Approximately 2,500 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra (between January – October) in 2017. Whereas there has been a 21% jump in suicide cases in Madhya Pradesh since 2013. These numbers clearly point to the fact that farmers in India are in distress. With their voice falling on deaf ears, they often resort to protests and violence to attract government’s and media’s attention.
Here is a list of the events that have led to accumulated agrarian distress:
Domino 1: Failed Government
The reworking of the MSP (Minimum Support Price), loan waivers and increased interest in the agricultural sector were few of the many promises that Narendra Modi had made as a ministerial candidate in 2014. Now one of the most important promises the Modi Government made was to double the farmers’ income by 2022. Ironically, the protesting farmers are demanding the exact same today, given the slow progress in the agrarian sector.
In 2018, at least 30,000 farmers marched 180 km from Nashik to Mumbai to protest against the government’s failure to look into issues plaguing the farmers including land allotment and loan waivers. The farmers also called for another protest calling it the Jail Bharo protest to remind the government of their promise to maintain minimum price rate for milk. Despite the government promise to maintain the rate of Rs. 27 per litre, the farmers were getting only Rs. 20 per litre. This means crore of loss for them.
There have been four major protests in 2018, including the one in November, in New Delhi, Kisan Mukti March, where farmers and agricultural labourers from across India have marched towards the Indian Parliament. There are lakhs of farmers from different states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh gathered against the agrarian crisis in the country.
The government has failed to come up with strategies and is allocating more budgets and launching schemes, but the end beneficiaries – the farmers – hardly reap the benefits, adding to their current distress.
Domino 2: Social Media
Government’s indifference and callous attitude led to many protests. Some on streets, some on online! More and more people, especially the youth are becoming aware and involved in the farmer’s plight. For instance, farmers in Madhya Pradesh are voicing their grievances via the digital route. ‘One hand on steering wheel and the other on smartphone’s keypad’ – this is the key motto of the farmers today. As a result, more youth is becoming involved with at least 80% of the protestors being tech-savvy and active on social media.
In 2017, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) started an online campaign called #kisankiloot. As per the leaders from the group, through Twitter, they are putting the reality in front of the nation of how they are being systematically looted. Soon, top journalists including Rajdeep Sardesai and Sreenivasan Jain too joined the campaign voicing their opinions. Further, #UTurnSarkar too was used to bring to light about unfulfilled promises made by PM Modi in 2014.
There is a Facebook group for organic farmers with a member strength of 22,000 has become an engaging platform for farmers to seek help or advice from other farmers. Whatsapp groups are now extensively used. From ordering seeds online to seeking input on social media, there is rapid adoption of Information Technology by farmers.
In November 2018, the protests had a massive impact on social media. “Due to social media, there has been an increased awareness about farmers issues in Delhi,” says Monami Basu, who was a Delhi University professor who took part in the march.
Domino 3: Supply > Demand
In June 2018, farmers across India dumped vegetables, milk and other farm produce as a mark protest. Increasingly, farmers are spilling milk, creating an artificial shortage and blocking the supply of daily necessities. That’s because they are not getting the correct prices for their produce. There is a bit of economics here…
When there is a bumper harvest, the supply goes up – which reduces the price of the produce in the economy. This means a loss to the farmers. To safeguard them against these losses, the government ensures them Minimum Support Price. So, say the government announces MSP for a quintal of rice as Rs. 1,000. Due to rise in supply, the price falls to Rs. 650. Despite this fall in price, they will receive Rs 1,000 from the government. Thus, protecting them from the loss.
The PM-AASHA scheme was announced as a mean to ensure that farmers actually receive minimum support price for their crops, and it did not make any difference to the farmers this season. The cereals, pulses, and oilseeds are now selling below the MSP. There has been a total loss of Rs. 1150 crore to farmers till October 2018.
The farmers criticized the policy and it showed. On November 2, the weighted average price of Urad dal in Madhya Pradesh was Rs. 4,250 per quintal, 24% lower than the promised MSP of Rs 5,600 per quintal.
But, in reality, the government fails to provide the MSP. Leaving the farmers in crisis and distress.
Domino 4: Small Landholdings
Indian farmers have the smallest landholding in the world. While the global average of landholding size is 5.5 hectares, the size in India is 0.5 to 1.15 hectares. Growing urbanization and more diversion of land towards non-agricultural means less land for agriculture. The result of which, farming lands are vanishing at an alarming rate.
Small landholding makes it difficult for farmers to access large farms, irrigation facilities, modern machinery, bank credits, loans or institutional credit etc. According to NABARD, the biggest challenge for the Indian farmers is decreasing the size of landholding, which can make the profession unfeasible. Reduced profits from the produce, compel farmers to sell off their land.
Domino 5: Demonetisation
The effects of demonetisation lingered and greatly influenced the rural economy. Due to the nation-wide cash crunch, there was a collapse in demand for vegetables in wholesale markets. This badly impacted the fruit and vegetable sellers. Small farmers need cash on daily basis. To buy pesticides, pay the labour, transporting the produce etc. Lack of inputs and raw materials to grow crops resulted in lower yields, reducing their sale and profits. The big farmers couldn’t pay to the wages to the labourers working on the fields. Worst hit were the farmers who had taken loans for agriculture. Failure to get returns for their produce pushed them further into massive debt. Further, after demonetisation, traders at the government-run markets will only be paid by cheque. So, if a farmer goes to sell his grains he will be paid by cheque and not cash. Adding to their misery, as they will have to stand in the bank queue to deposit it, maybe a week more to withdraw it.
Even after two years, the cash they have in hand is useless which has drastically affected them. Due to shortage of cash, about 1.38 lakh quintals of wheat seeds wasn’t sold by the National Seeds Corporation (NSC). Recently, the prices of onion have raised and the farmers do not get even 10% of the final cost. The farmer distress also affected the recently conducted elections and the results were easily noticeable.