Economics & Politics / Rural India

Nothing will change if we keep barking up the wrong tree…

 Nothing will change if we keep barking up the wrong tree…

Farmer suicide

Farmers committing suicide is a big news item for the media, especially the 24×7 television news channels – a farmer committing suicide in the middle of New Delhi – the capital city of India, in front of a large crowd of people, politicians including the Chief Minister of Delhi and almost all the the national media. Death of Gajendra Singh may be a stunt to gain media attention gone wrong by the AAP (Aam Admi Party) led by the cunning drama-queen Arving Kejriwal, but it provides a opportunity to take a pause and reflect upon an alarming situation in Rural India.

A 12% deficiency in monsoon last year (2014) followed by un-seasonal rains and hailstorms in key agri regions of India and the prospect of yet another below par rains in the coming monsoon season  (2015) are just too hard blows, delivered too frequently, and the Indian Agriculture is struggling to cope up with them.

But…one must keep in mind that this is not just the acts-of-god or curse of nature, we ourselves are also to be blamed for the tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes…

69% of 1.2 billion plus Indian population lives in rural India, majority of them dependent on income from agriculture, directly or indirectly

The real story of India’s growth is yet to unfold. I firmly believe  that India will only be able to count itself among the developed nations when the rural India develops. The real India success story is still laying low and wondering around in the hot & dusty, hard to reach 640,867 villages of India (2011 census) – accounting for 69% of the total 1.21 billion population

While we all know Urban India population is more than the population of United States of America; there are 833 million people living in Rural India – close to the total population (885 million) of all the G8 countries put together (USA, Canada, UK, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Russia)

30% people living and working in urban areas will never be able pull the weight of the balance 70% towards the touchline. The Rural India and agriculture needs to become an engine of growth rather than just a huge burden on the rest of the economy. Dole outs like subsidies, loan waivers, artificially high prices for sub-standard crops, etc. are not going to change the Rural India. They are like drugs, keeping a patient on life support system, how can we expect that patient to jump off and starting winning the races when we are not even allowing it to get off the bed.

Lets stop feeling sorry for ourselves and try understand the reasons and possible long term solution. Let me share share some numbers with you.

Country Population (Bn) Workforce engaged in Agri Activities (%) Agri Output (in US$)
USA 0.35 1%                 290
India 1.20 49%                 413
China 1.40 34%              1,088
Pakistan 0.189 44%                    63

Less than 1% of their total workforce, in agriculture in United States of America annually contributes an farm output of about 290 billion US$. Closer to home, only 34% Chinese labor produces 1088 billion US$ worth of output (highest in the world). And we in India, who call ourselves an Agri nation and feel proud to boast that our soul lives in the villages, are only able to less than half of China, while close to 50% of our work-force claiming to be working very hard in the fields.

Forgive me if I sound overly sarcastic over here. I know people will site a number of factors and statistics to justify our sad situation. But just think about it, even Pakistan which was once part of us and has almost similar geographical and agro-climatic conditions, soil, crops and people, is able to produce more agri output per person than us! Isn’t this says something? Doesn’t we feel a need to look deeper within ourselves, not just to find out the reasons and justifications for our current sad situation but also look for some cues to get out of this hole that we have dug for ourselves.

How long can we keep our eyes closed, keep chanting the mantra of Jai Jawan – Jai Kisan and still not do anything to turnaround our agriculture sector, which in turn would help in improving the living conditions in our Rural areas.

Please go out and do visit some villages, without the usual band-baja-barat though. Just go there as a common person, unannounced, and look at the situation over there. With some exception in few states & districts – invariably you would  see poor infrastructure (bad roads, no piped water/ gas, electricity shortage, properly running schools) for which the villagers will leave no opportunity to curse the government and specially the political parties.

But what about their own responsibilities, the things which they could have done, actions which were in their own hands e.g. building houses with some civic sense or at least respect for their neighbour, leaving sufficient space in back and front for public movement, making provision for parking of their vehicles/ machinery/ assets so that public movement is not hindered, having toilets, keeping the public areas clean and hygienic, ensuring the all kids go to school – specially the girls. If you spend sufficient time in the rural area, please try and validate the observations which I have made during my extensive travel across India.

We say there is an India (Urban India) and Bharat (Rural India) which are vastly difference.  But neither the India (Urban India) a homogeneous group – you’d find many glimpses of Asia, Africa, Middle east and the developed Western world in the different parts of Urban India. Similarly you it is much easier to segregate the Bharat (Rural India) into two very specific groups – the Masters – those who have the financial and/or muscle power to make others work for them (Male Landowners) and those who have the misfortune to be born to serve the Masters throughout their life-time serving (womenfolk, landless workers, small-marginal farmers engaged in subsistence farming).

