The farmers’ protest in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh earlier this week that left six people dead is symptomatic of a larger agrarian crisis that India is facing. 

According to experts, the only solution to the grave agrarian crisis is imparting education and expertise to the farmers and adopting mechanisation to make farmers self reliant.

According to 2014 data of the National Sample Survey Organisation, nearly 52% of the agricultural households are indebted and among the worst affected states are Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The total agricultural loan outstanding as of September 2016 is a huge Rs 12.6 lakh crore, Minister of State for Agriculture Parshottam Rupala told the Rajya Sabha during the Budget session this year. 

Dr Ramandeep Singh, senior professor at the Punjab University of Agriculture, told The Sunday Guardian that education and marketing of farmers’ produce can bring prosperity to farmers in India.

“Farmers should be educated about agriculture, means and methods,” Singh said. 

Amit Kar, head of agricultural economics department at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Delhi, told this newspaper: “The price of sowing has increased, while the land holdings of farmers have reduced drastically due to expansion in the family. The output has decreased, while the cost of output produce has also not gone up much. All these factors have increased the farmers’ woes over the past few decades.”

Kar also agreed that the lack of knowledge of marketing techniques and the lack of enthusiasm among farmers to go the extra mile to push for a better price for their produce also cause a problem. Kar also said that apathy towards the farming community by successive governments over the years has led to a deep crisis. 

According to information revealed by the Madhya Pradesh government in a written reply to Congress MLA Ram Niwas Rawat, at least 287 farmers, including agricultural labourers, have committed suicide in Madhya Pradesh in the past three months. Among them, 106 are farmers and 181 are agricultural labourers, who ended their lives between November 2016 and February 2017. Between July 2016 and February 2017, a total of 818 farmers committed suicide in Madhya Pradesh alone.

Experts believe that the loan waiver announcement by the Uttar Pradesh government triggered the Mandsaur violence.  Following the announcement, farmers in other states too started demanding loan waiver from their respective governments, failing which violence erupted.  “When one state waives agricultural loan, farmers in other states start expecting the same from their government. Due to this, some farmers who have the capacity to repay some amounts, stop repaying in the anticipation that their loans would be waived,” Kar said, adding that since over 50% of the agricultural land in India is rain-fed, a bad monsoon has significant ramifications in the lives of farmers. 

However, experts believe that the present government is doing much more than the earlier government in the rural and agricultural sectors. “The present government has increased the rural budgetary allocation like never before since the country’s Independence,” Kar said.  Ramandeep Singh said that the government is helping farmers through all possible means. Agricultural officers and analysts are present at every block level to assist farmers with queries related to agriculture, including market and weather forecasting, seed quality, soil health, etc., but most farmers are either not aware of this or do not avail such facilities, he said.

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