A good year for agriculture, a bad year for farmers



Despite a deficient monsoon, 2014 was a year of record agricultural production. But the buoyancy in production failed to translate into a higher income for farmers. It was a year of disappointment for farmers.

During the agricultural year 2013-24, which ended in June 2014, farmers produced a record harvest of 264.4 million tonnes of foodgrains. Not only in foodgrains, quantum jumps were also witnessed in the production of oilseeds, maize , cotton and pulses. Production of oilseeds reached a record high of 34.5 million tonnes, a jump of 4.8 per cent. Maize production increased by 8.52 per cent to reach a level of 24.2 million tones. Pulses production reached an all-time high of 19.6 million tonnes, an increase of 7.10 per cent over the previous year. Cotton production too touched a record high.

In Kharif 2014 too, despite the shortfall in monsoon rains, farmers produced a bumper crop of rice, maize and cotton.

With such record production, and that too at a time when monsoon had acted as a damper, the nation remains indebted to the virile and hardworking farmers. Despite being at the bottom of the pyramid, Indian farmers have not failed the nation. Probably knowing this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, promised to provide more income in the hands of farmers by implementing the Swaminathan Committee report. BJP had time and again reiterated its promise of ensuring farmers a 50 per cent profit over the cost of production.

But in reality, farmers were given a paltry increase of Rs 50 per quintal in the minimum support price (MSP) for paddy and wheat, which translates into an increase of 3.6 per cent, not even enough to offset the additional burden from the prevailing inflation rate at that point of time. On top of it, basmati rice and cotton witnessed a crash in its prices. While basmati rice production had doubled in Punjab and Haryana, an alarming dip in prices was observed. Disappointed farmers sold basmati at prices ranging between Rs 1600-2400 per quintal, against a price of Rs 3,261 to Rs 6,085 they got last year.

In cotton too, prices slumped from an average of Rs 4,400 to Rs 5,200 per quintal last year to around Rs 3,000 this year, prompting the government to direct the Cotton Corporation of India to step in to buy at the procurement price of Rs 3,750 per quintal. Let us not forget that the jump in basmati and cotton production happened as farmers had incurred an additional cost on diesel to run tube wells for irrigation. Punjab and Haryana had recorded a 50 per cent shortfall in monsoon.

As if this was not enough, Ministry of Food had issued a directive asking State Governments not to provide any bonus over the MSP. In case, the State Governments continue to provide bonus, the Ministry will withdraw from procurement operations. State Governments have also been advised to reduce procurement in view of the excessive stocks in storage. In other words, farmers are being increasingly left to face the vagaries of the markets.

With the Food Corporation of India (FCI) being made to gradually withdraw from procurement operations, Chhatisgrah, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab are witnessing a deliberate delay in procurement operations. Chhatisgrah, which had promised to buy ever grain of rice produced by farmers, had limited rice procurement to a maximum of 10 quintals per farmers. After protests, it agreed to buy 15 quintals per farmer. In Punjab, an inordinate delay in making spot payments to farmers is being seen as a subtle message to farmers not to produce more rice.

Coming at a time when farming is already faced with declining incomes and rising indebtedness, the failure to prop-up agriculture will only add to the exodus from the farm. With land acquisition made easier, and also extending it to multiple cropped areas, agriculture has become a sacrificial goat in the road to economic growth. All talk of economic reforms has so far remained confined to the industry. Agriculture does not figure at all on the economic radar screen of the country. The implications it will have on the country’s food security in the years to come are being simply glossed over.

The continuing apathy is clearly visible from the significantly low budgetary provisions for agriculture year after year. In 2013, agriculture received 19,307-crore from the annual budget kitty (exceeding Rs 16 lakh-crore), which is less than 1 per cent of the total budget outlay. This year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley provided only Rs 22,652-crore to agriculture and cooperation departments.