How a multi-prolonged strategy can aid in addressing farm distress?
The one fits all approach like farm loan waiver, increasing MSPs and Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) doesn’t recognize the heterogeneity of farming community.
A multi-pronged strategy of income support, government investment, and institutional innovations, and not a one-size-fits-all approach is the need of the hour to address farm distress.
To overcome immediate distress, direct transfers must be preferred to loan waivers. But transfers must be limited to smallholders (those owning 2 ha or less), pure-tenants and agricultural labourers. And the funds should go to women in the family for best results as the substantial evidence suggests that it is income in a mother’s hands that greatly improves child nutrition and education, rather than income only in the father’s hands.
Investments are imperative for addressing the long term challenges. Investments in irrigation, water conservation, and storage for surplus produce are the need of the hour.
It is a matter of concern that even after 70 years of Independence, only 44 per cent of India’s irrigable area is irrigated. This must increase but not via groundwater mining, which is unsustainable.
The nation must emulate Gujarat’s success in agriculture (9.6 per cent growth rate between 1999-2009) which lays particularly in rainwater harvesting. Due attention must also be given to water use efficiency; low-cost techniques of drip irrigation could be one method.
Land and Labour Pooling
In India, more than 70 per cent of farmers cultivate one hectare or less that too in scattered plots. This is non-viable. There is a need to encourage land and labour pooling.
For example in Kerala, women’s group farms using leased land with individual family farms in Thrissur and Alappuzha produced output which was 1.8 times greater and annual average profits were five times higher in group farms.
Group Farming helped to increase farm size, brought scale economies, saved on hired labour, improved credit access and enhanced bargaining power in input and output markets.
It is necessary to create jobs for farmers’ children in their vicinity, not in cities to overcome farmer distress and farmer dissatisfaction through ancillary industries, food processing, SMEs, and so on.
This would provide much needed supplementary income for farmers. Doubling farmers’ incomes do not necessarily mean doubling farm incomes.