Budget allocations for agriculture must benefit small and marginal farmers
Despite TS farmers being in turmoil, the government turns a Nelson’s Eye
Agriculture has been adversely impacted by climate change while a sizeable number of small and marginal farmers are disproportionately affected by it. We should understand that the agrarian crisis that is prevailing in Indian economy is structural, implying that it cannot be addressed with symptomatic treatment.
Factors like size of land holding, availability of irrigation, cheaper institutional credit and the impact of climate change have a direct bearing on agriculture.
Recently the Indian Meteorological Department announced that the average rainfall will be less in the current year compared to last year due to El Nino and La Nino effects, which means that agriculture will take a further beating.
It is pertinent to mention a study on the ‘Impact of Climate Change on Indian Agriculture’ covering 200 districts, which has revealed that farmers’ adaptations to annual weather shocks and their inability due to lack of information and resources make them vulnerable (R P Guiteras, 2009). Further, the study mentioned that reduction in major crop yields by 4.5 to 9 per cent due to climate change and in the long run stretching up to 25 per cent is a serious challenge that should be taken into account while planning for farmers’ welfare. It was suggested that Union and State governments prepare State Adaptation Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) involving the stakeholders, including their perceptions and implement the same with adequate budget allocations. In fact, adaptation to short-term climate variability and extreme events serves as a starting point for reducing vulnerability to long-term climate change.
The initiatives mentioned in Union Budget 2023-24 and Telangana state’s budget with respect to ‘agriculture and farmers’ welfare’ are mere palliatives but not panacea for addressing the challenges of climate change in the context of small and marginal farmers, who constitute 84 per cent of the country’s agriculture. Further, the budget allocations did not focus on addressing the climate change, which is structural in nature, and instead focussed on providing loans to the farming community without any appropriate guidelines. Therefore, it is argued that utilization of the same allocations for the farmers’ welfare, especially small and marginal farmers, focusing on short-term climate variability and extreme events is the need of the hour. Further, adaptation policies and interventions need to be designed based on the district level agro-climatic situation rather than adopting ‘one size fits all’ approach, which does not hold good.
It is a fact that the farmers’ suicides continued unabated in India, especially in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana despite the government’s claim that they are addressing the issue.
Thousands of crores of rupees have been disbursed in the name of “Rythu Bandhu” scheme in Telangana but what is the impact of it on farming community. Who are real beneficiaries? If it is really meant for ‘agricultural investment support’ to the farmers why are many resorting to suicides? An examination of the policy pertaining to Rythu Bandhu scheme revealed that it has flaws such as farmers with more than 10 acres of land are paid the benefit; including the NRIs, retired bureaucrats and income tax payers while absence of same benefit to the tenant farmers and other labourers is the crux of the matter. Awareness generation and identification of needy farmers is critical for the scheme’s success.
The national picture shows that states with higher percentage of suicides, Maharashtra, Tamil Nādu, West Bengal, MP and Karnataka with 13.5 per cent, 11.5 per cent, 9.1 per cent, 8.2 per cent, and 8 per cent, respectively. Telangana, with 6.2 per cent of suicides during 2021, stands second in the dubious list. Surprisingly, they are relatively performing states and registered very good per capita income in the recent past. When growth of GSDP and per capita income are relatively high how come the farming community is resorting to suicides in these states? Why are governments’ neglecting the welfare of farming community, including farmers, tenants and agricultural labourers? It appears that the economic inequalities are rising in these states and the gap between rich and poor is widening further. Given the huge population, the economic inequalities in India are contributing to global inequalities, which, as a result, are raising social cohesion concerns.
According to a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, Telangana state experienced 26 per cent variation in suicides in 2021 over the previous year but was the highest among all states and UTs. Further, the rate of suicides, the number of suicides per lakh population, the standard yardstick for comparison, Telangana registered 26.9 in 2021 and stood in fourth place while the national average was 12.
In contrast, Telangana is boasting that a state with two per cent of national population contributed the fifth largest share of its GDP. Besides, the per capita income increased by 130 per cent to Rs. 278,000 in seven years and GSDP shot up from Rs. 5.6 lakh crore to Rs. 11.54 lakh crore. But the question is why has there been a haphazard and uneven distribution in the ‘progressive’ state. A recent study revealed that inequalities in Telangana have increased after the new state was created.
Among the causes leading to suicides in Telangana were family problems (33.2%) and illness (18.6%). Gender and age-wise distribution of suicide victims revealed that it was mostly men from the working age population who have taken the extreme step. The percentage distribution of suicide victims by profession in 2021 revealed that the daily wage earners are the maximum (25.6 per cent) when compared to other categories. In fact, the daily wage earners are mostly landless, while those who possess land find it an unviable proposition and end up becoming tenant farmers. Alas, tenant farmers are excluded from Rythu Bandhu by definition and denied their due share. A study conducted by this author to understand the impact of Rythu Bandhu on agriculture in Karimnagar, Jagtial and Nizamabad districts drew mixed results.
Inappropriate policies and inequalities:
The rich farmer class with more than 50-100 acres is receiving Rs. five to ten lakh benefits every year. Instead it should have benefited the small and marginal farmers with less than 10 acres of land as most of the lands are rain-fed in Telangana. Economists have argued that farmers with ten acres of land are known as semi-medium farmers who need support from the government. In fact, the proportion of benefit received by a small/marginal farmer is less compared to a large farmer thereby increasing the inequalities in terms of state aid.
As a result, every alternate day we hear of farmer suicides in one part of Telangana or the other although the administration is not coming out with truthful figures. To cite an example, a young farmer, P Kumara Swami, who owned two acres of land of Kothapalli village, Bheemadevarapalli mandal of Hanamkonda district committed suicide on February 9 by consuming pesticide as he was unable to repay the loans that he had taken.
Despite spending nearly one and a half lakh crore rupees in the last eight years in creating irrigation potential, the state government has failed to provide assured irrigation to many mandals, not even for one crop.
The way forward:
There should be a clear cut policy on addressing farmers’ issues, identification of beneficiaries for which a scientifically-evolved survey ought to be taken up, a small and marginal farmer-centric approach with necessary wherewithal, and spreading awareness on the need to continue cultivation.
A third party evaluation of schemes like Rythu Bandhu helps to undertake midcourse corrections and benefit the intended beneficiaries. Mere budget allocations do not make any impact on farming. It should be useful, feasible and implemented with modalities and standard operating procedures.
(The writer is a Hyderabad-based Economist and former Social Policy Specialist, UNICEF, Indonesia, and UN Women, New Delhi)