A decent minimum income for food producers

Just as in England, many organisations ostensibly concerned with the prosperity of farmers hold endless conferences. Analyst Devinder Sharma notes that in India the Niti Ayog, NABARD, Agricultural Universities, Research institutes, public sector units, and everyone even remotely concerned with agriculture are now talking about ways to double farmers’ income. He comments sardonically:

india-seminar

“While the number of seminars/conferences on doubling the farmers’ income have doubled in the past few months, farmers are increasingly sinking into a cycle of deprivation”.

The arguments invariably revolve around the same principles — increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation, crop insurance and strengthening the electronic national agricultural market platform (e-NAM). And in both countries those who talk of allowing markets to provide higher farm incomes are the ones who get assured salary packets every month – in England some are even paid from a levy on farmers. 

In both countries the rate of suicide amongst farmers is high – see the pitiful picture in Sharma’s latest post:

“A 58-year-old farmer of Chikkamsihosur village in Haveri district in Karnataka climbed up a transformer on the outskirt of his village a few days back to get himself electrocuted. Depressed over the failure of his crop for two consecutive years he was constantly being harassed by moneylenders. He carried an outstanding debt of only Rs 3-lakh”.

In an order issued by India’s Supreme Court in 1991 a set of six criteria for working out a minimum wage was laid out: children’s education, medical requirement, minimum recreation and provision for old age and marriage, should constitute 25% of the wage. Further, it stipulated the minimum wage to include a dearness allowance compensating for inflation

Using the same criteria that the Supreme Court had laid down in 1991, and also following the same decent living norms prescribed by the Indian Labour Conference, 1957, a few economists, researchers, and agricultural activists came together for a workshop in Hyderabad in December 2016 to work out an income security model for farmers. This was followed by another workshop in Kerala in the first week of January attended by ten economists and policy researchers. They aimed to ascertain the payment that farmers deserve for the ecosystem services they protect while undertaking crop cultivation. Led by the United Nations, measuring ecosystem services is now becoming a global norm in computing what is called the green economy.

Farmers and many civil society organizations have been demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Committee report which proposed 50% profit over the cost of production.

Only 6% of Indian farmers get the benefit of the minimum support price – there is no mechanism to support the remaining 94% of farmers. A Cornish farmer explained to the writer that, similarly, British supermarkets discriminate. They have devised a system of aligned or dedicated suppliers – currently only 20% of UK dairy farmers – who supply liquid milk through a processor and get paid a little more for their milk; this is often less than a penny a litre because of all the rules which go with the contract. The headline price is the one the supplier gets if all the boxes are ticked – which is rare.

Sharma’s idea of providing farmers with an assured income package every month includes the 94% of the farming community who have been suffering silently all these years. MSP certainly will remain as one of the ways to provide a guaranteed income to farmers. But we have to work out other ways to provide assured income to rest of the farming community. The estimates based on the minimum prescribed living standards show that the farmers suffer a huge economic loss for providing cheaper food. When the lowest government employees are assured monthly pay of Rs 18,000 per month, and the non-agricultural workers with a daily wage of Rs 351, the state cannot leave the country’s food producers with meagre incomes that push them into a debt spiral forcing them to leave farming or commit suicide.

As Sharma writes, the time has come to look beyond crop productivity, contract farming and privatization of marketing structures as the way forward to give farmers a fair income.

Read the article here: Ground Reality at 2/22/2017 09:54:00 PM

 

 

 

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