By Jagdish Pradhan
The National Commission on Farmers (NCF), which was set up by the Union government to look at the issues concerning Indian farmers, have made several recommendations to both the Central and state governments.
One of the key recommendations of the Commission was to set up state level Farmers Commissions “to ensure dynamic government response to farmers’ problems”. The Commission had also recommended that “in such Commission farm men and women should be represented and it should be chaired by an eminent farmer”. It was also suggested that the Commission should submit an annual report to be placed before the State Assembly for discussion and decision.
In case of Odisha, following the reports of several farmer’s suicide, the State Government has set up a Farmers Commission in the year 2009-2010 to look at the issues concerning farmers of Odisha. But, unfortunately in this Commission not a single farmer man or woman is represented. The worst thing is that even among the “experts” there is not a single woman. This Commission was supposed to submit their report within six months but the tenure of the Commission has been extended several times and yet as we know they have not been able to submit any report. We do not know if there is any pressure from the government side either for their report. Does this reflect that the government is not at all concerned about the issues confronted by the farmers of Odisha? It seems Posco, Tata, Jindal, Vedanta and other corporate entities are the only priorities for the government as if they will only make Odisha a prosperous State. The 70% of the population living on Agriculture contribute less than 20% of the State GDP and hence why should the government bother about them?
Definition of the Farmers:
At the national level about sixty five percent of the population is making their livelihood from agriculture whereas in Odisha the percentage is more than seventy percent. The National Commission on Farmers had defined farmers to include landless agricultural labourers, share croppers, tenants, all category of cultivators, fishers, dairy, sheep, poultry and other farmers involved in animal husbandry, plantation workers as well as those who are related to occupations such as sericulture and vermi culture.
In Odisha, only very recently government has changed the definition of fisherman to also include them in the list of farmers and hence now they will be entitled to the benefits same as what the farmers were getting earlier. Of course, it is to be seen that what benefits do the farmers in Odisha really get from the State and Union Government? It is necessary that the State Government should clearly define the farmers in the line of definition of NCF and ensure various benefits to all categories of farmers.
Marketing And Emunerative Prices:
For the last three decades or so marketing and remunerative price are becoming the major issues with the farmers all over the country. Since, the farmers are gradually shifting from the subsistence farming to commercial farming the price, marketing and related issues are becoming more and more important for them.. However, in absence of comprehensive price and market support system, all over the country small and marginal farmers are compelled to sell of their produces under distress and the buyer and the traders exploit them in various ways.
The existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) with procurement operation has been benefitting mostly to the farmers in a few pockets of the country that too only in a few States. It is a fact that of late the MSP have not kept pace with the increase in price of inputs for which the farmers are getting poorer and they are under terrible hardship. There is a need for several policy level changes, increased investment and creation of more effective instruments, systems and structures to remedy the situation including mitigation of market risks.
Farmers getting pauperised:
The term of trade between Agriculture and non-Agriculture produces is also a major issue. It has been seen that during past two years agricultural prices have declined in relation to prices not only of inputs but also non-food consumer goods. As a result, the purchasing power of agricultural incomes has been coming down and real farm incomes is also getting lower.
For the past several decades, government has been controlling the price of agricultural produces through the C.A.C.P. mostly to protect the interest of the consumers. In this process, the farmers have been getting pauperized. While fixing the M.S.P. of various crops, the C.A.C.P. considers the wage of a farmer as that of an unskilled labourer and in many years the cost of production of a crop becomes more than the M.S.P. fixed by the C.A.C.P. The NCF had emphatically recommended that “the C.A.C.P. should be an autonomous statutory organization with its primary mandate being the recommendation of remunerative prices for the principal agricultural commodities of both dry-farming and irrigated areas. The MSP should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production. The “net take home income” of farmers should be comparable to those of civil servants. The C.A.C.P. should become an important policy instrument for safeguarding the survival of farmers and farming. Suggestions for crop diversification should be preceded by assured market linkages. The Membership of the C.A.C.P. should include a few practising farm women and men. The terms of reference and status of the C.A.C.P. need review and appropriate revision”.
Already five years have elapsed since the final report of the NCF was submitted to the government. The Central Government has implemented some of the recommendation of the NCF but the overall policy and programmes of the Union and State governments hardly reflect if they are genuinely concerned for the farmers or if they have the political will to take steps to address the growing agrarian crisis throughout the nation. In case of Odisha, the situation is even worse.
Then, what is the way out?
The author was the Ex-member of National Commission on Farmers.