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news details
THE AGONY OF AN ‘ATMANIRBHAR KISSAN’
5/29/2020 11:30:09 PM

Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. D. Namgyal

A ‘self reliant’ farmer or in other words an ‘atmanirbhar kisan’ is the latest buzz word coming out of the governments 20 lakh crore package amidst the COVID-19 devastation. Is this possible to make a kissan ‘atmanirbhar’ and if the answer is yes, than how it is possible? Right from the day when our late Primeminister Pt. Jawaharlal Lal Nehru said that ‘everything can wait, but not agriculture’; the efforts of the successive governments have been to make farmers self reliant but the results have been otherwise. Instead of making farmer self reliant, all he got is a dejected and depressed life overburdened with credit from private agencies which ultimately compels him/her to take the extreme step and consume his life. Still the farmer is at the mercy of government subsidies, the landlords and the money lenders. The rising incidence of the farmer’s suicides bears a testimony to the fact that everything is not fine with the present set up. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on accidental deaths and suicides, 5,763 farmers/cultivators and 4,586 agricultural labourers committed suicide in 2018. The suicide rate in the deeply stressed agrarian sector accounted for 7.7% of the total 134,516 suicides in the country. Out of 5,763 farmer/cultivator suicides, a total of 5,457 were male and 306 were female during 2018. Out of 4,586 suicides committed by agricultural labourers during 2018, 4,071 were male and 515 were female. The COVID-19 also brought with it all the pain and agony for the farming community.
Toiling day and night in the scorching heat and the harsh winters, the returns from his fields are largely dependent on timely rainfall, remunerative price of the produce, irrigation infrastructure and many other factors. As if this was not enough, to make the condition worse the COVID-19 virus struck India. It came at a time when the farmers were to harvest their ‘rabi’ crops. With everything locked down and movement of all types restricted, farming community found itself in a tight spot. A nationwide survey conducted across 200 districts in 12 states of the country also revealed that all is not well with the farming community in these testing times. This survey was conducted by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Public Health Foundation of India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture from May 3 to May 15, 2020 with farmers across Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal being roped in for the survey. Around 52 per cent of the respondents were small and marginal farmers, 6.7 per cent were landless farmers, 19.9 per cent medium farmers and 20.7 per cent were large farmers.
More than half the farmers who harvested their crops reported to have suffered a lower yield during the nationwide lockdown, compared to the last season of sowing the same crop. The
lockdown to curb the spread of the novel corona virus disease also forced 55 per cent of the farmers to store their crops as they were unable to sell them. Losses for 40 per cent of the farmers who experienced a yield loss, occurred from a lack of labour, storage or transport options, said the survey. Weather was also cited as a reason for the loss in yield by 80 per cent of the farmers. Around 30 per cent of them were unable to harvest their crops because of issues related to the lockdown. Out of the 63 per cent farmers who could harvest their crops, 22 per cent had to store their crop due to lockdown related issues. Around 12 per cent farmers were still trying to sell their crop, while 44 per cent farmers managed to sell their produce. State-wise trends of wheat-harvesting states showed farmers in Bihar, Haryana, MP, Rajasthan and UP except Punjab stored large quantities of the crop. Farmers in these states were still trying to sell their crops, according to the survey. In Bihar and Rajasthan, for example, while 83 and 86 per cent of the respondents in the respective states harvested their crops, only 18 and 10 per cent respectively were able to sell it. In Punjab, out of 95 per cent farmers who harvested their crops, around 88 per cent managed to sell their harvest. Over half of the farmers said the process of harvesting cost more compared to last season, primarily because of a lack of labour or machinery or higher cost of machinery. Around 20 per cent, however, said their cost of harvest was lower than last year.
The situation was not much different for vegetables and other crops in non-wheat growing states. In West Bengal, only 19 per cent of the 81 per cent farmers who harvested vegetables were able to sell their produce. Vegetable farmers across the surveyed states, in fact, reported the highest amount of wastage. The farmers from Punjab were often seen throwing their vegetables open in the road as they could not get a fair price of their produce. Wheat farmers were better placed as they either sold or stored their harvest. Vegetable farmers, however struggled, according to the survey. Around 10 per cent farmers with a crop to harvest were unable to do so because of issues related to the lockdown. Some felt the market price was too low so they could not afford to harvest. Others could not physically access markets or their fields because of restrictions on travel. There was also a shortage of labour. Out of total 77 per cent of livestock farmers, 63 per cent reported a decline in income, with an average decline of 36 per cent compared to January and February.
The Government of India under the leadership of Hon’ble Sh. Narendra Modi announced a series of measures for rehabilitation of the farming community. The latest of these is the rupees 20 lakh crore. This package has also quiet good amount for the farm and allied sectors. Let us hope that it contributes to the making of an ‘Atmanirbhar Kisan’.
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