‘Farm­ers Can’t Live by Farm­ing Alone’

SBI chief says ru­ral dis­tress is caused be­cause farm­ers do not have a reg­u­lar source of in­come and are de­pen­dent on rains

The Economic Times - - Economy & Companies - Saloni.Shukla@ times­group.com

Mum­bai: In­dian farm­ing needs a to­tal revamp to free it from the va­garies of mon­soon, SBI chair­man Arund­hati Bhat­tacharya told ET in an in­ter­view, high­light­ing the need for in­vest­ment in many ar­eas of agri­cul­ture, in­clud­ing ir­ri­ga­tion.

Amajor ob­sta­cle the farm­ing com­mu­nity faces is the to­tal de­pen­dence on agri­cul­ture, which does not pro­vide em­ploy­ment through­out the year due to sea­son­al­ity of crops, Bhat­tacharya said.

“Ru­ral dis­tress is caused be­cause farm­ers do not have a reg­u­lar source of in­come; they re­ceive in­come in lumps,” Bhat­tacharya said. “There is a need to cre­ate other ac­tiv­i­ties that give a farmer a reg­u­lar in­come source; only farm­ing is not enough. Farm­ing also is far more sub­ject to the va­garies of weather than other ac­tiv­i­ties such as dairy, poul­try etc,” she said.

Politi­cians and lobby groups have blamed ru­ral in­debt­ed­ness for a spike in sui­cides among farm­ers this year af­ter a gap. Farm in­come has de­clined sharply in the past two years as the fail­ure of mon­soon for two con­sec­u­tive years has left many parts of the country short of wa­ter to ir­ri­gate the land. More­over, the pay­out un­der the govern­ment’s em­ploy­ment scheme has been ham­pered due to a shift in the fo­cus of the govern­ment to work re­lated ac-

SOURCE OF IN­COME

tiv­i­ties un­der its flag­ship ru­ral jobs scheme MGNREGA in­stead of just grant­ing dole. As many as 5,650 In­dian farm­ers com­mit­ted sui­cide in 2014, or 15 farm­ers a day, as per the Na­tional Crime Records Bureau data. A stag­ger­ing 3,228 farm­ers com­mit­ted sui­cide in Ma­ha­rash­tra alone in 2015, ac­cord­ing to data sub­mit- ted to Ra­jya Sabha this year.

About half of In­dia’s 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple are em­ployed in agri­cul­ture, which ac­counts for al­most 20% of the na­tion’s $2 tril­lion econ­omy. A pa­per by As­socham sug­gested that this year’s wheat pro­duc­tion may drop to 79-80 mil­lion tonnes com­pared to the govern­ment es­ti­mates of about 93.8 mil­lion tonnes. The agri­cul­ture min­istry es­ti­mates pro­duc­tion of pulses at 17.33 mil­lion tonnes, marginally higher than the 17.15 mt achieved last year.

Bhat­tacharya said that banks have also been con­sid­er­ate in ad­dress­ing the dis­tress of farm­ers.

“Bank loan is not the only rea­son for ru­ral dis­tress; loans are also ob­tained from in­for­mal chan­nels at ex­or­bi­tant rates. Ru­ral dis­tress needs to be an­a­lysed holis­ti­cally,” she said.

A much crit­i­cised ar­range­ment is the Agri­cul­tural Debt Waiver and Debt Re­lief Scheme, an­nounced by the UPA govern­ment in 2008, un­der which .₹ 71,000-crore farm loans were writ­ten off. One of the ways to bring farm­ers out of dis­tress could be in­creased in­vest­ments in re­lated are- as such as food pro­cess­ing, lo­gis­tics and ir­ri­ga­tion, which will re­duce the de­pen­dence on rains, Bhat­tacharya said. “More cap­i­tal needs to be brought in land, in­vest­ment has to come in ir­ri­ga­tion, cold chain, qual­ity of seeds used,” she said.

The govern­ment in this year’s bud­get in­creased al­lo­ca­tion to ru­ral ar­eas to wean a big­ger chunk of the pop­u­la­tion away from farm land and to in­vest in ir­ri­ga­tion. Nearly 28.5 lakh hectares will be brought un­der ir­ri­ga­tion un­der the Prad­han Mantri Kr­ishi Sin­chai Yo­jana and a ded­i­cated Long Term Ir­ri­ga­tion Fund will be cre­ated in Nabard with an ini­tial cor­pus of about .₹ 20,000 crore.

She, how­ever, said that the way the govern­ment looks at farm­ing has to change. In fact, farm­ing should also be treated as in­dus­try, she said.

“Agri­cul­ture has never re­ceived ‘in­dus­try’ sta­tus, mean­ing that there has been lit­tle fo­cused ef­fort for ef­fi­cien­cies to in­crease. And if pro­duc­tiv­ity is not im­proved their stan­dard of liv­ing is un­likely to go up and they will re­main a ne­glected sec­tion,” she said.

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