In the era of globalisation and trade, the issues of farmers and agriculture have assumed the centre stage of global economy. There is no denying the fact that negotiations in the multi-lateral forum, World Trade Organisation (WTO) have been stalled primarily due to agriculture. The developed countries continue subsidise their farmers and agriculture, directly or indirectly, in a big way to the disadvantage of the farmers in the Third World. While the developing countries are asking for a level playing field and disciplining the subsidies, the rich countries are not yielding to give up their illegitimate sway over the global economy. They have become more protectionist in trade instead liberalising global trade in an effective manner.
In India whenever the question of farmers’ suicides is raised the central government do express concern but leaves a major part of the onus to the state government saying that agriculture is a state subject under the Constitution. True the Constitution of India says that agriculture is a state subject. Here the question arises – Did the central government take the concurrence of state governments before joining the WTO? The answer is obviously – No. The central government has thus taken such a step to imperil the farmers by exposing them to the unfair global trade practices.
It is the duty of the government to protect the interests of farmers. Agriculture is the backbone of the rural economy. If the rural economy thrives, country’s economy will get a major boost. For a cost-effective agriculture, farmers need inputs at affordable prices. There should be assured irrigation facilities. The prices of fertilisers or green manure should be affordable. Similarly for tilling of the soil, small power tillers or custom hiring of tractors should also be affordable. There should also be assured supply of power. The health of the soil should be maintained at an optimal level. In this case the implementation of soil health card is an useful measure. Cost-effective agriculture will not only help consumers in the country at cheaper prices but also help exporters to export agricultural products in global market at competitive prices.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for doubling farmers’ income by 2022. But how is this to materialise? He has recently announced a contributory pension scheme of Rs 3,000 for all farm landholders. This is just a fringe benefit as compared to what the farmers enjoy in the developed world. The rival Congress party in their election manifesto promised to give Rs 72,000 a year to the poorest 20 per cent families. The contributory pension scheme is only for farm landholders. But in the country many of the farm landholders are absentee farmers. The actual farming is done by others who do not own the land. They are therefore not entitled to this pension scheme. There is also a contributory crop insurance scheme in place which needs to be further rationalised.
What apart from affordable input supply a farmer needs is a decent price for his produces. A farmer is ready to feed the nation despite vagaries of weather – be it drought or floods. In past when the country was in short supply of onions, tomatoes, pulses and lentils, the farmers rose up to the occasion in the subsequent years and raised the production of these commodities. The production was at a such a level that the farmers had to make distress sales, which means “Produce and Perish” The concept of minimum support prices (MSPs) for crops was of no avail. The government only announces MSPs. Its agency the Food Corporation of India do procure all crops. It procures only wheat, rice and coarse cereals in select areas NAFED also does market intervention in select areas.
The need of the hour is to set up a vibrant agricultural market infrastructure all over the country and encourage the bargaining power of farmers by setting up rural godowns and cold storages in cluster of villages and household storage facilities. If we can go for rural household toilets, why can’t we have rural household storages? In past many rural households had storage facilities. Indian Grain Storage Management and Research Institute (IGMRI), Hapur in Uttar Pradesh has developed latest technologies for storage which can be made use of.
There is also a need to set up grain banks in every districts of the country under the supervision of Zilla Parishads which would procure grains from farmers at assured MSPs for storage for meeting any contingency situation.
The concept of e-NAM do not serve the purpose. We need a vibrant physical agricultural market all over the country so that farmers will not be allowed to make any distress sale and bargain for the right price for his produce. Agriculture may be a state subject. Prime Minister Modi has to take on board all state governments as he did in case of formulating GST and get a legislation passed to set up a National Agriculture Market integrating all agriculture markets that are in existence in different parts of the country, including rural weekly markets with uniform rules so that farmers will have the option to bargain for his produce.
There should also be good road and rail connectivity amongst different agricultural markets across the country. There should also be better connectivity to ports for export of agricultural produces and products. Congestion at ports should be eased. Exports of agricultural produces at global markets at competitive prices will benefit the farmers in a big way.
A physical national agricultural market will go a long way to fulfil Prime Minister Modi’s dream of doubling farmers’ income. India can show to the world that it can do justice to its farmers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have courage and confidence to facilitate setting up of a physical National Agricultural Market with the same determination as in the case of GST reforms. GST reforms which is designed for One Nation One Market is incomplete without a National Agricultural Market. In the same breath he should encourage household storage, rural godowns and storage facilities for increasing the bargaining power of farmers.