By Jagadish Pradhan* in Bhubaneswar, November 6, 2017: For the past few decades India’s farming sector is in crisis with this sector failing to provide a sustainable livelihood for many. About half of the Indian population depends on agriculture for income.

Still worse is that farmers in Odisha are already in a critical condition. One cannot counts number of farmers committing suicide as an indicator of the distress condition of the farmers. However, authorities and political leaders get into action only when there are reports of farmers suicide from some parts of the state.

Then follows a protracted debate on whether it was due to crop failure or for some other reasons. Subsequently the government comes up with some relief measures and the real issues behind the growing agrarian crisis in the state takes the backseat till fresh reports farmers’ suicide in the following year.

The ongoing agrarian crisis in India are quite complex. The reasons also vary from state to state and region to region. Therefore, the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) had strongly recommended that agriculture being a state subject, every state should set up a permanent State Farmers Commission (STF) to look into the prevailing agrarian issues from time to time and to recommend suitable measures to be taken up by the government.

Even as several states have set up such commissions in their states, Odisha is yet to set up such a permanent Commission on Farmers. Our policy makers are oblivious of the fact that there has been a growing disconnect between the people at the grass root level – particularly the farmers and the government. This has led to the growing unrest among the farmers all over Odisha.

Since the farmers are not well organized in the state, political parties do not consider them as a major vote bank. The farmers are still divided in the line of above poverty line [APL]– below poverty line [BPL], land owners – share croppers, small farmer – big farmer, caste and tribe etc. etc. In the absence of a strong and focused organization, the farmers are unable to exert enough pressure on the government to adequately respond to their needs from time to time.

Even after seven decades of independence and in spite of abundance of water resource and very good rainfall, not more than one third of the crop land have been irrigated and more than two third of the cropland is left to mercy of the Rain God. There has been unusual delay by the government agencies to complete the irrigation projects, which could have been completed within a few years.

Considering the rainfall and available water resources Odisha should never face agricultural drought in any year. But it is ironic that almost every year one part or the other of Odisha is facing drought. This clearly indicates blatant government apathy towards the farmers and agriculture in Odisha.

Undoubtedly food grain production in Odisha has gone up during the past few years. But credit for the same can never go to the Government. It is the farmers who have managed to invest more in agriculture mostly from their own sources and have contributed to this increased production.

It is mere truism to say that nowhere in Odisha the farmers are able to get the minimum support price [MSP] for paddy. What is shocking most is the fact that in a couple of districts, paddy is being sold at 30% below the MSP. And yet, the response from the government is quite conspicuous by its absence.

Had the government been responsive to the farmer’s problems, this year the brown planthopper [BPH] would not have become epidemic in several districts. Authorities are trying their best to sell the idea that this year’s BPH epidemic is natural. Had the authorities ensured proper pesticides and technical advice in time it would not have taken an epidemic form.

Brown planthopper (BPH) is known for its resistance to commonly used insecticides including the neonicotinoids. Hence crop failures due to severe pest outbreaks are quire widespread in many rice-growing tracts in the state.

How was it that the Agriculture department’s pest surveillance system failed to recognize this problem in time? Looking at all these the epidemic is definitely not natural, but manmade largely due to government’s negligence and failure to act as and when required.

If policy makers fail to accept this fact and take remedial measures to stem the rot for future, such problems shall continue to reappear in the coming years, may be at a much larger scale.

At a time when the government taking credit for the increased food production, the agriculture extension service is understood to be in complete shamble. While cost of agricultural production is shooting up like never before, volume of institutional credit is not rising proportionally.

Consequently farmers are compelled to depend on the private money lenders. The government also has failed to come up with a policy for the share croppers facilitating them to get adequate farm loan and access various services from government and others.

With India coming into the WTO fold, issues concerning agricultural pricing and marketing have become more complex. A lot more is needed to be done by the state to protect the interest of our farmers. Just by debating on the issues of ‘Farmers Suicide’ or ‘BPH Epidemic’, the real issues of Odisha farmers cannot be addressed. Government as well as our political leaders and policy makers need to do much more than that.

It is high time that Government should set up a Farmers Commission on the line of the recommendation of the NCF and take short term and long term measures on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission. That will only ensure farmers welfare as well as empower distressed farmers.

*(Former Member, National Commission on Farmers (Government of India)