New Delhi (ISJ) ? Over 15 million farmers left agriculture between 1991-2011 due to rising input costs and dwindling profit. India?s current model of economic development which merely seeks to rev up Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is pushing rural youth to low-paying daily wage jobs in urban centres, says Food and Trade Analyst Devinder Sharma. He argues, India is facing an agrarian crisis today and it is part of a bigger design.
"It is part of a bigger design, which is aimed at moving the population out of rural areas to urban areas, so it fits in very well with that kind of economic situation," said Sharma.
The crisis emanates from the skewed economic policy, feels Sharma. He says, despite farmers committing suicide - a few hundred thousand in the last 17 years or so, nothing tangible has been done to see that this particular cycle is not reversed. The government doles, like minimum support prices for major crops and farm loan waivers are only meant to prevent the anger from spilling over to the streets and not long-term solutions, felt Sharma.
"MSP benefits only 30 per cent farmers as most of the farmers have no surplus to bring to the markets. These are the people in terrible distress and hence committing suicides," Sharma explains.
Though India has the second largest share of farm production, its farmers get just 10-30 per cent of the value of their produce, as against 60-81 in the United States of America and the Europe.
India has about 600 million farmers, making up 1/3rd of the world's farming population. Moving them out of agriculture at a time when the world is witnessing jobless growth is going to be more problematic in the years to come, both socio-economically as well as politically.
"India needs to stop worrying about declining share of agriculture in GDP. America's agriculture sector only contributes 4 per cent to its economy but it has realised that producing own food is important to remain sovereign," said Sharma.
Sharma said, way back in 1996, then World Bank Vice President on Sustainable Development and Chairman of the Consultative Group of International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) Dr. Ismail Serageldin had told an audience in India that the number of people who were going to migrate from rural areas in India to the urban areas by the year 2015 would be twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany, i.e. 400 million.
"It is more than the population of America. The World Bank was not warning us. It actually was telling us to do this. The 2008 World Development Report of the Bank had said, 'you haven't done what you were supposed to do. So you must hasten the process'," Sharma said.
The World Bank had then suggested to New Delhi to take over land from 'inefficient farmers' and hand it over to industries by acquisition or lease and move this population out of the rural areas. They have also suggested to impart skill development to younger people in the agriculture sector, since they do not know anything other than farming, according to Sharma. It might not have been a mere coincidence, the following year, then Finance Minister in his annual Budget announced higher allocation for skill development of youth.
"As agriculture intensifies and diversifies, and economies develop, well-functioning rural labour markets and migration are crucial in reducing rural poverty and dampening rural-urban income disparities. But stunningly little policy attention has been given to the structure, conduct and performance of rural labour markets and how they ease successful transition out of agriculture. Certainly, special attention is needed to provide training to workers to take good jobs, to adjust labour legislation that protects them, but does not stifle employment and to help migrants find good employment elsewhere," said the 2008 World Development Report of the World Bank.
Since then, successive governments had given priority to skill development of youth, so that as World Bank advised, tens of thousands of rural youth could be trained and made available to the burgeoning needs of the industry. But in effect, these youth were shifted out of sustainable means of employment to unsustainable jobs, almost on daily wages. The result is, while India has broad-based its economic growth, the share of agriculture to GDP is steadily declining. Agriculture and allied sectors contributed 51.9 per cent growth in 1950-51, which has come down to 13.7 per cent in 2012-13. With the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plan to make India the manufacturing hub, the situation would further accentuate.
- NB Nair
With inputs from GOI Monitor