Sunday, May 4, 2008

Green Revolution to Red (Blood) Revolution - Part I

Part -1 : The Crisis
In 1968 and up till 1991 of pre liberalization era if there was one sector, which benefited immensely – it was Agriculture. Nobody denies. I am sure every reader of this article would have studied in History books about Famines and Droughts in British India. The World famous Bengal famine of 1770 where 3 million died and 1943 where 2 million died is a ghastly reality. The famines were so frequent that practically India went bankrupt in terms of food production. Committees after Committees were set up by the British Govt and despite some measures it did not stop. Post Independence we experienced famines only once in 1966. In 1968 there was a proper synchronization amongst research, public policy and services that led to Green Revolution. Since 1968, we have never had a famine and we began to be self sufficient in food grains and never were farmers unhappy, the fact though being that poverty has not been eliminated so far.

However, being concealed, insulated from outside world, liberalization and globalization was our farming sector that ushered in continuous food production and thereby a relatively good Public Distribution System.

The Indian agricultural research system is the largest in the world. It has successfully produced over 3,500 varieties of crops. We are the world's largest milk producer and rank second in food grains, fruit and vegetable production. One of the most interesting aspects of our agricultural research has been indigenous study of adaptation of high yielding seeds.

In 1961, when International Maize and Wheat Improvement Cente (popularly known as CIMMYT) gave high yielding wheat seeds to India it was tested on small village farm lands in Punjab. Later, our agricultural scientists independently studied the new seeds considering various agro-climatic zones and appropriate changes were made to those seeds and were manufactured in bulk by National Seed Corporation. When it was properly tested it was distributed to the whole farming community and success was achieved. At the same time even high yielding variety of rice IR8 given by International Rice Research Institute they were suitably changed to match Indian soil and then distributed. Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and many more states started producing rice and wheat and there was never a food shortage again.

What changed post 91 is a huge issue and the debate will take its own article. In short, opening up of our markets proved very constructive to all sectors, but equally detrimental to agriculture.

The very current PM Manmohan Singh as the then Finance Minister in 1991 opened up the market even in agriculture by which multinational companies (MNC) began to invest in India and started selling high yielding Bt Cotton Seeds, high yielding wheat and rice seeds. The most important “check” of such seed adaptation to Indian soil was not done and farmers were lured into buying it in return for higher yield. These seeds were not tested to Indian soil conditions. Some places seeds succeeded and some miserably failed. The worst part was spurious seeds began to spread in the market and many farmers chose without any inspection done on them.

Subsequently the government also started spending less in agricultural credit, seed research and public spending in agriculture. The shocking statistics are given in my blog article. This coupled with rising input costs to buy such seeds (as against subsidized rates of pre liberalization era seeds) forced them to borrow more. Input costs also included very expensive pesticides, as existing ones did not suffice the new seed variety. Which means high yielding seed also needed high quantity of pesticide. When crops failed, banks failed to lend more. With no other option left farmers starting borrowing money from moneylenders. While banks charged anywhere between 14-17% interest, private moneylenders charged whopping 120%. The farmers also took money from moneylenders for their daughters’ marriages.

In the late 1990’s after the formation of World Trade Organization, the prices of rice and wheat fell sharply and it had impact even on Indian farmers. The price they got was also reduced. So, input costs rose sharply, output price got reduced and consumers benefited while farmers wept in distress with unbearable financial burden. At the same time the decreasing prices meant importing them to the country and farmers could not match such low prices of imports. So, the domestic farmer lost in the competition (imported cotton now sells at Rs 17,000 a bale compared to Rs 19,000 for Indian cotton). Post 2000 cheap cotton was imported heavily and this hit cotton belts of Gujarat, Maharasthra, Andhra Pradesh severely. The prices became cheaper because developed countries gave huge subsidies to their farmers and so they sold at cheaper rates in world markets. Vidharbha crisis started in 1994-95. Amravati, Wardha, Yavatmal, Akola, Washim and Buldhana – 6 villages in Vidharba has seen over 2000 suicides. The total between 1997-2008 is over 1.5 lakh. Much more than the number killed in Godhra riots and 1984 riots or even the famous Biwandi Riots of 1970.

