Loud propaganda or slogans don’t change livelihoods. “We need right policies and follow-up action to help farmers come out of the current farm crisis,” says Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman of Punjab Farmer Commission and Chief of New Delhi-based NGO Bharat Krishak Samaj. Excerpts:
While there is no doubt there has been an increase in farm output in the last two years on account of favourable monsoon, farmers didn’t really benefit much. Your reasons.
Increase in production and low international commodity prices invariably leads to depressed farm gate prices. After two back-to- back droughts, good monsoon resulted in spike in farm production as farmers responded to market signals. But the Central government continued import of commodities like pulses, oilseeds and edible oil at nil or negligent import duties. Excess stocks, artificially saturated markets, depressing commodity prices and various ministries working in different silos contributed to the rural crises. Corrective response was late in coming.
Do you think the Centre and States could have done something differently to improve the lot of farmers?
I think the Central government must give the States the leeway to design their own policies and own responsibility for delivery. For
example, like in the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, where the Central government contributes matching share of the premium, States must be allowed to design their own crop insurance scheme while continuing to share premium.
How detrimental have trade policies been in the past?
On signing of trade treaties, a country is supposed to invest resources and prepare stakeholders for opening of domestic markets to cheaper imports. But, evidence shows, follow-up action doesn’t happen, especially in the farm sector. Policymakers either don’t understand the consequences of the treaties or are indifferent to take pre-emptive measures. The cost farmers pay for inaction is equally devastating as wrong policies.
What, according to you, should authorities do to improve the lot of farmers and give a boost to rural economy which is still in doldrums?
Loud propaganda or slogans don’t change livelihoods. Have been suggesting setting up a ‘farmers commission’ at the Centre and the States to review all programmes which impact farmers’ livelihoods. In most cases, implementation fails, not only due to bad governance in the States but also due to a policy design flaw, which doesn’t allow for delivery or equitable outcomes for the society.
What do you think of crop loan waivers? Is it the right approach to address farm distress?
There are no right or wrong approaches, it’s all grey matter. Normally, it could not be what Confucius termed ‘ShangShangce’ or the ‘best of the best options’. But, these are exceptional times and political parties are responding to critical circumstances on the ground.