48% farmers don't want the next generation to take up farming: Gaon Connection survey

Most of the farmers interviewed in the survey cited rising input costs, damage to crops, below par irrigation facilities and them not getting fair price for their crop as reasons behind their increasing disenchantment from farming

Arvind Shukla

Arvind Shukla   28 Jun 2019 1:32 PM GMT

Arvind Shukla & Swati Subhedar

Sixty-five-year old Randheer Singh, who lives in Hisar, Haryana, owns a two- acre land. But it's been two years that he even looked at his farm. "We could barely manage to produce crop for our own use. Entire family was wasting its time. It was a loss-making venture. Now, my one son works as a mechanic and the other one is a labourer. There is more money in it," said Singh.

Sukhdev Singh, who lives in Raipur Kala village in Mohali, Punjab, sold his field 10 years back. "I could not save anything, so I left farming. I had a five-acre land. I sold that and started selling milk. I have three sons. They couldn't find a decent job, so they help me in my dairy business," he said.

There are crores of Sukhdevs and Randheers in India -- farmers who gave up farming because of number of reasons like increasing input costs, mounting losses and loans.

Fourty-eights per cent farmers in India don't want their next generation to take up farming, revealed the Gaon Connection survey.

The biggest rural India survey was conducted in the month of May in 19 states and we spoke to more than 18,000 respondents. Most of the farmers interviewed in the survey cited rising input costs, damage to crops, below par irrigation facilities and them not getting fair price for their crop as reasons behind their increasing disenchantment from farming.

This is alarming considering the government has been promising that it will double farmers' income by 2022. The farmers we spoke to also said that they have lot of hopes from the Narendra Modi government that it will keep farmers' interest in mind in the Union Budget 2019.

"48% farmers don't want their children to take up farming"

According to the 2011 census, there are 14.5 crore farmers and 27 crore farm labourers in India. However, around 60 crore farmers are directly and indirectly associated with farming.

When farmers were asked if they want their children to take up farming, 48% said they don't want their next generation to take up farming. 13.9% said they want their children to take up farming, but their children don't want to. Though 38% said both parents and children want the next generation to take up farming, but the fact remains that the number of farmers has gone down consistently in the past few years and they have been migrating to cities in large numbers.

Talking about decreasing number of farmers, agricultural expert Devinder Sharma said: "Farmers are not leaving farming voluntarily, but are being compelled to do so. The World Bank, in 1996, had said that 40% people in India should give up farming."

Farming a loss-making venture?

The main reason behind farmers giving up on farming is decreasing income. According to Economic Survey 2016-17, the average annual salary of farmers living in 17 states -- more than half of India -- was Rs 20,000. This comes to Rs 1,700 monthly.

The Survey also said that in India farming-related employment in 1990 stood at 61%, which in 2014 was 47%. In the same time period, employment opportunities in towns and cities went up. There are not many job opportunities in villages other than farming. So, farmers started migrating.

"Farmers don't get good deals for their produce"

According to report published by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- an intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries -- in July 2018, in the past two decades, the number of self -employed workers (farmers) has gone down whereas number of casual workers (labourers) has gone up. This happened because farmers don't get good rates for their produce in markets. The profit margins of farmers have been going down consistently, the report said.

Talking about the Skill India Policy report which came out during Narendra Modi's first term as the prime minister, agricultural export Devinder Sharma said: "The National Skill Policy document clearly mentions that the aim is to reduce the number of people dependent on farming from 57% at present to 38% by 2022."

Yogendra Yadav, president of Swaraj Abhiyan, an organisation that aims to highlight the plight of farmers due to alleged lapses in public policies related to agriculture, said: "Farming is not a profit-making venture. Why would anyone want to stick to a business that's loss-making? The second issue is farmers are not getting the respect which they deserve. This is not their fault. This is happening because of the way policies are framed in this country for farmers."

Farmers and joblessness

According to the National Sample Survey's periodic labour force report 2017-2018, between 2011-12 and 2017-2018, 3.2 crore unorganised labourers lost their jobs. Majority of them were farm labourers. The report added that the contribution of labourers to farming has gone down by 40%. This report came out around the same time when the Azim Premji University in its State of Working India report 2019 said between 2016 and 2018 50 lakh people lost their jobs. This implies that when number of jobs in cities went down, number of labourers in farming went down too.

While economists may rejoice, but agricultural experts don't consider it to be good news. Experts say the idea that farmers should be discouraged from farming is detrimental to India's economy.

"We should not create a situation wherein farmers are compelled to leave farming. There are only 8-10% farmers in India now. We must start thinking about their interest," said Yogendra Yadav.

