First they lowered the monetary poverty threshold barrier to prove poverty had been reduced. They next changed how the gross domestic product (GDP) is formulated to prove growth. They did not even spare data on farmer suicides. Even after such accounting pyrotechnics, when policy makers failed to justify their years of folly, they changed the measurement scale. When even changing the scale did not help, they trashed the data as garbage.
Change they may even the definition of a farmer to justify the abolition of subsidies but change they cannot the realities on the ground. Ridiculous and often obnoxious reasons are cited for farmer suicides (impotency, barrenness and love affairs to name a few) but there is no denying that farmer suicides are on the rise.
Even Numbers Can Lie
Scientists try and prove hypotheses. Academics follow the path as researchers, but have it much easier for they can change the arrangement of data to uphold or decry an idea. The way data is classified and presented influences policy. Biraj Swain has explained how by reducing the baseline for defining poverty by just $0.26 from $1.51 to $1.25, the number of poor people decreased from 1.75 billion to 733 million. That is how poverty has reduced. If one tries to prove a hypothesis through data, one will generally find what is being sought.
Setting the Wrong Goals?
Unhappiness on the farms is growing because we have set the wrong objectives and intentionally erred in measuring growth. Setting precise objectives is paramount, whether it is at the national or global level. Millennium development goals were flawed in ignoring nutrition, and so, in our meetings with Dr David Nabarro, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Food Security we advocated that sustainable development goals focus on tackling poverty, nutrition, and the issue of job creation by specifically targeting maximum possible self-sustainability of individual farmer families. To do so, resources must be deployed on animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries and horticulture. But pulls and pressures within the UN forced too many goals and targets, diluting their relevance.
Worldwide, focus needs to shift from increasing farm productivity to means of livelihood and sustainable prosperity. Perpetual delay in resolving the cause of the problem and instead taking the easier short-term path of focusing on mitigating the consequences has aggravated the situation. Achieving prosperity by redistribution of resources by dole-outs isn’t sustainable. Armchair activists and policy makers in Delhi tried it and failed the nation miserably.
Growth is measured in terms of GDP and agricultural growth is measured in terms of agricultural production. The government, scientists, bureaucracy and conniving economists would want us to believe this fallacy for it suits to justify decades of wrong policies. Both are very deceiving. The public remains perplexed at the paradox that while India seems to be progressing on these two counts, farmers who produce food are themselves suffering from poverty and undernutrition.
Anecdotally, the much touted and less understood GDP will rise every time my tractor breaks down, or for that matter, your car breaks down. It’s often been said that GDP only indicates the speed at which we are travelling but cannot explain if we are travelling in the right direction.
Nor can agricultural productivity increases be contrived as growth, because higher production is not translating into farmer prosperity. Extension services in India were designed at the time of the Green Revolution to increase productivity for a starved nation. Having achieved our immediate goals, we should have changed course decades ago. Over application of inputs like chemical fertilisers was the easiest way to enhance productivity for the first few decades. In the process, we are destroying our soil and yield gains are tapering off.
Agricultural productivity increases are coming at a very high cost to the farmer and the nation. Not because it is not possible otherwise, but because policy makers blinded by the agriculture input sector, cannot fathom an alternative system or have the political will for a monumental shift to reorient farm policy objectives.
Catastrophe in the Waiting
Unhappiness on the farm is manifesting itself into the largest migration in human history – from rural areas to cities. These migrations are fuelling a demand for jobs which just don’t exist. Inability to get employment and the lure of secure government jobs is fuelling a desperate cry for job reservations.
Even in a state like Gujarat where agriculture grew at approximately 7 percent for a ten-year period, farmers are distressed, and in desperation are getting divided on caste lines as amplified by Hardik Patel. It’s horrifying from a farmers’ perspective; caste divisions’ are further eroding the negotiation powers of farmers.