Reforming the Farm Sector in India

The issue of farmers’ distress has of late dominated headlines and public mind space, and rightly so because the fate of the Indian farmer is intrinsically linked to the country’s economy that is still largely dependent on the agriculture sector, not to mention its billion mouths to feed. With farmers across the country marching on the roads in protest and political reversals being witnessed that most commentators attribute to the agrarian crisis, it is no longer an issue that we can collectively afford to remain oblivious to.

While the political actors seem to have awakened to the crisis, appropriate responses seem to be slow in coming. Even some of the populist measures that have been announced in some states, such as loan waivers seem to be short-sighted and may serve to only momentarily evade the crisis. For example, loan waivers tend to reach only those farmers who have access to institutional credit but do not bring relief to the marginal farmers that largely depend on private money-lenders. Similarly, while the minimum selling price for certain crops has been increased, we have to be cognizant of the reality that big farmers will benefit more than small or marginal farmers and also that a greater diversity of crops must be brought under the MSP regime if the farmers in the rain-fed zones of the country are also to benefit equitably.

Agricultural policy cannot simply be framed in hindsight of distress. It must look at the entire farming cycle to address vulnerabilities not just in the post production phase but more importantly at the phase when the farmer is investing in production. Supporting farmers’ access to information, appropriate technology, skills and finance will greatly reduce vulnerability in the long term. The agrarian crisis is compounded by the impact of climate change, especially in the 55 per cent of the gross cropped area of the country where farming is still rain-fed and dependent on monsoon rains that have been erratic over the years. Climate adaptability thus needs to be an important pillar of agricultural policy. While in intent and statement this has already been highlighted, yet to translate it into on-ground action with the necessary urgency will require the collective and convergent effort of the government, research community and civil society.

This issue of the newsletter looks at some of the different aspects of incorporating sustainability in farm livelihoods in India, specially examining the challenges faced by small and marginal farmers that comprise over 88 percent of the farming community in the country. It is these farmers that are most stressed by the vagaries of climate change in India. This issue throws light on some important experiences on the ground where positive impact has been achieved but also where loopholes have been exposed. Wider sharing of these experiences from the ground across all stakeholders can add impetus to the process of ushering in reform in the farm sector, based on better understanding of what works and what does not.

Mayukh Hajra


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