Prof. Raj Kishore Panda in Bhubaneswar, October 10, 2021: The stand-off between the farmers and the Central Government over months on the three new farm laws is not a reflection of conflicting views on agricultural reforms laws or an expression of discontent of the farmers towards institutional reforms.

Instead, it may be presumed as a strong resurgence by the farmers against the Government’s underestimation of the true extent of the crisis that the agriculture sector has been suffering from over the long years and which is worsened in recent years.

As the new farm laws are concerned with agri-marketing reforms these laws are grossly inadequate to deal with the multiple challenges the Indian farmers are facing today with the vast majority of marginal and small holders languishing under poverty and debt and desperately committing suicide.

Studies on the state of Indian agriculture are voluminous and diverse dealing with several key issues confronting the sector. However, almost all these studies have agreed that agriculture in India has become increasingly an unviable occupation. As per the available report, today the country holds second rank in the production of agricultural output in the world.

Yet as some experts say, this spectacular success in the growth in crop output has not benefited the farmers to the extent thought of. Commenting on the farmers’ economic status, Devinder Sharma, the agricultural economist says that ‘farmers have not benefited from agricultural growth year after year. Adjusting inflation, farm income remains static or even shows a decline over the years’.

As we are well aware, the core problem in the Indian agriculture is small and fragmented holdings. With the vast majority of the farmers (86 percent) belonging to the category of small holders (within 2 hectares of operational holding) agriculture operates at a low scale and low productivity and thus is not able to generate sufficient net income to maintain a reasonable living round the year, what to speak of tiding over any crisis.

The recent survey of NABARD (2016-17) indicates that for an average farm family hardly 35 percent of its total income earned is obtained from cultivation. For a marginal holder (within one hectare) it is still less. Besides, as the survey reveals, a predominantly large majority of the farm-households (nearly 90 percent) depend on multiple sources for their living. Calculating on the data of the NABARD, the farmers’ average monthly income in India comes to Rs 8931 notwithstanding the wide disparity across states.

The non-profitability of Indian agriculture as an occupation is further ascertained when we compare the per capita annual income of the farmers with the all-India per capita income. As estimated in 2015-16 while India’s per capita annual income was at Rs 94797 (NAS), in the same year an average farmer household’s income was worked out to be Rs 107172 (NAFIS, NABARD). With average household size being 4.9, this implies that the per capita annual income of an Indian farmer comes to Rs 21872, lower than a quarter of national per capita income. This implies that farmers are abysmally poorer in economic status than an average Indian.

Over and above the core structural weaknesses that are small and fragmented holdings, agriculture in the country has been prone to increasing number of challenges in recent years. Compared to earlier years when agriculture’s challenges were largely weather induced- frequent droughts and/or floods, in recent years, not only frequency of these natural calamities have increased with multiple manifestations, but also farm produces are found to be increasingly impacted by market driven uncertainties.

After economic liberalization agriculture has been facing fierce competition from outside. High volatility of international prices of agricultural commodities made domestic agricultural produce prices highly unstable. Added to this the Government’s policy of protecting consumers’ interest has led to food grains prices remaining low and thus inhibiting the farmers to get remunerative prices for their produce.

As already stated, the present anger of the farmers against the Government’s new farm laws is the culmination of years of neglect towards agriculture sector. Since farmers’ risks in production and pricing have multiplied in recent years causing deterioration in their living, there is need for providing them adequate protection against these odds. Reforms in the agriculture sector must be adopted holistically and not through disjointed efforts to tide over the immediate problems. In the present situation of greater uncertainty prevailing in the agriculture sector protection of farmers at the bottom deserves priority.

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