Farmers are poor due to low productivity of all major crops

The NDA government has a promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, which does not seem to be in sight, at least at present.

farmer income, reasons for low farmer income, government measures to increase farmers income
Rather, such steps are harmful to our economy in many ways. Thus, let us scientifically and seriously analyse the root cause of poor farmers’ distress.

The NDA government has a promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, which does not seem to be in sight, at least at present. Looking at the woes of poor farmers and the voting pattern in the recent assembly elections, it seems mere sloganeering and empty promises would not convince farmers. Perhaps, based on this realisation, our finance minister had asserted that the central government needs a fresh strategy on issues pertaining to waiver of agricultural loans and MSP etc before the general elections of 2019 and also assembly elections in the four major states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh this year. It must be understood by political parties that measures such as loan waivers, free or subsidised fertilisers, water, seeds and electricity, which many state governments have resorted to in the past for creating vote banks, do not help poor farmers to overcome their financial problems on a permanent basis. Rather, such steps are harmful to our economy in many ways. Thus, let us scientifically and seriously analyse the root cause of poor farmers’ distress.

In India, farmers are poor due to low productivity (yield per hectare) of all major crops. Take paddy and wheat. Paddy’s yield in India is 3,500-kg per hectare, while in China and Bangladesh these figures are 7,000-kg and 4,500-kg, respectively. The figures for Australia and the US are nearly 10,000-kg and 8,500-kg, in that order. Similar is the case of wheat. While India’s figure is about 3,000-kg, China’s is 5,000-kg, the average in the EU is 6,000-kg and that of New Zealand is nearly 8,000-kg. The same holds for other crops, too. So, the answer lies in greatly increasing stagnant yields of our crops.

First, we know that during the Green Revolution, India’s food production rose drastically, from 65 million tonnes (MT) to 110 MT, largely due to heavy use of fertilisers/nutrients, in addition to the use of high-yielding variety seeds and expansion in irrigation areas. Fertilisers would again play a key role in enhancing productivity, provided we stop unscientific use of fertilisers being adopted. To explain the point, it is observed that farmers are now using more urea as compared to phosphorus and potash carrying fertilisers. This is due to the recent government policies that have led to distortions in prices and hence in the use of nutrients. Indian soils are also deficient in micro-nutrients organic carbon. We need to implement the government’s policy of integrated nutrient management to increase productivity.

Second, we need to bring more and more cultivable area under micro-irrigation (drip/sprinkler irrigation), which would greatly reduce consumption of water while increasing productivity—85% of our fresh water is now being used for agriculture, much above global average. This is an irony. Do we know that of about 65 million hectares of arable area under irrigation, only about 8 million hectares is under minor irrigation. The government should allocate sufficient funds in the Budget for minor irrigation for improving the fate of farmers, but, alas, even a sum of Rs 5,000 crore (which would have added another 1.6 million hectares under minor irrigation) is yet to be utilised by the agriculture ministry.

Third, agricultural extension services need strengthening, to impart new scientific knowledge to farmers. This should be facilitated through noted NGOs and companies in agro-business. Further, each district should have 2-3 centres where farmers can meet and exchange knowledge on matters of crop insurance, banking and supply of inputs etc. These centres should assist them to integrate with eNAM for getting better price of their produce.

Fourth, we need to create centres of excellence in our agricultural universities for preparing region-wise strategies to raise crop yield. The good news is that seven centres of excellence have been working in our country under the joint Indo-Israeli Agricultural Project after the visit of PM Narendra Modi to Israel in July last year. We should take full advantage of them. It is well-known how Israel overcame its acute water shortage problem by inventing innovative technologies.

Fifth, let us aggressively promote contract farming. Contract Farming Ventures (CFVs), as they are called, work on two models. In one, CFVs takes land on lease from a group of farmers and pay an agreed amount and a share of profit to them, while in the other, CFVs supply inputs and expertise to farmers, supervise and buy the products, taking care of all supply chain issues. Although these ventures have sufficiently added to production on land where they are operating upon and, thus, added to farmers’ income, they have not become popular and cover only 3% of arable area. This is because of complicated land pooling laws and ever-increasing fragmentation of land. The report of the committee on Doubling of Farmers’ Income, released recently, has made some recommendations to resolve land pooling and other issues. We need to implement them expeditiously. If it happens, it may also lead to collaborative farming, in which a group of farmers can start their own venture. Let all the concerned work most sincerely to make ‘Jai Kisan’ true.

(The author is former ISS and director, CSO, and a UN consultant)

Get live Stock Prices from BSE, NSE, US Market and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, Check out latest IPO News, Best Performing IPOs, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Financial Express Telegram Financial Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest Biz news and updates.