Agriculture, as a crucial sector, employs more than 50 per cent of the workforce in India and thus, it is a source of subsistence to half the working population of India. However, with a sluggish growth rate of the agricultural sector, India is witnessing the striking reduction of workforce in the sector which is ultimately expected to drop to a mere 25.7 per cent by 2050 from a whopping 58.2 per cent in 2001, according to the Economic Survey of 2017-2018. This drop would be significant, but it is time to inspect the causes and effects of policies, climate change and declining output rate in the sector which are responsible for ushering cascading changes in the lives of farmers in India.
Furthermore, according to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2017, about 6,426 Rs is the average monthly income of the Indian farm households and 6,223 Rs is the expenditure of these households. The severity of the condition is not only reflected in the difference in earnings and expenditures but also in the alarming rate of farmer suicides and the pathetically poor growth rate of the agricultural sector that is projected to stand at 2.1 per cent in 2017-2018. This further reaffirms the fact that the government’s ambitious plans of doubling farmer’s income by 2022 demands extraordinary and revolutionary policies and measures by the Government of India (GOI). Doubling income should be a phased secondary target and the primary target should be ensuring that a farmer in India is earning a sustainable income, if not double; as they say, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
Subsequent reduction in workforce in farming and farmer’s suicide are the gradual effects of long-standing problems of the agricultural sector. Despite being an agrarian state, India is struggling with a slew of issues in the sector. Issues like lack of irrigation facilities or appropriate quantity of rain, poor guaranteed prices on produce, small fragmented land holding, exorbitant prices for better seeds, less accessibility to manures, fertilizers and biocides, poor condition of storage facilities, inadequate transport facilities and poor road connectivity or conditions, climate change, natural calamities like flood and
Significantly, fragmented land holding, Minimum Support Price (MSP) concerns have hugely contributed to dissatisfaction of farmers. According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) census of 2011, 80 per cent of the rural households has marginal landholdings of less than one hectare. Smaller land holdings resulting in low yield exerts pressure on farmers to meet family needs and gradually results in debts, hunger or poverty. This also is a reason of migration for wage employment. Interestingly, India has the second largest agricultural land in the world but increasing population and poor mechanisation have emerged as a hindrance to optimum productivity of the land.
Notably, assuring higher MSP’s is definitely a boon for ailing farmers but this also has seen its share of poor implementation wherein farmers have been paid lesser than promised MSP. Since MSP’s are just another recurring burden on the exchequer, the debate on increased investment in development of infrastructure and research deserves a chance. Infrastructure investments can be categorically done in input-based infrastructure: seed, fertilizer, pesticides, farm equipment and machinery etc, resource-based infrastructure: water/irrigation, farm power/energy, physical infrastructure: road connectivity, transport, storage, processing, preservation, etc and institutional infrastructure: agricultural research, extension & education technology, information & communication services, financial services, marketing, etc.
With reference to the fact that agricultural farmers are expected to reduce to a mere 25 per cent, it is a matter of serious concern because of two factors; firstly, the outward movement of workforce to another sector could be more challenging to accommodate in future with respect to already existing and increasing unemployment. Secondly, with the current output rate and in addition to decreasing workforce, it is questionable whether the country will be able to ensure food security to its exploding population or not. Ironically, India stands at the 100th position out of 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index, currently trailing behind much smaller countries like Bangladesh. With poor statistics of hunger index, import burden and low yield in addition to the outflow of workforce demand a detailed insight and relevant policy revolution to usher the much-needed change in the sector.
Suggestively, some counter responsive steps that may be taken in a phased manner are increased infrastructural investments along with damage control mechanism of guaranteed returns in the form of MSP but ensuring that it is not assumed to be a permanent solution. At administrative level, policy implementation and grievance redressal eliminating malpractices and delayed support should be given utmost importance. Again, to meet the food security targets, it is essential to increase the overall yield of farm produce. In other words, mechanisation, training, alternative crop rotation, soil study and suggestions may go a long way in increasing output per farmer. In the U.S, a mere 25% of the population is into agricultural farming, yet the output suffices for the population due to very high yield per farmer. In the same context of a very high percentage of farmers and comparatively very less yield per farmer, the scenario in India is very different than most other agrarian countries. Therefore, it is a pressing need to increase investments and diversify employment opportunities in the agricultural sector involving indirect farming, thus, employing farmers and optimizing workforce utilization. Increased infrastructural investments like input investments in biocides and manures would also help reduce pressures on farmers, increase per acre productivity while ensuring that the displacement of farmers from the agricultural sector does not have cascading effects on the economy of India.