Mostly the Masters would be sitting idle, smoking in public areas, sipping tea, playing cards, gossiping or just doing something or the other to kill the time during the day for the evenings to come when they can eat, drink and make merry – keep contributing towards the ever increasing population of India. The marginal farmers also try and copy the behavior of the Masters. The male kids can also be found (post the short schooling hours) running around, playing cricket or some other sport in the public area. In many part of the country you wouldn’t even see any females (including girl child) in public areas, as if they do not exist, or are confined to the four walls of their houses. If you do see them, they would be busy in some specific activity – carrying water/ wood/ animal feed, making preparation for kitchen, preparing food or delivering it to the males who would not even thing of entering the kitchen or helping their women folks in any way, you would also find females working shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts as farm labor. I have never seen any womenfolk sitting idle in a village, NEVER.

What we have in rural India is huge problem of under-employment. Everybody in the rural households feels they are working in the farms but it would be an eye opener to look closely at the number of man-hours they put in and the output they are able to achieve. Close to 67% of Indian farmers are having less than 2.5 acre of land, this makes it profitable farming an extremely difficult challenge. They are what we call marginal farmers, carrying out subsistence farming. Barely able to survive in normal circumstances, these guys face even tougher hardships when there is a natural calamity. Most of these farmers can’t even afford the farm mechanization solution. So they along with the land-less farm labor, carry out back-breaking work in the farms manually under condition which are similar to slavery. Even 60 years after the independence of India, farm mechanization levels are pathetic to say the least in most parts of the country. Thanks largely to the regressive left leaning policies of the Governments and Bureaucrats we have got for most of the years post independence – more than 60% of work in India farm is still done manually.

Operation

Current Mechanization Level

Soil working & Seedbed preparation

40%

Seeding & Planting

29%

Plant Protection

34%

Irrigation

37%

Harvesting & Threshing

Wheat & Rice: 60-70%
Other Crops: Less than 5%

The number of marginal farmers keeps increasing day by day. The area under cultivation is not increasing significantly in India, but the rural population is increasing at a study rate, land is getting divided further within the family, the size of the farms is getting shorter and shorter. There is hardly any enterprise farming. Regressive laws, e.g. related to utilization of agriculture land, have made it nearly impossible to start/ carry out any kind of profitable work in Rural India. Leave aside profitable manufacturing/ service enterprise which can provide better opportunities to work and improve life of the marginal farmers/ land-less farm labors, even honest profitable agriculture business is extremely difficult to carry out – thanks to the laws which have been establishes post independence which ensure that most of the rural population just get enough basic facilities so that they do not die. Just enough to survive, never enough to improve their life…

Why must we let the situation remain the same?

If 50% of India’s population will continue to remain engaged in activity which only contributes less than 15% of the GDP (and declining further as other sector grow) how would it be possible to make a significant difference to their life. Govt. dole-outs may help keep the situation as it is, but it is in no way going to improve their life significantly. Why must the future generations of a subsistence farmer continue to carry the baggage of poverty on their shoulders?

India needs to change, change for the better. And for this it is imperative that Rural India must change. For that to happen, we need to provide better employment opportunities to get at least 25% of our workforce out of the Agriculture activities. Even those who would continue to engage in agriculture activities needs to be provided knowledge and tools to avoid drudgery. Women’s contribution needs accounted financial. Children needs to be educated and trained properly so that progress happens from one generation to another. For all this to happen, we need to change our attitude and outlook towards Rural India, the farmers, woman and the Government too. When we will change, then only the world around us will change. Stop looking at villages, agriculture, rural population though the emotionally blurred glasses.

They are just like you and me and have the same needs to improve their lifestyle like you and me.They’d also like to work respectably, have off-days, off-time, less pressure.They do not need our sympathies, they need opportunities to change their life.

It is not fun to carry out agriculture activities without proper tools and knowledge, believe me, it may look glamorous in movies and tv shows, most of us wont last long.

Even the working population (not the Masters, the slaves) in the rural areas find it difficult to cope up – it is embarrassing to find 5-10 years younger guys looking 5-10 years older than you. With back breaking work and no hope for a better life, what else can one expect. 

