Nothing will change if we keep barking up the wrong tree…
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$)|
Less than 1% of their total workforce, in agriculture in United States of America annually contributes an farm output of about 290 billion US$. 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.
Current Mechanization Level
Soil working & Seedbed preparation
Seeding & Planting
|Harvesting & Threshing||
Wheat & Rice: 60-70%
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.