So, it’s all working according to the plan. The report from the latest round of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) titled “Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households” for 2012-13 clearly shows what was largely expected. Agriculture is not only in terrible crisis, but is fast decaying.  

I am not surprised. After all, the demise of Indian agriculture is on the lines suggested by the World Bank way back in 1996. The World Bank had estimated that in the 20 years following, by 2015, the number of people migrating from rural to urban areas in India will be equal to the combined population of Britain, France and Germany. The combined population of these countries is 20 crore, and the World Bank had anticipated that 40 crore people would be moving out of the rural areas in India by the year 2015.

Raghuram Rajan had echoed the same sentiments when he took over as Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. He had said that the real growth in India would be when we are able to move people out of agriculture into the cities. He is not the only economist to say so. Most mainline economists have been parroting the same argument for several decades now, thereby influencing public policies to ignore farming.  Agriculture has disappeared from the economic radar screen of the country altogether.

Wheat crop in a field in Maharashtra. Pic: Akshay. P (via Wikimedia)

This is only possible when you create conditions that make farming uneconomical, forcing farmers to quit agriculture and migrate to the cities looking for menial jobs. In its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank had wanted India to hasten the process of taking people out of agriculture by going in for land acquisitions and launching a network of training institutes across the country to train the younger people in rural areas with skills that make them eligible to become industrial workers.  

With over 300,000 farmers committing suicide in the past 17 years, and with 42 percent farmers wanting to quit agriculture if given a choice, the deliberate effort to keep agriculture starved of public sector funding, and thereby help the exodus process is finally becoming clearly visible.

With no efforts to remove the scourge of growing indebtedness, and with over 58 per cent farmers sleeping hungry, there is not much that farmers can do but migrate. The Census 2011 tells us that more than 2,400 farmers quit agriculture and migrate to the cities every day.  Many independent estimates hold the number of people migrating to the cities to be around 50 lakh a year.  

With 70 per cent of the farmers owning less than one hectare of land, and with over 40 per cent of the farmers in possession of a MNREGA job card, it only shows how uneconomical farming has become over the years. According to the survey report, an average household of five people earns Rs 3,078 a month from crop cultivation, and another Rs 765 from dairy.  Add to it an average of Rs 2069 from wages/salaries and Rs 514 from non-farm activities, the total monthly income for a household stands at Rs 6,426.

In other words, crop cultivation and livestock rearing brings a monthly income of Rs 3,843 to a family which means that agriculture brings only 60 per cent of the monthly income for an agricultural household. If this is what the Indian farmers earn after 45 years of the Green Revolution, isn’t this a national shame? Does it not mean that intensive farming techniques that were aggressively pushed in the name of technological development have failed to usher in economic prosperity for the farmers?

Although, the NSSO tells us that 57 per cent of the 15.61-crore rural households are engaged in agriculture, which means they have at least one person who does farming or has dairy animals, the number of farming families now stand at 9.02 crore. But even these agricultural households are a victim of continuous neglect and apathy.

In the 11th Plan Period, the total budgetary support for agriculture was Rs 1 lakh crore. For the next five years of the 12th Plan, the budgetary support was increased to Rs 1.5 lakh crore.  This year, in 2014-15, agriculture which employs 58 per cent of the population, received only Rs 24,000 crore. The industrial sector on the other hand got tax concessions worth Rs 5.73 lakh crore this year.

Incidentally, even MNREGA gets a higher budgetary support than agriculture.

With agriculture being deliberately starved of funding, the deleterious impact it has had on the viability of the farms was to be expected, the only saving grace being the Minimum Support Price (MSP) being paid to farmers. But here too, in the past three years, MSP for wheat and rice have been raised by a paltry Rs 50/quintal every year. That is not even enough to offset the rate of inflation that the country has witnessed.

On top of it, all efforts are now on to dismantle the procurement system, which means removing the MSP and leaving farmers to face the vagaries of the markets. The Commission for Costs and Prices (CACP) itself has been demanding the removal of MSP for farmers, to have the markets decide the price that farmers should be getting.

What is however not being spelled out is that only 8 per cent of India’s farmers get the benefit of MSP every year. In any case, 92 per cent of the country’s farmers depend on private trade which has been ruthlessly exploiting them. Punjab farmers, for instance, get an assured MSP every year whereas Bihar farmers do not. Removing the MSP would mean that Punjab farmers too are forced to resort to distress sale as is the practice in Bihar.

A beginning has already been made in that direction, with the Food Ministry directing the State governments not to provide any bonus over and above the MSP that is announced by the Centre.

The deliberate destruction of food self-sufficiency that has been so assiduously achieved is being attempted at a time when it is globally recognised that food shortage will trigger the next world war. Whether it is because of the impact of climate change or the corporate control over agriculture, food is likely to be the biggest political concern in the years to come.

A warning was sounded in 2007-08 when a sudden spike in food prices led to an unprecedented global food crisis resulting in ‘food riots’ in 37 countries. But there do not seem to be any listeners.