Doubling Farmers Income

How forests can help in doubling farmers’ income

When the latest budget of the Government of India was being debated on prime time television channels in early August, an economist, who is also a member in the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, said: “One of the best ways to double farmers’ income is to halve the number of farmers.” 

It surprised me and I asked the question to many on Twitter and other social media handles. What surprised me more was that many people in the country, or to be specific on social media, bought that argument.

The Government of India is working out a plan to double farmers’ income by 2022, but how would that be possible by halving the farmer population is something that remains a mystery. The government plans to take up a number of measures and expand into allied sectors, promote zero-budget farming, organic farming, etc to double the income of the exiting farmers.

However, the government itself is aware that the task to double farmers’ income is a stupendous one and not possible by the target year. During the July-August Parliament session in the Rajya Sabha, Purshottam Rupala, Union Minister of State for Agriculture admitted that at the current four per cent rate of growth, it was not possible to double farmers’ income by 2022. 

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Indian economy even though it contributes less than 15 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. Almost 50 per cent of Indian families are dependent on farms for their livelihood and they have made India a food-surplus country. The food-surplus aspect, however, is controversial and we will discuss that some other time.

Just in a nutshell, surplus production in some of the irrigated pockets — by canals, lift irrigation from rivers and groundwater — has not only made farming unsustainable for the small segment of farmers who have attained some sort of a success and achieved a good amount of income, but has also destroyed ecology and local food diversity.

At this point of time, while the so-called ‘successful’ farmers are struggling to maintain their income, which essentially means putting in more and more investment, the other farmers are busy struggling for subsistence. 

So, when the protagonists of halving farmers’ population argue for the 50 per cent mass displacement of people from farming to other sectors, they basically talk about the farmers who are in a ‘loss-making venture’. 

In other words, and as some of these people argued, the small and marginal land-holders should shift to other sectors as wage labourers as their farms are fit only for subsistence and their land holding is so small and fragmented that it is difficult to go for intensive agriculture.

True to some extent. That is the reason the youth in the villages are no more interested in farming. According to the 2011 Census figures, 2,000 farmers are giving up farming each day.  In 2016, the average age of an Indian farmer was 50.1 years and that’s worrying. 

If the trend of farmers moving out of their original occupation continues like this, it will be a great challenge to meet our food requirements by the year 2050 when the food demand is expected to double than what it is now as because our population is expected to touch 1.9 billion, more than two thirds of which will be in the middle-income group.

Food imports will be too costly and if farm distress continues the way it is, we can’t anyway keep all farmers in villages and in their farms anyway. Whether they will be gainfully employed in other sectors is another big question and we are not dealing with that at this moment. 

While average statistical figures don’t actually tell us as to which category of farmers — the intensive agriculture segment or the subsistence segment — is gradually vanishing from the farms, experience tells us that the small farmers are more vulnerable to migration.  And that’s exactly where we have a big problem. 

We have about 83 per cent rural people who are either entirely landless or own less than one hectare (ha) of land. Another 14 per cent own less than three ha, and that is as good as a small and non-profitable farm holding depending on the irrigation status and other factors.

Only about 0.25 per cent of rural households own more than 10 ha of land and a minuscule 0.01 per cent own over 20 ha.  In terms of national per capita income parameters, the majority of small farmers — let’s say more than 80 per cent — cannot stick to agriculture if they are not provided with other supports and social security measures.  Their younger generations would have no motivation to stay with farming anyway and will gradually move out.  Read Full article on Down to Earth

Quick Summary by Maggubhai

  • The government has taken some notable steps like zero-budget farming, organic farming, etc to reach their goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022.
  • Although agricultural sector in India contributes less than 15% in India’s GDP still more than 50% of people depend on this thus helping India in making a food surplus country.
  • Many suggest the there is a need for a shift from firm related jobs to non-firm jobs but the trend may create a huge food crisis shortly soon. So the government needs to focus on different sections of farmers who can mitigate this problem.
  • A specific parts of farmers including small and marginal farmers, indigenous communities serve a big role in agriculture by protecting natural forests and also contributing the country’s food security.
  • As per a recent study as much as 22 percent of income for the rural people living in and around forests comes from timber and non-timber forest resources.
  • A new analysis reveals that indigenous peoples and local communities manage 300,000 million metric tons of carbon in their trees and soil which is 33 times the energy emissions from 2017.
  • So for this segment of farmers different strategies like Rights to the forests, water conservation through forestry, improved market and augmented price for the various forest produce etc are needed.