A farmer’s average monthly income in Haryana is among the highest in the country, both according to the Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households (2013) and NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey (2016-17). Still, at Rs 18,496 per month, this income is less than the salary a newly appointed Group D employee — peon, maali, safai karamchari — gets in the state.
Farmers’ income was never so much in focus as it has been during PM Narendra Modi’s rule — first because of his promise to double it by 2022 and now, because of the unrest over the three laws enacted by the NDA government.
Agriculture experts and progressive agriculturists believe that boosting the income of farmers needs a multi-pronged strategy as no method would suffice on its own. An improvement in crop productivity, saving in the cost of production, increase in the cropping density, diversification towards high-value crops, an improvement in the real prices received by farmers, and a shift from farming to non-farming occupations — all must fall into place.
“If we want to boost farmers’ income, we first need to improve soil health and water quality. Our soil health has deteriorated because of depletion of minerals and our water quality has been declining because of several factors. Then comes an improvement in technology and quality of seeds,” says Dr Dilip Monga, a noted agriculture scientist who retired as head of Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), an institute of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in Sirsa.
Monga says the productivity of various crops in countries like the US, Canada and Australia is over three times higher than that in India.
“First of all, we need varieties which provide better productivity. Then, we need to look into the agronomic aspect
of these varieties and the plant protection factor. Once these are looked into, things will automatically fall into place and farmers’ income will get a boost,” he adds.
On the promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, he says: “No baseline has been defined by the government. Merely assurances don’t work. Agriculture is a very complex subject.”
Talking about the major impediments to boosting farmers’ income, Monga says costs of inputs like diesel, fertilisers, pesticides and seeds have increased at a faster rate in the recent past, but the price farmers get for their crops has not increased at that rate.
He finds the opposition to the new farm laws based largely on assumptions. “Farmers feel that they won’t get remunerative prices for their crops if the MSP goes. Even now, MSP is not universal across the country. So, only time will tell whether these laws can help raise farmers’ income or harm their interests,” he adds.
Gurjeet Singh Mann, a progressive farmer, says farmers have for long been demanding seed technology on a par with that in the US, Australia and Canada, but to no avail. “The demand is for genetically modified seeds for crops such as corn, maize, soyabean, brinjal, herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton etc. These seeds add value to the product and increase productivity by two or three times. The input costs in the form of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides come down. Even if the market forces do not let the prices of end products rise, farmers end up getting more income because of low input costs and high productivity,” Mann explains.
He says the farmers who sowed maize under the state government’s Mera Paani Meri Virasat policy to diversify from water-guzzling paddy this year had to sell their crop as fodder because of poor quality of grains.
“Had they got genetically modified seeds, like farmers in the West get, they would have reaped rich dividends and the diversification scheme would have been a big hit,” he adds. He rues that whenever a demand has been raised for better genetically modified seeds in India, it has been brushed aside under pressure from the lobbies of industrialists.
The world is moving towards climate-smart farming, Mann adds. Farming has always been a state subject worldwide as it has to be decided and managed at small, regional levels.
Mann doesn’t see any hope of farmers’ income getting doubled by 2022. “What will an open market mean for farmers if there are no buyers? The new laws nowhere suggest how the farmers will get more buyers and how they will get better prices for his produce.” He adds that the three farm laws need to be tweaked, as otherwise they will become restrictive and obstructive instead of being of any help to the farmers.
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