The eight-member National Commission on Farmers, chaired by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, was set up in 2004 by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to assess the extent of India’s agrarian crisis. It produced five reports (the fifth in two volumes). This first report was meant to assist central and state governments in arresting the decline of farm incomes and abating farmers’ distress.
The report provides an overview of India’s agrarian economy and discusses the causes and effects of the agri-crisis, both environmental and policy-based. Its recommendations include setting up knowledge centres for farmers, framing a code of conduct for contract farming, ensuring better water management, providing food security, improving crop insurance and introducing insurance that covers accident, death and medical expenses. These steps, the report says, must be taken immediately to avert further damage. And that we must take Jawaharlal Nehru’s advice in this often-quoted remark from 1948: “Everything else can wait, but not agriculture.”
- The report states that five factors are central to India’s agrarian crisis: unfinished land reform agendas, quantity and quality of water, technology fatigue, accessible, adequate and timely institutional credit, and assured markets. These factors need to be taken into account in plans designed to reverse farmers’ distress.
- The crisis in agriculture arose out of a lack of appropriate public policies and adequate public investment in rural infrastructure. Most of the central and state expenditure was on the salaries of government employees. Consequently, power, irrigation, markets, rural godowns and communication, as well as health and education remained grossly under-funded.
- The worst affected were small and marginal farmers, tenants and sharecroppers, and landless agricultural labourers and tribal farmers. Of these, women suffered more since they had little access to institutional credit or organised extension support.
- The average indebtedness, even in regions of apparent agrarian prosperity, was on the rise. The cost-risk-return structure of farming adversely affected over 80 million farming families operating small holdings of 1-2 acres or less.
- With technology enabling deeper penetration of land for water extraction, groundwater levels had fallen. The report asked for initiatives like a ‘million wells recharge programme’ that would, with financial assistance, encourage farmers to channelise rainwater into their wells.
- To solve the agri-crisis, it was estimated that the government would have to spend a total of Rs. 3,496 crore plus 6.5 lakh tonnes of food grains.
- The report calls for conducting participatory research involving women and men in agriculture. Farmers should be regarded as partners in bringing about agricultural transformation and not as beneficiaries of government programmes.
- The report suggests that 50,000 farm schools should be established in the fields of successful farmers in order to share and educate others in effective farming practices.
- Women play a key role in all the four major components of farming: conservation, cultivation, consumption and commerce. Thus, the report stresses that extension activities and agricultural education must be inclusive, and demands a New Deal for Women in Agriculture where the concept of work is widened to include running crèches, preparing mid-day meals, undertaking immunisation of children and providing family planning services.
- Apart from providing land rights to women, the report emphasises the need to ensure joint pattas and make women eligible for Kisan Credit Cards as well as institutional credit.
- The NCF report proposes a National Science and Technology Alliance for Rural Livelihood Security, consisting of pubic and private S&T institutions, and agricultural universities to empower asset-less rural women and men, both with respect to technology and skills.
- The report suggests that Soil Health Clinics, run by self-help groups (SHGs), could issue Soil Health Cards to the farmers and help them identify and remedy micro-nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Also, fodder and feed banks need to be set up with urgency.
- The report says that instead of starting new schemes, existing programmes and institutions need to be revitalised and restructured. Those include the Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium, the National Horticulture Board (NHB), and the National Dairy Development Board. Also, agri-clinics, agri-business centres, food parks, agro-export zones and watershed and wasteland development programmes.
- The use of purchased inputs by farmers has multiplied 283 times from 1950-51 to 2000-01. To meet input costs, the rural poor borrow 84 per cent of their credit from non-formal sources.
- The gross marketing margin for farm commodities was estimated at Rs. 1,009 billion, out of which nearly 70 per cent went to marketing companies. About 77 per cent of marketing costs were avoidable losses incurred during handling, storage and transport.
- Factoids and Focus by Samyukta Shastri.
National Commission on Farmers
Government of India
29 Dec, 2004
Download the full report HERE