India has the world's biggest workforce and yet unemployment is a very big issue. Because farmers don't have many job options, they are stuck with farming. According to the OECD report, income of farmers is frozen since past two decades. When their incomes have seen an increase, their input costs have gone up too.

Farming and inflation

Let's access how farming in India has changed vis-a-vis inflation.

In 1970, wheat was Rs 76/quintal. After 45 year it now is Rs 1,450 quintal. In this time period, salary of a school peon has increased 280-300 times and a government employee's has increased by 120-150%. In this time period, cost of wheat has increased by only 19%.

"The cost of wheat should have gone up in correspondence with salaries of government employees. Had inflation gone up by 100%, wheat prices should have been Rs 7,600/quintal. But this did not happen. Farmers got only Rs 1,450," said agricultural expert Devinder Sharma.

This means salary of a farmer went up by 19% whereas salary of a government employee went up by 180-280 times.

"When farmers talk about loan waivers and hike in the Minimum Support Price, people say it will affect the fiscal deficit, it will burden the state exchequer and it will have an adverse impact on economic growth. However, such waivers are readily given to corporates. This is what the problem is. The general perception is that industries and infrastructure will give a fillip to the economy, not agriculture," added Sharma.

As per the 2001 census, there were 127,312,831 farmers in India. In 2011, there were 118,708000 farmers. In this time period, number of labourers went up. Farmers feel being a labourer is far more lucrative than being farmers.

In 2001, there were 106,775,330 farm labourers in India, whereas in 2011 there were 144,388,00 farm labourers. In this time period, 86 lakh farmers left farming. Number of farmers went down by 7.1%, whereas the number of farm labourers went up by 3.5%.

Rising input costs a big issue

"Rising input costs is the biggest issue. Dearth of labourers is another issue as they are migrating from villages to cities. In villages they get Rs 200 per day whereas in village they get Rs 300-400," said a famer living in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh.

Many farmers left farming because of rising input costs.

In India 57% -- 60 crore -- people are dependent on farming. But the fact also is that the world fourth-largest economy is facing an agrarian crisis. According to the World Bank, India is going through a migration wave. Every year around 1 crore people are migrating from villages to cities.

"If we have to contain inflation, we have to keep farmers' input costs under check. According to Reserve Bank's micro policy, inflation should be kept within 4% so that costs of essentials don't go beyond control. But at the same time, we have to provide raw material to various industries. I always say, agriculture is being sacrificed to keep the economic reforms alive," said Sharma.

What should be done to improve farming?

We asked farmers what should be done so that condition of farmers in India improves. 41% said there should be better irrigation facilities, 29.5% said they should get fair price for their produce, 19.9% said they should be given affordable seeds, whereas 9.6% people said they need affordable diesel.

Farmers have been in focus since 2010. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party made farmers' distress a very big issue just before the elections. In their manifesto they have promised to increase farmers' income and implementation of Swaminathan Commission's recommendations on Minimum Support Price (MSP).

In 2016, the Union government constituted an eight-member inter-ministerial committee to prepare a blueprint for doubling farmers' income by 2022. The committee is headed by Ashok Dalwai, Additional Secretary at the Union Agriculture ministry.

The report, in its 14-volume report, keeping the year 2015-16 as base year, said a farmer's average annual income is Rs 96,703, when it should have been Rs 172694. keeping the same benchmark in mind, it should be Rs 242998 by 2022. The same committee said a farmer's average income (July 2012-June 2013) was Rs 6,426 whereas his expenditure was Rs 6,223. He barely manages to save anything.

The committee has also given many suggestions on how to increase MSP, but very few suggestions were implemented because it believes that farmers' miseries won't end just by increasing the MSP.

There is no date available on how much has farmer's income increased after 2016. A 2017 NITI Aayog report mentioned that farmer's income will double only if farming sector will see a growth of 10.4% per year.

Renowned economist Ashok Gulati said: "The 10.4% rate that we are talking about is old now. This should have been the rate two years back. Their income will double only if the rate is 13%, which is not possible before 2020. The farmers will have to wait for achche din."

The government itself has accepted that it's not possible to have a growth rate of 9-10%. NITI Aayog's Amitabh Kant has said few days back: "We need to increase investments in farming. Our country's 50% population is dependent on farming. If we are aiming for an 9-10% increase in GDP in the next 30 years, it's not possible to achieve this without revamping the farming sector."

An OECD-ICRIER report mentioned that between 2000 and 2017, farmers incurred a loss of Rs 45 lakh crore.

Talking about inflationary trends, agricultural expert Kamal Sharma said: "The inflation numbers released by the government in September 2018 were cautionary. The wholesale and retail inflation stood at 3.8% and 2.2% respectively. This inflation numbers were lowest in 18 months. This affected the farmers because they never got the price they deserved."

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