Rain wreaks havoc for farmers, agriculturists seek longterm solutions

Rain wreaks havoc for Haryana farmers; experts say government must focus on long-term strategies

While lakhs of farmers across the country are demanding compensation for damaged crops, agriculturists and experts say the only viable solution to a large farming economy like India is to shift focus on long-term solutions. Bhaswati Sengupta writes for The Probe.

A farmer in India | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

“I have suffered a huge loss because of the rains. My crops are damaged. Not just me. In my village, almost all the farmers are facing similar issues. Despite several odds, we tried to pool all our resources to save our crops, but in our village, there is large-scale destruction of bajra and paddy crops. The rains have destroyed our livelihood. I am requesting the government to somehow step in and pay us some compensation and give us relief,” says Surender, a farmer from Haryana.

Surender’s agricultural land is among the numerous farm lands destroyed because of the monsoon. Rains have wreaked havoc in many parts of Haryana, destroying paddy, bajra and cotton fields.    

Former Agriculture Secretary and Promoter of Arcus Policy Research, Siraj Hussain speaks to The Probe

If reports are to be believed, at least 15 lakh acres of standing crops have been damaged in Haryana. “We were about to harvest these standing crops when the rains played spoilsport. We have been facing this issue at least twice a year, which has worsened this time. If we are not given relief, very soon you will hear more cases of farmers committing suicide in Haryana,” asserts Surender.

The farmers and the opposition parties in Haryana have demanded that state Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar compensate for their losses. Speaking to The Probe, former Agriculture Secretary and the Promoter of Arcus Policy Research, Siraj Hussain notes that the only solution to the crisis is to focus on long-term plans and not short-term strategies. “Agriculture is a very complex subject. However, I can say that farming needs to be tailored to the agroecological conditions of various agro-climatic zones of India and to achieve that, a system of incentives has to be provided which will deliver to farmers a fair and remunerative price. In the department of agriculture and research, the government has been running a project called NICRA. The idea is to prepare and adapt seeds for various agro-climatic conditions like drought and floods. Some success has been achieved. But NICRA is underfunded. The idea is to increase the funding and invest in these long-term strategies.”

Damaged crops | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

The fluctuating weather extremes and the impact of climate change have been pushing thousands of farmers across India to the wall. According to the latest NCRB data, 5,563 agricultural labourers committed suicide last year. The report states that the number of people killing themselves in the sector increased in 2021 compared to the previous years. Amongst the suicides, the highest numbers were reported in Maharashtra (1,424 cases), followed by Karnataka (999 cases) and Andhra Pradesh (584 cases).

According to Dr Narayan Kutty, former Dean of Kerala Agricultural University, the agri-insurance sector needs many reforms so that farmers can be provided compensation for crop damages. “Today, nobody is willing to practise farming. In Punjab and Haryana, the next generation is not much interested in farming. The farmers should get compensation. They should get a minimum support price for their produce. Or else the future of farming will be bleak. The major reason behind farmers’ suicide is that they are not getting the actual price for their produce. Further, they are also not getting any support for crop failures. There are many instances of total crop failures, especially in cotton. When there is an attack of some deadly pest, it is 100% sure that the entire crops will be lost. In such cases, they do not get any compensation. The government is waiving off hundreds and crores of loans of industrialists. On the other hand, the number of crop loans that have been waived off is much less.”

A paddy field in India | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

In August, Minister of State for Finance Dr Bhagwat Karad said in the Parliament that banks wrote off loans worth 10 lakh crores in the last five financial years. However, during 2021-22. The write-off amount was significantly reduced to 1,57,096 crores compared to the previous years’ amount of 2,02,781 crore. 

In 2016, the government of India introduced the ‘Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana to provide a comprehensive insurance cover against the failure of crops. Farmers like Surender claim the scheme does not work on the ground as envisaged. “If there is damage, even when you receive money from the insurance policy, we have found that the government keeps a portion of the money with them. Our insurance also gets cancelled automatically. The body which makes policy for the farmers is more concerned about the government than the farmers.”

Not just farmers in Haryana, in Himachal Pradesh, apple growers have been out on the streets for many weeks. The farmers claim that the cost of production has increased and so has the GST on cartons, but they are not getting proper dues for their produce.

Farming during happier times | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

“The farmers are demanding a shield from fluctuation in prices. Many times, the prices fluctuate so much, and they fall to such a level that farming becomes unprofitable. The farmers in Himachal Pradesh have been agitating. They have been saying that the corporates have been fixing up the prices of apples as they have set up several climate control cold storages. The farmers have been saying that the price is very low. We need long-term solutions for all issues and a comprehensive action plan,” says Hussain.  

Farming during happier times | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

Dr Kutty feels it is time the government recognises that climate change is a farming reality and it must be addressed. “Climate change must be combated by developing climate-resilient varieties of crops using technology. Whatever crop variety we have today threatens a particular climatic situation. Now, when the climate changes, suppose the temperature goes up, we should have a heat tolerant variety. Similarly, we should have a flood-tolerant crop variety during excessive rainfall. We may have to develop new varieties to withstand high temperatures, and we have to change our strategies.”

Speaking to The Probe, Kumar Neeraj, Founder-Director of Khetee, a non-profit organisation in Bihar, says with changing times, the government should also use new strategies to support farmers. “India is the first country which has an agroforestry policy. The policy is in its place, but there are many challenges related to its implementation. The basic requirement for implementing these policies is introducing a nursery and a seed bank. Agroforestry is important, and the government must work on this together with all the people involved in farming. As a long-term strategy, the government must invest in agroforestry.”

While the farmers and the opposition have been pushing for radical reforms related to crop insurance and compensation, Neeraj says this cannot be the only solution for India.   

“How can the government compensate all the farmers? Think about it. Is it a viable solution? What are the schemes involved in this? How long will these schemes work, and how much can the government compensate? There are more than 60% of farmers in India. For some farmers, the farmland is drying, and for others, it is flooding. In the place where I work, in Lakhisarai, the farmland is drying up. Eighteen districts in Bihar are drying. Among these dry lands, one acre is mine. All this is happening even as in Haryana rain is creating havoc. So, the only solution is to invest in long-term strategies rather than focus on solutions on a case to case basis.”

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