Antara Vats, Arjun Anand, Lakshay Narang and Raj Shekhar visited Shiksha Ane Samaj Kalyan Kendra in Amreli district of Gujarat for fieldwork as part of the curriculum of Masters Programme in Public Policy.
“Everyone believes that the ‘Gujarat Model’ is successful; it is anything but that” exclaimed Magan Bhai, as he shuffled through his newspaper. It was late in the afternoon and we were hosted by Magan Bhai and his wife at their nine-hectare farm. The farm and the village – Govindpur – were on the outskirts of Gir National Park due to which a welcome cold breeze swept across the farm every now and then. We tried not to be out in the open during afternoon, as the temperature in Amreli district – our home for three weeks – used to hover around 40 degrees Celsius. But here we were sitting under a tree, sipping hot tea and having wild kakdi. “It rained for twenty days in July and it hasn’t rained since” sighed Magan Bhai’s wife. Both of them were in their late sixties and surprisingly the only ones working on the farm. Deficient and inadequately spread rainfall during the monsoon combined with emigration of landless labourers to cities had severely affected farmers. The unviability of agriculture due to the uncertainty of monsoon, that multiple government irrigation plans aim to correct, had forced farmers and labourers to find other forms of livelihood. In villages we visited, young boys and girls were sent to cities to learn new employable skills but the older generation stayed back because their “life was their land and they didn’t know any other way of life.” These farmers were trapped; on the one hand they had modern irrigation equipment, institutional support and bigger farms than the national average; and on the other they were still dependent on rainfall.
Over our three weeks in Amreli we came across a situation that is not highlighted much in the mainstream discourse around Indian agriculture. Farmers in the three blocks (Khambha, Una and Jafarbad) were, according to me, in a phase of transition. Their agricultural practices and objectives had moved on from mere sustenance but had not achieved complete commercialisation. Farmers used modern equipment and employed best practices like using Bt cotton seeds, drip and sprinkler irrigation, leveraging government schemes like Soil Health Cards and many others. They grew cotton, groundnut, onion, tomato and peanuts, all with huge potential in the food processing sector. Yet, modernisation seemed unable to remove the severe consequences of deficient rainfall. Irrigation facilities should enable such farmers to break away from the uncertainty but falling levels of groundwater, increasing salinity in groundwater and inadequate water harvesting initiatives posed modern challenges. Similarly, they had access to pesticides but changing preferences and increased awareness of the harmful effects of pesticides forced farmers to limit the use of pesticides or move towards organic farming. Organic farming fetches higher prices but the overall production falls and the domestic demand for organic agro-products is still in its nascent stage. The farmers lack the capacity to tackle these new challenges because successive governments focused on providing subsidies instead investing in agriculture (Kapila, 2016).
In response to these modern problems farmers mobilised to form farmer producer companies (FPC). Its objective was to increase their bargaining power, swell their profits, adapt sustainable agricultural practices, and fully develop the supply chain. The organisation we worked with – Shiksha Ane Samaj Kalyan Kendra –has been actively involved in mobilising farmers, creating capacity and raising awareness among farmers to form FPCs. Gujarat has one of the most thriving producer-company ecosystems in the country with many private players participating and supporting these initiatives. A federation of all FPCs of Gujarat – GujPro – is one the most successful federations in the country. Through FPCs, farmers are being encouraged to move towards food processing. However, some structural issues plague FPCs as well. Major investment is required in storage and transportation facilities to fully leverage the benefits from food processing. The government has dragged its feet over the same for years now. Similarly, food processing requires investment in processing units; credit availability to such FPCs is not easy to come by as banks remain reluctant to lend. Thus, the burden again falls on the government.
We saw that farmers are willing to come up with new forms of organisations to get around the structural problems in agriculture. The most pertinent structural problem is with respect to agricultural GDP, which is affected majorly by three factors: public and private investment over the years; relative price incentives for agriculture; and rainfall. Public investment in agriculture declined after 1991 but then picked up again from 2002 to 2012. There are scores of studies that have shown the positive correlation between agricultural growth and public investment. However, nearly 85 per cent of the investment in agriculture is by private sector mostly in “labour saving machines and water-saving equipment” (Kapila, 2016). There needs to be a long-term policy for the agricultural sector, as short-term benefits like subsidies have left farmers completely dependent on the government. For the realisation of increasing farmers’ income, standard of living and decreasing their dependence on government (read Gujarat Model) political and other vested interests have to be curbed. Until then, farmers of the country would find themselves in a similar limbo like the farmers of Gujarat.
(Lakshay Narang is a student of the 2018-20 batch of Masters Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He can be reached at email@example.com)
Kapila, U. (2016). Indian Economy Performance and Policies . New Delhi: Academic Foundation.
Gujarat, G. (2009). Statistics. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from https://dag.gujarat.gov.in/Statistics.htm
Srinivas, N. N., & Mehta, P. (2018, July 13). Agriculture investment: Time to cultivate a visible hand. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-commentary/agriculture-investment-time-to-cultivate-a-visible-hand/