This paper examines the several different reasons behind the ‘Agrarian crisis’ under the UPA and NDA government and how these governments went about counteracting them respectively. The Kingdon’s model of Agenda-setting has been applied to the problem and justification has been provided as to how it fits the situation. It then highlights the important role of media and powerful countries like the USA in agenda setting. Furthermore, policies implemented by the USA for the farmers have been highlighted and potential solutions have been stated to the Indian agrarian crisis using the same. The objective of the paper is to analyze the policies implemented as a result of the agrarian crisis and how these can be reformed or changed to provide more assistance to the farmers.
Even though 21st century India has developed as a noteworthy financial power in the world, with the development rate of the total national output achieving extraordinary dimensions and the destitution proportion descending altogether, one of the major problems faced by it is the “agrarian crisis”. Agriculture is one of the most essential occupations in India and contributes approximately 28% to the total GDP, employs around 60% of the population and serves as the main source of living for around 70% of the citizens (Abrol, 2002). Despite all this the suicide rates amongst key actors in the agricultural sector .i.e., the farmers has increased significantly in the past years.
A Times of India article stated that despite the persistent efforts by the state “over 12,000 suicides were reported in the agricultural sector every year since 2013” (Mahapatra, 2017). This problem began back in 1990 and has affected India adversely since then.As of 2017, farmer suicides have occurred in large numbers in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. In an RTI revelation, it was highlighted that during the UPA rule every year approximately 15,000 farmers committed suicide. Approximately 6,000 indebted farmers, specifically cotton cultivators, have committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh between 1998 and 2005. In Maharashtra, six forty four farmers committed suicide in three of the regions from January 2001 to December 2004. Source: National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB)
A United Nations report highlighted that even though India had made several advances in monetary terms but the economy did not benefit all the citizens uniformly and that a farmer suicided every 32 minutes in a period of 8 years from 1997 to 2005.
There exists a wide cluster of elements that has prompted the expanding rate of farmer suicides in India. The terrains were not as beneficial as previously, the business sectors were falling flat, the obligations were heaping up, and the pests couldn't be kept under control. Apart from a financial approach, this issue demanded political and philanthropic measurements, particularly since 1990. In addition to the reasons mentioned above there were several international policy reforms that came into play.
During the period between 2004-2012 there were several specific reasons behind farmer suicides that were highlighted. The free trade policies that came into play around that time period disguisedly encouraged giving up farming at the sacrificial table of monetary advancement, the market became the new agrarian mantra. Henceforth imports of rural wares increased with passing years. In the post-globalization period, between 1996-97 and 2003-04, imports expanded 270% by volume and 300% in esteem terms (Sharma,2007). For an agrarian economy like India, encouraging imports resembles encouraging joblessness. The neoliberal model .i.e., the shift in control of economic elements from the public industries to the private industries proved to be fatal for the Indian farmers. One of the other reasons was the introduction of Genetically modified crops by a US TNC named Monsanto, which led to approximately 125,000 farmers taking their own life as a result of the merciless initiative to use India as a testing ground for GMOs. Monsanto proposed to bring about innovative technological reforms while his proposal of "innovation" attempted to shroud its actual goal of proprietorship and command over seed where genetic engineering was only a way to control seed and the food system through licenses and protected property rights.
The increase in imports, Free trade agreements with the ASEAN and SAARC countries, introduction of GMOs and Bt cotton and several other reforms in International trade policies brought about by IMF and World bank that aimed at transforming developing countries into major import grounds proved to be a nightmare for the unrecognized heroes of Indian society: the farmers. The examples mentioned clearly indicate that foreign policies play a major role in shaping a country’s domestic policies and that the former and latter go hand in hand. India’s foreign policy clearly had devastating effects in turn leading to several repercussions. Several protests were carried out and reforms were brought about to provide aid to the farmers and the families who were involved.
The UPA government tried their best to compensate for the loss that had occurred due to the natural calamities and other reasons. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh allocated a Rs 3,750 crore package inclusive of a write off of Rs 712 crore overdue interest for drought hit Vidarbha that witnessed a spate of suicides by debt-ridden farmers. He also extended this package would to other drought affected states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. In 2008, loan waiver to farmers was granted by the Central Government under Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme. The state government also came forward and several initiatives were launched by the same. In 2012 Kerala, amended the Kerala Farmers' Debt Relief Commission Act, 2006 to provide advantages to all affected farmers with loans through 2011 and in 2010 the government in Maharashtra made for non-licensed moneylenders from collecting loan repayment. The world bank also intervened and sanctioned a loan of $600m (£300m) loan to assist the affected farmers in 2007. “ The World Bank claimed its offer of loan and credit was aimed at increasing availability of financial services for farmers' “ (World Bank loan for India farmers, BBC).
