Opinion | Solutions for the jigsaw puzzle that is Indian agriculture

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Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced a couple of farmer-friendly reforms as a part of the monetary reduction bundle. These included a dilution of the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) by taking some agricultural commodities off a restriction listing. Such a reform is at all times welcome. But, in a method, this is a detrimental freedom, i.e. freedom from arbitrary interference by the authorities. The ECA is normally invoked to curb value spikes, as a result of excessive meals inflation hurts shoppers. But such intrusiveness hurts farmers, too. For a very long time, it has been the competition of farmers that India’s farm and meals insurance policies have an city bias. Even now, the Centre plans to take away meals gadgets from the ECA listing, however not petrol and diesel. Since gasoline is utilized in vehicles to move farm merchandise, the ECA will nonetheless not directly strangulate the farmer. This is only one instance to point out that an actual unshackling of farmers is nonetheless a distant objective.

To perceive the problem of reforming Indian agriculture, it is greatest to start out with some stylized info. First, most of India’s poor reside in rural areas, and therefore are linked to farming. Removing poverty in India is nearly synonymous with bettering the lot of Indian farmers. That is to not ignore the plight of the city poor, whose misery was solely too seen throughout this pandemic. Second, the most decisive influence on farming will come from actions exterior the sector, specifically reforms in business and companies. These sectors have to wean farmers away. If their fortunes rise, and jobs growth, farm misery will robotically decline. An all-India survey a couple of years in the past revealed that greater than 40% of farmers would gladly go away agriculture, if solely that they had the possibility of good-quality, well-paying jobs elsewhere. Take any random survey of the kids of farmers who attend colleges and faculties. You will probably be stunned how few of them aspire to proceed in farming. Only as soon as the share of producing in India’s gross home product rises to close 25%, which is a acknowledged nationwide ambition, will we’ve efficient options to the issues of farmers. This is not as non-intuitive because it sounds.

Third, agriculture is a state topic, and for good motive. India has unimaginable agro-climatic range, along with range in ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic variables. One-size-fits-all insurance policies won’t work throughout the nation. Farm insurance policies need to mirror native wants and exigencies, and the Centre has a restricted function on this. Even the place we’ve nationwide insurance policies, their success has been very uneven. Take procurement coverage. In a state like Punjab, practically all of the grain grown is bought to a procurement company, whereas in a state like Bihar, this determine is not even 5%. It is not as if farmers in Bihar shun authorities procurement as a result of they get larger costs elsewhere. They typically promote nicely beneath the authorities’s Minimum Support Price (MSP). It is suspected that a few of Bihar’s manufacturing is carted away to Punjab and bought there as an alternative to get the assured MSP. So, farmers of Punjab maximize their advantages, whereas these of Bihar are left excessive and dry. This is additionally seen in fertilizer offtake. The MSP regime works nicely solely in a couple of states like Punjab and Haryana. Indeed, in these pandemic occasions, 20 of the 22 crops topic to the MSP regime are being bought beneath the official minimal costs.

Fourth, the functioning of Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs). Sitharaman introduced that farmers can have the freedom to bypass state APMCs. But in Punjab, farmers and the state authorities nearly appear hooked on the APMC. The mandi tax is a big contributor to the state exchequer, and the farmer appears blissful to promote his whole produce by way of the APMC. Bihar repealed the APMC Act in 2006, however the state gained’t enact a alternative, not even the mannequin Act advisable by the Centre. It is uncertain that repealing the Act has left the state’s farmers any higher off. The actuality is that 94% of farmers in the nation would not have entry to regulated markets. As identified by agricultural commentator Devinder Sharma, what could also be wanted for higher value discovery is a solution to complement the APMC market with many others inside shut proximity of farms.

A fifth stylized reality is that one third to 40% of farm produce is grown by tenant farmers, who don’t personal the land. Without collateral, how would they get a mortgage? Resultantly, regardless of massive volumes of mixture financial institution credit score flowing into agriculture, lower than 50% of farm households have entry to it. This is a troublesome nut to crack, and a few states like Andhra Pradesh have adopted progressive methods to make sure credit score supply to tenant farmers. A sixth stylized reality throughout India is land fragmentation, which will get worse with each technology and no signal of land consolidation. This exhibits that a poor farmer with a tiny piece of land dare not promote for worry of dropping out. Or perhaps the legal guidelines are stacked towards him. Converting land from agricultural to non-agricultural use is normally a means of intrigue and darkness, hindering the functioning of land markets and consolidation. Here too, native experimentation in land pooling and farmer producer firms have proven some success.

There are many such stylized info that illustrate the plight of and shackles round Indian agriculture. Reforming this is like fixing a large jigsaw puzzle. It can’t be solved in New Delhi alone, however in a thousand locations, similar to district headquarters and state secretariats, and even village panchayats and talukas. Local options have to emerge, and the Centre ought to undo the shackles.

Ajit Ranade is an economist and a senior fellow at The Takshashila Institution

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