Isn’t it a surprise that despite all odds Indian farmers have been able to feed
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has given a call to celebrate World Food Day on October 16, 2011, with the theme of stabilizing the food grain prices to address the food crisis. According to the World Bank, in 2010-2011 rising food costs pushed nearly 70 million people into extreme poverty.
The FAO finds the rapid economic growth in developing countries like India and China is leading to increased demand for dairy and meat products, which might increase more in the erratic era of global warming and climate change. It also categorically states that inclusion of the food grains in the commodity futures market is one of the major causes for the food price volatility.
The ever-increasing food and vegetable costs in India for the past three years, and the near double digit inflation has been a deadly combination that has hit the poorest and the middle class. The financial Tsars in Reserve Bank of India as well as in Planning Commission have been chanting the mantra that with good monsoon and higher production of food crops, the price volatility in food grains will come down.
Unfortunately their assurances have been proved wrong many times. The mechanisms to control upswing of prices by finance ministry has failed miserably. With good monsoons over last three consecutive years, the record food grains production of 241 million tones in 2010-2011 has not been able to help in arresting the unacceptable levels of food price inflation.
Even under duress, the farmers have performed exceptionally well. Despite regressive financial policies and a meager 0.6 percent of agricultural GDP spent on Research and Development they have been able to work hard to increase the production of food grains to record levels.
Our economists and politicians want the farmers to produce the food at a cheap price without any incentives. What more, in order to meet their political goals, they suppress the price of food.
Unfortunately, the farmer who toils in hard sun and rain are the most neglected in the country. Those working in government and service sectors, get their salaries hiked according to the increase in the costs of living. But our economists and politicians want the farmers to produce the food at a cheap price without any incentives. What more, in order to meet their political goals, they suppress the price of food.
In reality, the food grain prices are deliberately kept low. As our agricultural minister has shown, they are willing to pay for wheat imports, thereby helping agri business companies raise their profits rather than pay for the food grains produced by ordinary Indian farmers.
The policy of suppressing food prices over the last six decades has had devastating impact leading to the agrarian crisis and suicides of more than 2 lakh farmers over past decade. Most of these farmers had been forced to shift cultivation from food crops to cash crops, as the income from growing food crops wasn’t sufficient to support their families. Searching for affordable incomes from cash crops like cotton, they were trapped into deep debt forcing them to commit suicides.
Over the years the input costs of fertilizers and fuel have risen five to ten times as well as the cost of labor has gone up from one to four hundred rupees per day. Consequently, instead of hiking the cost of the food grain, the price offered to farmers have been deliberately manipulated and kept low.
In real terms the farmers are sacrificing and subsidizing the rest of population. Over the years they have incurred losses, and suffered mutely.
It is a miracle that despite these unfavorable circumstances, our farmers are growing food at the cost of becoming pauper, when they are unable to earn even a decent income on their investment. It is for this specific reason of unprofitable cultivation, the famous survey throughout the country concluded that 42 percent of farmers in the country wants to quit farming. Nobody with right mind would ask his children to become a farmer.
If we need people and farmers to stay on the farm, they need to get decent returns, which means the food prices need to go up.
The solution doled out by FAO to stabilize the food prices is not only illogical but impractical from the point of farming community. Our policy makers would happily call for freezing the food prices, due to the fear of food riots. But they are not the ones who are going to get into fields and work for 15 hours a day to cultivate food crops.
Food price volatility is good news for farming communities and for creating space for food security. If we need people and farmers to stay on the farm, they need to get decent returns, which means the food prices need to go up.
Unfortunately, in our country, the high food grain costs do not mean that farmer gets a good price. In reality, food prices are manipulated, with the middlemen who buy and hoard food; the large retail chains, agri business corporate and commission agents in mandis are the one who are reaping windfall profits from increase in food grain prices.
Our government needs to learn from the recent policy changes initiated by the newly elected Prime Minister of Thailand. The Thai government hiked the purchase price of rice by 80 percent to raise the income of the farmers producing food grains.
Is our government willing to adopt such radical policies? Or it wants to be a mute spectator repeating the past mistakes, and adhering to the impractical advice of the FAO that has led to the present crisis in agriculture?