, soon after being elected, in February 2015, the government filed an affidavit and submitted before the Supreme Court that this will not be possible as it ‘could lead to distortions in the market’.

But notwithstanding such blatant voiding of promises, praises were showered on Prime Minister Modi and his government for their visionary advancement of the agricultural sector on the third year of the NDA government. MS Swaminathan, the father of the green revolution and chairperson of the commission that came up with the MSP recommendation, hailed the government’s efforts. Articles were written as Modi made bombastic promises of an ‘evergreen revolution’ to trump the earlier green revolutions.

Meanwhile state governments, from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra, competed in announcing the much vaunted farm loan waivers. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis boasted that the loan waivers to farmers in his state would be the biggest ever. The politics of the farm loan waiver, as veteran journalist P Sainath points out, is a deeply flawed one. The waivers only reach farmers with loans in formal banks. A vast majority of farmers take loans from informal sources. While pundits are busy criticising the waivers as they promote ‘credit indiscipline’ and encourage defaulting, the truth remains farm loan waivers never were anything more than a stop-gap measure to create political confidence.

It must be noted that the farmers’ agitation in 2017 had a much larger aim than securing loan waivers. Farmers dumped produce as bumper harvests led to plummeting prices. Farmers want subsidies and guaranteed MSP. Even farmers from relatively prosperous areas like the Nashik district of Maharashtra participated in overwhelming numbers in the protests. Sainath reveals that input prices have doubled and trebled for farmers, and corporate seed companies have increased seed prices by 500 to 700% since the early nineties while reducing the guaranteed germination rate to 60% from 80%. Loan waivers will not solve the agrarian crisis. Systemic changes are needed. Clearly when bumper crops reduce farmers to penury, it is time to reevaluate what is going wrong in agricultural policies.

The government however is treating the farmers’ protests as the problem as the shooting that in Mandsaur reveals. The government needs to wake up and stop making empty promises. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Finance Ministry are claiming that they will double farmers’ income in the next five years. Experts point out that the government has not clarified whether it is an increase in nominal income or real income. Nominal income is actual income adjusted for inflation and is bound to increase at the current rate of inflation. But will the farmers really earn more?

We need to see through the complex web of manipulated figures and tall claims and stand by our primary food producers. Nearly 70% of the population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. And the farmers’ do not have any faith in the government. A protesting farmer from Maharashtra gives voice to their collective frustration saying “When these officials come with their false promises, I want to give them one tight slap!” Unfortunately, the response to these protests in urban India has mostly been limited to concerns over price rise due to the agitation. But we are paying a fraction of what it really costs to produce what we get on our tables. It is time that we held the government accountable for its abject failure to deliver on its promises. And the onus is not just on the farmers.

Article by Madhura Chakraborty

Video Inputs: Vinod Wankhede, Wamanrao Patil, Pawan Solanki and Laxmi Kaurav
Video Produced by Rajkumar

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