Our distressed farmers need help

Change is the only constant that keeps the wheel moving in our lives. In four of the five States that went to the polls last month, incumbent governments were voted out, with the electorate opting for change. A major reason that upset a chunk of voters in the Hindi heartland — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — was farm distress that is rampant and fast moving towards an agrarian crisis if drastic steps are not taken to help farmers. Most of us have read the heartbreaking story of an onion farmer from Nashik who got ₹1,064 for his crop of 750 kg of onions and in sheer disgust and desperation sent the amount to the PM’s relief fund. Then there is a widely circulating video clip of another Maharashtra farmer smashing his crop of ripe, juicy pomegranates at the mandi, as there were no takers.

Greening the environment has been one of the priorities of Rotarians across the world as they are concerned about the felling of trees for excessive construction and other factors, all related to human greed to grab everything for ourselves. In this greening bid, when various clubs distribute saplings, they often try to give out varieties which can be economically beneficial to the grower. Vegetables for our kitchen gardens and drumstick trees to take care of the rampant iron deficiency in Indian women are popular varieties distributed by Rotarians in India. And those of you who have a kitchen garden to boast of know how much you have to slog to get a modest crop of beans or tomatoes, and the expensive inputs you have to put into the activity in terms of manure and fertilisers. If you have done this, you will feel from the pit of your stomach the pain of the farmer who puts expensive inputs into his field to generate a crop of 750 kg of onions. His devastation can be well imagined when at the mandi he was offered a mere ₹1 per kg for his produce.

This phenomenon brings us to the important question: are we paying enough for the food that our farmers work so hard to put on our table? This morning I read a well-documented and analysed article in the Indian Express titled How food prices lost their bite.

Written by Harish Damodaran, one of the best agricultural correspondents in our country, it documents how for 27 months running, from September 2016 to November 2018, “consumer food inflation in India has been ruling below general inflation.” And, during five of these 27 months — May, June and July 2017, and then October and November 2018 — “the annual increase in the official consumer food price index has been negative, meaning Indians are paying less for vegetables, pulses, sugar or eggs now than a year ago.” As consumers we might be delighted to put behind us those difficult days when the humble onion had breached the ₹80–100 a kg mark, the tomato had climbed up to ₹80 a kg and toor dhal was flying at ₹200 a kg.

As we usher in a new year, we have to pause and think what a negative growth in the food price index means for our farmers. It is no secret that farmers’ children don’t want to go into farming, and pursue education of indifferent quality in the aspiration to become government clerks someday. But just think of the consequences if our farmers move away from farming. We, the people of India, owe it to our hardworking farmer to introspect and find ways to ensure that he gets a decent income for his produce. For that if we have to pay a little more money for our food, so be it.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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