Some of them even attempted to diversify their crop production and jumped into high yielding cash crops like spices (Kerala), coffee (Karnataka) and horticulture (Punjab). These also included higher input costs. They went ahead with the risk. There was utter failure and the cycle of debt began to loom large over farmers. The main reason why farmers opted for such high yielding crops was higher prices in the global market. Also, the marketing of such produce needed superior ones and good technical knowledge. With no support from the scientists’ side and no financial help from banks – a double blow hit the farmers. In depth studies have concluded that those farmers who had cattle, more lands were the ones who went into cash crops not subsistence farmers and ultimately lost everything as mortgage. Sometimes farmers sold their good yield for lower prices just to avoid taking money from private moneylenders.

From the other side the state governments collapsed state procurement federations and delayed payments to farmers forcing them to turn towards dishonest traders and spurious seeds.

We had unstable governments in the Center between 1996 and 1999 and no one was interested to make changes in agricultural reforms to protect farmers from global prices. The situation got only worse post 2000 with a spate of farmer suicides began to make headlines from all Green belt regions.

Due to good monsoons, we had surplus food growth in 2002, 2003 and the market was opened to private people to take the produce directly from farmers. This helped them in one way as farmers began to get better price from private retailers, and companies than in the government mandi’s where middlemen were eating away all the money and give very low price for the farmer. In turn mandi’s sold to consumer at a higher price making more money.

The Father of Green Revolution, MS Swaminathan questioned once: "We are importing pulses from countries where the genetic material in crops like pigeon pea (arhar) went from India. We should ask ourselves why pulses, which are native to India, are unhappy in their homeland, and are happy in adopted homes in foreign countries."

PM Manmohan Singh once said – There are 4 deficits that continue the growing agrarian crisis. These four deficits are (i) the public investment and credit deficit; (ii) the infrastructure deficit; (iii) the market economy deficit; and (iv) the knowledge deficit. Taken together they are responsible for the development deficit in the agrarian and rural economy.

In 2006, first time since Green Revolution we imported wheat.

The sad and touching tales of the suicides are so grave that surpasses all bloody riots ever taken place in our country. This is a case of slow poison given to farmers despite knowing what’s causing the problem and its solution.

We know both the problem and solutions. All we need is the will to implement on political part as sadly the political fraternity has to do quite a lot compared to anyone.

We badly need a second Green Revolution. It is possible. We need a leader like Indira Gandhi or Narendra Modi because political will can bring in a dramatic change in agriculture than smaller changes we see in many parts of India.

PART -2 : Solution:


Seena said...

As sad a story that you paint, its the same picture in every household in the lower economic class in India, be it farmers, construction workers, etc.

There was a Green revolution, be happy for that! Has there ever been an infrastructure revolution? has there ever been an educational revolution? Has there ever been a health care revolution in India. You want the govt. to focus more on farmers and agriculture which they have from 1968-1991. It is time to move on and do something different.. Govt. cannot reform people, people reform people! If everyone follows, values & ethics, there wouldn't be this situation!

Educate the farmers, make them aware of things that they don't understand! They are being fooled and conned by the people and not because of the Govt.!You can pass all the laws you want to assist farmers but with the corruption rate, more than 70% of farmers will not reap benefits!

There are other sectors in India that need grave attention! If we have failed to educate the farmers in 33 yrs of green revolution, then unfortunately we have failed miserably!

RisingCitizen said...

Hold on...You are right as far as health revolution is concerned, infrastructure revolution has begun, it only needs momentum. Educational revolution is necessary. Who is questioning these?

Who is saying that we should not move beyond farmers? The point is till 1991 farmers were having good remunerative price, after that economic reforms did not benefit farmers. It doesn't mean go back on it or change it, it only means that include them in the growth process.

If a govt or a party follows farmer appeasement politics, it is wrong. But farmers do need help and they are not getting it. All that the government has do it relieve itself from this job and handover to agricultural experts and scientists and go ahead with other reforms. Even in this if they fail what can you say? Needlessly politicians follow appeasement politics which is sad.

Remember both Congress and BJP agree on same terms with respect to economic reforms. It is the social reforms where they differ and this is where we need the change.

There are lots of sectors that need change and agriculture is one of them. Why see red when a change happens here.

With 70% of people involved in agriculture any policy that puts them into distress is not good.

You say people reform themselves- unless experts don't give farmers advise and don't assist them change productivity levels we cannot expect changes.

We need to balance both. Fortunately or unfortunately we are an agrarian economy in majority.