Amid widespread farmer protests against non-remunerative crop prices, groups of farmers from nine states, eight of them major agricultural producers, told Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday that their incomes have risen meaningfully over the current government’s tenure. While reports suggested a decline in prices of most crops in the 2017-18 crop year, some of them said the promised doubling of income has already materialised in their cases — there were a few who even vouched for 5-10 times rise in their income over recent years. The revelations by the agriculturists during a video conference with Modi broadcast on the Doordarshan Kisan channel and via the NaMo App clearly sought to disprove the narrative of an acute agricultural distress prevailing in the country.
Also, it has come at a time six state governments have already unveiled generous farm loan waivers, amounting to Rs 1.5 lakh crore, and there is near-unanimity across the political circles over the tenability of such largesse. In the latest Union Budget, the Modi government announced that minimum support prices (MSPs) for crops would be fixed at at least 1.5 times the production cost (A2+FL) — it is another matter MSPs for many crops used to be even more generous earlier — and promised that farmers will be paid the differential between the MSP and the market price if the procurement mechanism fails. The Cabinet is expected to approve MSPs for kharif 2018 crops shortly, entailing substantial rise from support prices prevailed in the previous kharif season. During the conference, Modi reiterated the government’s pledge to double farmers’ income by 2022.
“When I talked about doubling of farmers income, there were many people who made fun of it and said this would not be possible. They created an atmosphere of doom. But I had full faith in farmers,” he said. In order to achieve the goal, he said, the government has been focusing on four main points — cutting input costs, fair prices for crops, preventing post-harvest losses and creating alternative sources of income for farmers. An expert panel, headed by Rainfed Area Authority CEO Ashok Dalwai, has recommended measures including additional income from allied activities. According to the panel, the current annual average income of a farmer family is Rs 77,976, which includes earnings from cultivation, livestock, non-farm business wages and salary.
Rajvinder Singh, a farmer from Uttar Pradesh, said during the interaction that while input costs are stable, the market prices of crops fluctuate and sought stability in income. But many other farmers in states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Sikkim narrated before Modi their success stories as how they have got benefits from different government schemes which contributed to big growth in their incomes. Vimla from Jodhpur said she is now earning Rs 3.5 lakh (per annum)while previously her income was less than Rs 1.5 lakh, thanks to training at an agriculture research institute. Raju Hatila from tribal-dominated Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh, said he was unemployed two years ago, but in last two years, he has earned Rs 8 lakh by lending agricultural machinery. Modi said his government has done “unprecedented” work in the agriculture sector by “doubling” the budget for the sector.
“The budget allocation for the agriculture sector in five years of the previous government was Rs 1.21 lakh crore. This has been increased to Rs 2.12 lakh crore during 2014-19, which is almost double. This clearly reflects our commitment to farmers welfare,” Modi said. The prime minister highlighted the various initiatives launched by the government in the last four years such as soil health cards, new crop insurance scheme, irrigation programme and e-NAM, among others. While the e-NAM scheme, which is designed to give farmers access to markets across the country, has so far been largely limited to intra-mandi e-trading, Sibaram Sahu, a farmer from Chhattisgarh, said his income doubled this year to 1.25 lakh thanks to using the e-NAM platform for paddy sales.
FE reported recently that during 2017-18 crop year (July-June), the mandi prices of most pulses and oilseeds, all coarse cereals and cotton — key crops other than rice and wheat whose farm-gate prices are protected via MSP operations — were all significantly lower than the previous year’s levels. Prices were down by up to 34% for pulses and up 12% for oilseeds. Maize prices during the harvest season between October-December 2017 ruled 10% lower than the year-ago period; jowar too was sold by farmers 20% cheaper. Farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Odisha and Sikkim participated in the video conference with the prime minister.