Prayers have been answered, monsoon has made landfall in Kerala, close to where Vasco da Gama landed in 1498. Potentially, the impact on political fortunes will be no less. This government has promised to double farm incomes in six years and economists argued that this would be impossible because it would entail a 12% annual growth in incomes; unprecedented globally. Starting from such abysmally low farm income base line the upsurge is but inevitable.
The cyclic upswing of international commodity prices that was expected this year has been postponed due to the collapse of the Brazilian currency ‘Real’. Like its predecessors the government is artificially keeping farm gate prices low to rein inflation.
In the absence of government interference, a combination of good monsoon and the anticipated price correction would double farm incomes without even a single sitting of an inter-ministerial committee set-up for the purpose. The proposed committee sans a single farmer member is only as useful as a dry well. The UPA appointed NAC was similarly inadequately peopled, consequently the continuance of farmer suicides.
One would expect the committee to call farmer organizations for suggestions, but the committee would have scores of contradictions to cont end with. Farmer organizations, insular in their demands, need to expand the national narrative to include the excluded sections by not limiting their demands to farm loan waiver which neither benefits the 40% farmers without access to institutional credit nor farmers who diligently repay loans.
Seeking removal of fertilizer subsidies should have been a natural corollary for those demanding organic farming as the way forward, it’s not. Farmer organizations vociferously demand higher MSP when only about 10% of farm produce is regularly purchased under the MSP program, ignoring to seek support for the other 90%. It is equally fashionable to call for implementation of the MS Swaminathan Committee recommendations, when none but a few have seen the report; let alone read it.
Even if farm produce prices increase by 50%, over a third of farmers will remain below the poverty line due to small land holding sizes. Irrespective of what any establishment ever does, 60% of Indian farms will always be rain dependent and economic dependence on monsoons will remain. To mitigate dependence on erratic monsoons, in ‘mann ki baat’ the PM encouraged ‘per drop more crop’.
In most cases transferring water from one river basin to the next is not the answer and instead investment in water use efficiency will increase water availability three times. But, the meagre budget allocations for micro irrigation only allow for a distant mirage. Policymakers believe they understand the problems and invent solutions.
Nietzsche said ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’ and for the farm sector, without farmers to sift, decipher and interpret, farmer prosperity remains elusive. Doubling incomes depends more on what happens off the farm, in corridors of power. The Sangh parivar opposes farm policies their own government seems wanting to propagate.
Chaotic confusion is apparent in policy inconsistencies and flip-flops. Fasal Bima Yojana, National Agricultural Markets, Soil health cards are bold visionary initiatives that are lacking without an enabling structure. Starting a year later after resolving contradictions and improving policy fine print would have been wiser than having to justify failure by expounding implementation hurdles in private while simultaneously conjuring success stories for public consumption.
To sum up the two drought years; the opposition failed farmers miserably, by being unable to capitalize on the farm crisis and allowing the government to get away with pretentious propaganda. Ironically, a good monsoon will not only end the very need for farmer centric posturing but the turnaround will also help Mr. Modi gain momentum to 2019 general elections.
Fact remains, just as the government was not responsible for the distress it inherited neither will its policies be reason for the resurrection of farmer livelihoods.