Prayers were answered as the monsoon made landfall in Kerala, close to where Vasco da Gama landed in 1498. Its impact on political fortunes will be just as significant. This government has promised to double farm incomes in six years and economists argued that this would be impossible because it would entail a 12 per cent annual growth in incomes, something that is unprecedented globally.
It must be remembered though that starting from such an abysmally low farm income base line the upsurge is but inevitable. Yet questions remain. The cyclic upswing of international commodity prices that was expected this year has been postponed due to the collapse of the Brazilian currency ‘Real’. Like its predecessors, the government is artificially keeping farm gate prices low to rein inflation.
In the absence of government interference, a combination of good monsoon and the anticipated price correction would double farm incomes without even a single sitting of an inter-ministerial committee set-up for the purpose. The proposed committee sans a single farmer member is only as useful as a dry well. The UPA appointed NAC was similarly inadequately peopled, consequently the continuance of farmer suicides.
One would expect the committee to call farmer organisations for suggestions but the committee would have scores of contradictions to contend with. Farmer organisations, insular in their demands, need to expand the national narrative to include the excluded sections by not limiting their demands to farm loan waiver. Such waiver does not benefit the 40 per cent farmers without access to institutional credit nor farmers who diligently repay loans.
Seeking removal of fertiliser subsidies should have been a natural corollary for those demanding organic farming as the way forward, it’s not. Farmer organisations vociferously demand higher MSP when only about 10 per cent of farm produce is regularly purchased under the MSP programme, ignoring to seek support for the other 90 per cent. It is equally fashionable to call for implementation of the MS Swaminathan Committee recommendations, when none but a few have seen the report; let alone read it.
Even if farm produce prices increase by 50 per cent, over a third of farmers will remain below the poverty line due to small land holding sizes. Irrespective of what any establishment ever does, 60 per cent of Indian farms will always be rain dependent and economic dependence on monsoons will remain. To mitigate dependence on erratic monsoons, in ‘mann ki baat’ the PM encouraged ‘per drop more crop’.
In most cases, transferring water from one river basin to the next will be not the answer. Instead investment in water use efficiency will increase water availability three times. The meagre budget allocations for micro irrigation, however, only allow for a distant mirage. Policymakers believe they understand the problems and invent solutions.
As Nietzsche said, ‘there are no facts, only interpretations’. For the farm sector, without farmers to sift, decipher and interpret, farmer prosperity remains elusive. Doubling incomes depends more on what happens off the farm, in the corridors of power. The Sangh Parivar opposes farm policies that its own government wants to propagate.
Chaotic confusion is apparent in policy inconsistencies and flip-flops. Fasal Bima Yojana, national agricultural markets, soil health cards are bold visionary initiatives that will be hampered because they do not have an enabling structure. Starting a year later, after resolving contradictions and improving policy fine print, would have been wiser than having to justify failure by expounding implementation hurdles in private while simultaneously conjuring success stories for public consumption.
To sum up the two drought years; the opposition failed farmers miserably by failing to capitalise on the farm crisis and allowing the government to get away with pretentious propaganda. Ironically, a good monsoon will not only end the very need for farmer centric posturing but the turnaround will also help Mr Modi gain momentum Enroute the 2019 general elections.
The fact remains, just as the government was not responsible for the distress it inherited, its policies too will not be the reason for any resurrection of farmer livelihoods.