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9 thoughts on “Nothing will change if we keep barking up the wrong tree…

  1. With the Government and the rest of the country not just bothered about their lot, I doubt if things are ever going to change. They will only worsen, if at all. There is loot and rape happening in the name of progress, something I understand Gandhi pointed out to his protege Nehru in 1947. All that can come out is eventually civil war, and the poor are going to loose their lives. Sad but nevertheless true. Does a city dweller actually care or even understand the challenges? Does he even want to? We are all on a treadmill and all we are bothered about is ourselves, our immediate family mostly nuclear these days and how to get out of the worm can for ourselves.

    • Sorry to be a contrarian… it is the same protege (Nehru) of Gandhi who is to be blamed for the mess we are in. Just like the many awards and recognition which have been given to Nehru, he must be help accountable for the short shortsightedness of his policies – how he and his policy helped in creating inefficient while elephants of govt. institutions and encouraged what we now know as crony capitalism.

      No more of such Govt. intervention is required. We need exactly mind our own treadmills. Self help is the best form of help. If all of us decide to take care of ourselves, without troubling others, all of us will succeed and our country will grow. It doesnt matter what a city dweller may or may not care about. It is the person living in rural area who must get his acts together and contribute towards development in his own area.
      Socialism does paint a very pretty picture, but the reality behind it is not so pretty, look at the former socialist countries, eastern European countries and lean about the horror the common people had to go through under the communist rule.

      Each one of us is responsible for our own and our immediate families well being. We should focus on that, surely making sure that we do not impact others in any negative way.

      Regards,

  2. Actually, the problem is there is too much corruption. Even if the Govt tries to benefit the farmers, the same is not passed over to the real beneficiaries…think about the checks some farmers got for meagre amounts.

    In such a situation how can we talk about providing them access to technology and improve their living conditions? It’s too much for them to fight for and they are too illiterate to help themselves.

    It is a lot more mess than we can think of…I think the only solution for farmers is to migrate to cities and find jobs and let private sector take up farming (reliance, tatas etc).

    • Corruption comes exactly when there is a system which tries to pass on the benefits to one section/ group of society. It should not be required in the first place. Farmers and people in rural India does not need our sympathies or the subsidies, dole outs from the govt. because these things are like drugs which will keep them exactly where they are, at the bottom of the pyramid.

      Yes a large part of rural population need to get out of agriculture, because they are not needed, they are not contributing much. Coming to city is not the answer in a country like India where the urban areas are not sufficiently equipped to handle such large scale population migration. The Rurbanization needs to happen on a very fast track to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas. Thats why the land acquisition act which the current govt. is pursuing is a step in the right direction which needs to be supported. Unless large part of Rural population starts engaging in economic activities other than agriculture in the traditional way they have been doing for centuries, it would be impossible for them to come out of this mess. They would have to come out of this mess themselves, no one else is going to do it for them. We all need to carry our own crosses…

  3. Mr. Chand, True situation indeed…this is sad that the so called Urban Indians many of whom are educated do not feel the substansive need to look into this sector and address the basic issues like sanitation, right to education to all etc..I firmly believe that we all at our individual level can bring some difference to their lives…and as you rightly said these people need opportunities and not sympathy..we all can do our bit to bring about that change.

    • Thanks, actually we all need to do what we can in our own way. People living in urban India are not cut off from the rural Indians. We all have connections with people living in the rural areas. As responsible urban citizen, we need to carry out our own responsibilities – paying our taxes honestly, ensuring we buy goods legally with bills, ensure that we pay the right amount that people who support us deserve and treat them honorably (maids, guards, drivers, gardeners – most of them are from rural areas). At personal level we need to help the members of our extended families and those we get in touch with in our day-to-day activities, who may be stuck up in the rural areas to help them get into economic activities other than the traditional methods of agriculture. If we do our job right, honestly, and encourage our brothers and sisters in rural areas to do their best, that would be a great start, I would say.

    • Thank you. Yes its been a little while, I was stuck with lots of work – research projects and field visits to rural India.

      You are right, Indian agriculture is currently not upto the mark. There is huge potential – we are no.2 in the world terms of agriculture land, and fortunate to have almost all kinds of spoil types/ agro-climatic zones that are there possible anywhere in the world – we can grow almost any crop which can be grown anywhere in the world. But we are not able to utilize the great natural resources that we have to our advantage. Yields are much lower than global benchmarks, too much manpower is tied up in producing too little output. It feels so frustrating. I hope to see some changes happening within my life-time, but it is so difficult to change human nature.

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