Maharashtra farmers' loan waiver: Marathwada is yet to recover from the effects of irregular rainfall

Bhakti Tambe | Sep 19, 2017 | 5 min read


While the Maharashtra government claims its Rs34,000-crore farm loan waiver will rid the state's 90% farmers of debt, the ground reality indicates it is not the panacea that can solve the agrarian crisis.

Agriculturists and experts say it's the entire mechanism of the farming sector that needs to be fixed and that waiving off the loan alone will be of little help. They cited irrigation, crop insurance, guaranteed purchase of the harvest, agricultural research and the government's import policy as the key areas of concern.

A farmer leader from Vidarbha, Vijay Jawandiya, noted that the Centre had announced a massive farm loan waiver in 2008 but the farmers still find themselves in dire straits. He said the inefficacy of loan waiver is evident.

"As long as the farmers are not earning enough, they will borrow it from the banks or moneylenders," he said as he stressed on the need to find realistic solutions like Minimum Support Price (MSP).

The government announces the MSP at the beginning of the sowing season, assuring farmers their harvest will be bought for nothing less than the specified rate. However, farmers of Maharashtra allege the government doesn't always honour the MSP. 

Shivaji Bhutekar, 56, a farmer from Hivardi village in Jalna district, told Firstpost how last year the farmers had a good yield of soybean and tur pulse but the massive harvest rendered the government unable to procure it from them at the MSP. He said farmers like him had sown pulses on the government's recommendation itself but he had to eventually sell it to a trader for a rate lower than the MSP to salvage his investment.

Policy researcher and agriculture expert Milind Murugkar said ensuring the farmers are paid the MSP is one of the immediate solutions to the agrarian crisis. 

Irrigation woes
While it was the MSP that flattered to deceive the region's farmers last year, an erratic monsoon did that job this year. Buoyed by the prediction of good rains, Bhutekar and other farmers took up sowing after the first phase of monsoon. However, the Marathwada region received only 38% of the expected rainfall between June 7 and August 19. The dry spell destroyed soybean, sugarcane, jowar and oilseeds crops among others. 

Bhausaheb Daund, 55, a farmer from Palavan village in Beed district said he had borrowed Rs40,000 from a private moneylender to sow cotton in three acres of his land. He lost almost half of his crop because of the below-average rain.

The dependence on rains for irrigation coupled with drought for the past few years has made agriculture a risky proposition in Maharashtra.

Vishwanathrao Vasare, agricultural engineer at Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Jalna, said blaming inaccurate weather forecasting is irrelevant because Marathwada is a drought-prone area as it is. He said the government should make arrangements for irrigation well before the sowing seasons. He said a farmer can dig a well, a small pond or a borewell for irrigation, but even this might not help as some parts of Marathwada and Vidarbha have a patchy power supply, which won't let a pump fetch water from the source. 

Maharashtra government had launched a project--Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan--in 2014 to make the state drought-free by 2019. However, many experts labelled the exercise as unscientific and blamed it for accelerating the depletion of groundwater table instead of restoring it.

In Bhutekar's village, an NGO, Naam Foundation, has got a canal dug to store rainwater for irrigation. While it was filled to the brim last year, it lies useless this year owing to dismal rainfall. The coordinator of the NGO's Marathwada region, Rajabhau Shelke, said pointblank that we as a society are "water illiterate" and that there is a need to explore ways to solve the water crisis once and for all.

Focus on R&D
Senior journalist Atul Deulgaonkar, who has written extensively about Maharashtra's agriculture sector, too laid emphasis on research and development. He said if we want to adapt to climate change, then efforts should be concentrated on the research of climate-resilient crops. Citing example of South Africa, which grows a particular variety of maize that can withstand dry weather, he said India's agriculture budget is too low.

“You can give financial support to the farmers but what will help in the long run is scientific support,” he remarked.

Further, the veteran journalist said the government's import policy of foodgrains needs an overhaul. He mentioned the Centre's last year's decision of importing pulses from Mozambique for five years is bound to lower the prices in the country. 

Farmer leader Jawandiya too argued in favour of upgrading agricultural research and restricting imports. He also stressed on the need of good crop insurance and subsidising farming to make the profession tenable.

Waiver necessary but...

Agriculture expert Devinder Sharma told Firstpost that loan waiver is necessary at the moment, but long-term measures ought to be taken up at the same time. He said the MSP fails to help the farming community as it reaches only 6% farmers because of inadequate infrastructure to procure the harvest in all the regions.

Quoting figures for 2016, he said the average monthly income of an Indian farmer was a mere Rs1,700. He said he has been conducting research with 10 economists and they learnt that to keep food inflation under control, the entire burden of food prices has been passed on to the farmers. He said the farmers are helpless and committing suicide because we are denying them their rightful income. 

Sharma said we need a mechanism that will ensure direct income to farmers, be it through government, private entities or intervention pricing. He said solving the irrigation and productivity problems alone won't help and gave Punjab's example to make a case in point. He said 98% farmland in the northern state is under irrigation and witnesses the highest productivity of cereals yet its farmers have been committing suicide.

"The entire system is designed in such a way that farmers are not coming out of the trap. It’s like chakravyuh and farmers are Abhimanyu," he said.


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