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As in the West, Indian farmers too need direct income support: expert

Nov 30, 2012

Chatting with Ashok Kumar from One World South Asia, Policy Analyst Devinder Sharma explained how flawed policies goad Indian farmers to suicide.


Action Aid organised a national consultation in New Delhi and public hearing on the issue of framers' suicides. The farmers’ consultation brought together experts and policy analysts to evaluate the progress of government initiatives to respond to the ongoing agrarian crisis.

Chatting with Ashok Kumar from One World South Asia, Policy Analyst Devinder Sharma explained how flawed policies goad Indian farmers to suicide.  Excerpts from the interview:

OneWorld South Asia: What do you have to say on the status of Indian farmers in the country?

Devinder Sharma: India is witnessing the worst agrarian crisis all across the globe. It is a crisis because in the last 15 years more than 2, 95,000 farmers have committed suicides.  But these are the farmers who had the ‘courage’ to die. But there are others who are also living in the same state but they do not have the courage to die. It certainly does not mean that the latter are doing well.

OWSA: What do you think is the root cause of such a condition of the farmers?

Sharma: Over the years, the policies have been so designed that agriculture has become unviable and uneconomical in India. The problem is because of the economic policy followed over the years which is pitted against the farmers. So, the effort is to move people out of agriculture to the urban areas.

Unfortunately, the mainline economists think that if you want to have economic growth, the way we measure our GDP, then it can be done by following those countries which have reduced their population engaged in agriculture. So, the entire thinking is unless we remove these people out of agriculture there will not be economic growth in this country.

OWSA: Where do you think have we gone wrong, precisely?

Sharma: The basic thrust is to make farming unviable and the force the farmers out to urban areas, which is a very flawed policy in pursuit of economic growth and is actually a path to disaster. What has happened in Europe or America cannot be followed in India. In a country which has 60 per cent of its population involved in agriculture the kind of paradigms which worked in the West cannot be implemented here.

OWSA: How could we resolve this situation which seems to be going out of hand?

Sharma: Mahatama Gandhi had said that a country like India needs production by the masses and not for the masses. Farming has to be made viable.  According to Gandhi, we should strive for economic growth by making farming profitable.

Time has come when the government should set up a separate farmers’ income commission which decides the per-family or per acre family of the farmers with the help of several other inputs like the variety of soil, water availability and other factors.

It is shocking to learn that a farmer earns around Rs 2000 to Rs 3000 in a month while the monthly salary of a lowest government employee is Rs 15,000. Government should strive to do away with this gap and ensure that the minimum income of a farmer at least matches that of the lowest government employee.

We need to provide an assured minimum income of Rs 15,000 per month to the farmer. And, then we can see a shift taking place to sustainable agriculture.

OWSA: How farming in this country can be made viable?

Sharma: We have tried many formulae to improve the viability of farming. We are also trying to implement Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail which has earlier not worked in Europe or America. But, I think we should go for sustainable farming.

We have to bring in our country, what has been done in the West.  Farming in these countries is viable because farmers are provided with direct income support.  India also follows the same agricultural model (Application of fertilizers and machines) followed in the West with the difference being only of scale (of land holdings). Therefore, we also need to provide the same kind of support to farmers provided in those countries. Our farmers our dying because we do not give them direct income support.

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