he RBI Governor received a battering for stifling growth due to his refusal to reduce interest rates is half the inflation story. The other half is a horror story. In the discord, every government’s constant attempt to rein inflation by artificially driving down food prices escapes scrutiny. Over the last decade, due to government action, farm gate prices received by farmers for their produce have been systematically subdued by over 10 lakhs crores. The sum far exceeds the farm input support provided for the same period.
Apart from dreadful export bans (wheat, rice, cotton, onions, potatoes etc.) and imports (edible oil, butter oil, pulses, maize, onions etc.) farmers are rattled by hair-brained response to the pulse shortage of exploring to grow pulses in Africa to meet domestic demand. Yet, ‘Make in India’ is the national agenda! Also the commerce ministry has now approved import of 5 lakh MT of maize. Inversely, foreign investments are being sought in the animal husbandry & dairy sector where cooperatives and unorganised farmers are suffering low prices due to over-production even in the worst drought years. Such moves will destroy the crucial component of the livelihood for most farmers.
It reminds me of a legend; Alexander the Great went to the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope and asked if he could fulfil a desire of Diogenes. "Stand out of my sun light”, he replied. Similarly if the ilk of policymakers just stood aside, farmers could hope to prosper in the sunlight too. There is no escaping the reality that inflation needs to be controlled. Similarly, economist’s stand accused of conspiring to remain silent on the issue that ‘as long as farmers are used as the primary instrument for controlling food inflation, they will need to be supported’.
Our obsession with instruments of support and losing sight of the objective of equitable development has led to farmers committing suicides daily. Amidst this turmoil, the ongoing NITI Ayog consultation to prepare a 15 year Vision document, must grasp the facts; Irrespective of what we do, majority of farm holdings will remain small while every farmer household will be sustained by at least 1 member working in an off-farm job.
Commodity volatility due to extreme weather events will be the new normal. Population will stabilize in 15 years and economic prosperity will change food habits and drive production choices for farmers. In-spite of the challenges we will face in the years to come; India has the ability to grow enough to feed itself in 9 out of 10 years. Food insecurity stems not from insufficient production but from irrational use and inequitable distribution of resources coupled with inaccessibility to food.
For too long, has the larger section of the society been kept in poverty to sustain the rest and resultantly, murmurs of a ‘Farmers Income Guarantee’ are gathering momentum and could become the potential game changer in 2019. Political parties are oblivious to the obvious. The government vision must embrace aspirations of the majority andpaying lip service to the plight of 9 crore farmer families may not be a political option anymore.