Loud propaganda or slogans do not 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 the Punjab Farmer Commission and Chairman of the New Delhi-based NGO, Bharat Krishak Samaj. Excerpts:
While there is no doubt that there has been an increase in farm output in the last two years on account of favourable monsoon, how come the farm-ers did not really benefit?
AJ: Increase in production and low international commodity prices invariably lead to depressed farm gate prices. After two back-to-back droughts, a good monsoon resulted in a spike in farm production as farmers responded to market signals. But the central government continued import of commodities like puls-es, oilseeds and edible oil at nil or negligent import duties. Excess stocks, artifi-cially saturated markets, depressing commodity prices and various ministries working in different silos contributed to the rural crisis. Corrective response was delayed.
Should the centre and states have done something different to im-prove the lot of the farmers?
AJ: I think the central government must give the states the leeway to design their own policies and shoulder responsibility for delivery. With the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, for example, where the central government contributes a matching share of the premium, the 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?
AJ: On signing trade treaties, a country is supposed to invest in resources and prepare stakeholders for the opening up of domestic markets to cheaper im-ports. There is evidence that such follow-up action did not happen, especially in the farm sector. Policymakers either do not understand the consequences of the treaties or are indifferent to the need to take pre-emptive measures. The cost farmers pay for inaction is equally devastating as wrong policies.
How could authorities improve the lot of farmers and give a boost to the rural economy that is still in the doldrums?
AJ: Loud propaganda or slogans do not change livelihoods. I have been suggest-ing a ‘farmers commission’ at the centre and the states to review all programmes that 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 does not allow for delivery of equitable outcomes for society.
What about crop loan waivers? Is it the right approach to address farm distress?
AJ: There are no right or wrong approaches because there are so many shades of grey. We cannot achieve the Confucian ‘ShangShang’ or the ‘best of the best options’. These are exceptional times and political parties are responding to crit-ical circumstances on the ground.