The term “annadata” is a hallowed one in Indian culture. It literally means the ‘provider of food’. A female food provider is sometimes honored by the title ‘annapurna’, after the goddess of nourishment. Ironically or cynically, the farmer, whether male or female, has never been associated with the honorific, though he is the primary producer of the food; who toils day and night but never gets his due, both socially and economically. On the contrary, exploited and made to work for a pittance.
No, this is not being sentimental. Manufacturers from all sectors make the maximum profit from the sale of their products. But the farmer produces the most essential item needed for our survival. So why are they different? Leave alone getting a fair price for their produce, they are driven to suicides in droves? In the past two decades, nearly 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide, at the rate of 2 farmers every hour.
Is it because the government regulates the crop prices at a very low rate in order to protect the economy? Is it because a good crop may benefit everybody, but it is the farmer who bears the brunt of floods or droughts and every vagary of the weather in between? Whenever there is any natural calamity that destroys crops, we are not affected; we continue to stuff our stomachs with 3 meals a day, paying almost the same price for the food. Then why are farmers the only victims of foul weather? If the government can control their prices in good times, why can’t it protect them in bad?
Devinder Sharma is a food and trade policy analyst chairman of the Delhi-based Biotechnology and food Security. In the background of farmers’ demand for a 50% higher Minimum Support Price and the Centre’s inability to meet the demand, he made a study of the latest reports for kharif and rabi crops of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
What he found will make it amply clear why farmers are killing themselves. The CACP works out the MSP for farmers. India is a liberalized economy where the market regulates the prices. Even where the prices are controlled, like petroleum products and other essential items, the marketers are always assured of a lucrative price. Sadly, the opposite is true in the agricultural sector. A sample of what Devinder Sharma found was this: The CACP calculated farmers’ returns for the period 2010-11 and 2012-13. In Uttar Pradesh, where the most suicides have taken place, Sharma looked at the wheat-rice growing pattern. In U.P. the rate per hectare is only Rs. 10,758 and for rice it is a paltry Rs. 4,311 per hectare. A farmer who works one hectare of land every year for these crops earns Rs. 15,069 per month or Rs. 1,256 per month.
A chaprasi can earn a monthly salary of Rs. 15,000. Even a U.P. safai karmchari is paid Rs. 18,500 per month. To, be sure the above figures are only a sample, but they are representative of the gross injustice done to farmers in the guise of preserving the economy. Annadata or not, it is only fair that a producer should be assured of reasonable returns for his products. If not, then we are forcing him to undersell, in effect looting the fruits of his labour.