There is a significant number of migrant labourers stuck all over the country today, and hitting the news for lack of basic amenitites in the present scheme of lockdown hints to greater woes that we as a nation are facing today and will be prevalent again post the COVID-19 threat is over, that is how sustainable is agricutlure in India!
Since the lockdown was imposed in the country, migrant labourers hailing from various states in India and settled in not just the metros but every city that offers a prospect of livelihood, they live in dire situations and often have no savings at all, this reality came out in open when they chose to walk from their dwellings in these big cities to reach their villages even on foot! The governments came to face their failure in containing the failure of the agriculture which is supposedly the largest employer of our labour!
This year we have had a shift in the climate patterns which witnessed unexpected rains all over the northern part of India with hailstorms extending well towards the end of March as well. The climate and the revenue that the crop fetches a farmer along with the size of the landholding is a big problem today which has led to an ever increasing number of people migrating from villages (ditching agriculture as a source of livelihood) to bigger cities in search of avenues to make money and sustain their lives and families as a consequence of which they land up becoming blue-collar labourers across tier-II & tier-III urban settlements.
The unsustainability of agriculture has led to a rise in the number of farmer suicides which have seen an end to reporting by the NCRB since 2017! (Now one may wonder how big the problem actually is!)
Agriculture in India has become largely unsustainable due to lack of innovation and reduction of landholdings owing to huge farmer debts and consecutive crop failures coupled with poor prices being fetched by the growers. This along with commoditization of farm labour over subsequent years due to mass migration has also led to a rise in costs incurred in production while the prices fetched for the produce is a meagre sum of money. The agricultural incomes have had no possible increments despite the minimum support prices offered across crops and the supports in terms of fertiliser subsidies and other benefit schemes. The most abrupt disastrous policy has been one of farm loan waivers which have made agriculture unproductive and in most cases has pushed the landholdings to be decreased due to informal money lending also prevailing along side formal agricultural credit.
The rural income has gone down considerably in the past few years while and this is a direct indicator of the fact that we are ignoring our grain producers and pushing them into lives of destituteness in an attempt to keep the agri produce affrodable for the middle class urban populace. The agri-markets have also created layers of intermediaries since we have mass unemployment and lack of sources of livelihood which bites on the share the grower has on the produce.
Agriculture has become cyclically unsustainaible over the years due to three physical factors as well i.e. (a) loss of fertility in the soil due to excessive use of chemical fertilisers and (b) lack of proper facilities of irrigation and (c) imbalance in the ground water table and its quality.
Today we need comprehensive investments in the field of agriculture, and development of rural and tier-3 cities to contain the populations there so that agriculture can become sustainable. Agriculture no doubt is albour intensive and when we have sources available to provide for the needs of the residents there we will be in a position to secure our economy better.
It is very tough to expect a policy shift in the governments since the economy has already settled the components like an rcc block, which can’t be altered, yet we need to shift perspective from tier 1 and tier 2 cities to our small town and rural settlements.
We will also have to tame the migration by just providing for basic material needs and this shall be an all out war against the devastating materialism and consumerism which will create a complete overhaul.
Providing alternate sources of livelihood today just doesn’t solve the issue of unsustainability of agriculture. It needs a pardigm shift in the outlook of our policy makers to re-invent the rural wheel de-novo.