Representational  image of a farm
Representational image of a farm

Agriculture and rural distress have been on the government agenda for years. While all governments have sought to address issues in the rural economy, the half-hearted implementation and political vested interests often hurt such efforts. This was discussed at SIES and Free Press Journal’s webinar titled ‘Rural distress, the government doles and Agri finance’. This webinar was the fifth in the series “The Future of Agriculture”

The panellists for the session were (in alphabetical order) Kavita Jha, AVP, NCDEX; Suhas Joshi, Head-Sustainability and Business Stewardship, Bayer South Asia; Arun Raste, Executive Director, NDDB; and P V S Suryakumar, Deputy Managing Director, NABARD. The session was moderated by RN Bhaskar, Consulting Editor, Free Press Journal. Dr. Vaneeta Raney, head, BMM at SIES College welcomed the panellists and audience and gave the vote of thanks.

Kavita Jha said, “Agriculture has been at the forefront in the case of the Indian government’s agenda.” However, the very fact that agriculture contributes a mere 14 per cent to the GDP and yet employs half of the working population shows the distress the sector is in. She further added, “The intent of the government is right. But the way policies are executed need to be tweaked.”

Meanwhile, Suhas Joshi, Head-Sustainability and Business Stewardship, Bayer South Asia pointed out that in order to address rural distress, India will have to mobilise resources the way it has done to tackle COVID-19 crisis. Joshi added, “Superficial measures like farmer loan waiver will not help. There is a need to take systematic, integrated and comprehensive measures that will address this chronic situation. This is the only way to address it.” He cited the example of tremendous focus the government put in while announcing lockdown when a few hundred people had died, while lakhs of farmers had committed suicide. Surely these situations warrant greater attention, he added.

Analysing rural data, Arun Raste said, “According to the socio-economic survey of 2015, only 30 per cent of the rural households are actually dependent on cultivation. But most of them are dependent on casual, manual labour. Earning through agriculture (for marginal farmers) is a myth.” He went on to add while the contribution of agriculture to GDP is around 16 per cent, it currently employs 44 per cent of rural households. “This is a very skewed pattern and it increases poverty.”

Adding to this, P V S Suryakumar, Deputy Managing Director, NABARD agreed that there is a pain point in the rural economy, but the government and machinery have achieved or implemented many measures to tackle the issue. He stressed, “The farmer distress is there when agricultural input prices increase and price realisation does not keep pace with agriculture improvements. Add to this the inadequate marketing issue.” He recalled after Independence, there was a dire shortage of food grains but today, India is struggling with a surplus. There has been a lot of progress in agriculture, he pointed out. But a lot more needs to be done.

Many more issues were raised and suggestions made, which the fuller transcript on proceedings will narrate. It should be up on the FPJ website.

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