Moving on to suicides under the rule of the national democratic alliance
(NDA), the report of Crime Records Bureau stated that farmer suicides had grown by 41.7 per cent since the Modi government came into rule. Several Congress leaders pointed out that the Modi government disguisedly favored the “Middlemen” and this was one of the main reasons behind the increase in farmer suicides under their rule. They pointed out that while the agricultural exports were falling down, there was an evident increase in the imports due to which the farmers had begun to get lower prices for their produce .i.e., due to the increase in economic liberalization under the BJP government the agrarian crisis had intensified. Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav in association with several other activist groups like jay kisan andolan, Asha and Rythu Swaraj Vedika released a Green paper titled “4 Years - 4 Budgets: What Has This Central Government Delivered?” on the 30th of January that critiqued the Modi government for making false promises. The green paper highlights twelve points termed as the government’s “acts of omission and commission since 2014” (Saha et al., 2018). It sheds light on how demonetization proved to be fatal for the Indian farmers. Cash is the primary mode of transaction in the agricultural sector and due to demonetization farmers could not purchase seeds and fertilizers. Adding to this, since demonetization was carried out during the Kharif harvest season farmers were forced to sell their crops at a very low price. Apart from this the BJP government also broke the promise of ensuring 50% profit over the cost of cultivation clearly due to the extremely low minimum support prices. The paper harshly stated that “the story of this government in power for nearly four years is a story of betrayal of the solemn promises made to the farmers” (Saha et al., 2018).
In hope for an increase in the budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA) the paper gave voice to the farmers facing distress in India. A green paper is usually released to bring out an issue and stimulate discussion and is generally followed by a white paper that becomes the foundation of a bill to be given to the parliament . This paper demanded several solutions from the government and managed to bring out the problems faced by the farmers under the NDA rule. It also indicates how policymaking in India is tedious and long process that requires a problem to become big in order for it to be noticed by the government. Interest groups and activists such as those that played an important role in presenting the “green paper” make sure that the voices of the people belonging to their community are heard by the nation. They play an essential role in putting pressure on the government and bringing about reforms in the nation. In my opinion, the “green paper” highlights all the issues explicitly and that it will play an important role in the formulation of policies for the farmers in the future to come.
In my opinion the Kingdon’s model of agenda-setting can be used to justify the situation that has arose. First comes the stream of problems wherein Individuals come to focus on specific issues rather than others and the priority is usually set by taking into account the intensity of the issue. As seen in the past 20 years approximately 3.10 lakh farmers have committed suicide. The problem was prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s too but became more evident around the 90’s. Secondly, there is the stream of policies. Several policies are generated to solve the problems faced by the country. To determine the issue of the eccentric nature of farming and counteract agriculturist suicides in the nation, the Government propelled PM Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana in mid 2016. The NITI Aayog also released a report that stated that the government aimed at “doubling farmers’ incomes. The third is the stream of politics, we saw above that there was an increase in rate of farmer suicides under the NDA government and to defend themselves from the allegations put forward by the UPA government several reforms were carried out. Apart from the government there were several interest groups and activists that have contributed. It is interesting to note that these three streams are independent of each other but some of the biggest reforms take place when all of them join together and the “window for policy” opens and in this case the window will open due to the emergency of the crisis and the pressure on the BJP government to win the upcoming elections. In order to keep the agricultural sector happy the BJP government has to bring about some reforms in order to take a step towards curbing the crisis.
Several actors came into play but it was seen that even though media covered individual stories, the mass farmer suicides were not shed light upon. Considering the gravity of the issue there was not enough priming of the issue during that time period. Renowned journalist P.Sainath who is an expert in agricultural and rural issues pointed out the same. With the agricultural correspondents coming down massively he stated that “When you don't have an agriculture or a labour correspondent, you are basically saying that 75 percent of the population does not matter” (Sainath, 2017). Sainath also proposed that the Parliament should have an exclusive 20-day session just to discuss the agrarian crisis where the families of the victims should be present and being such an influential personality he was able to convince 4 parties to arrange for the same. The media plays a very crucial role in setting the agenda and the poor coverage of the issue by the media is a major drawback. One of the foremost steps in policy making is to put the problem faced by the public on the agenda and to find a solution to it via a policy or policies and media plays a very crucial role in the same. The media often builds the issue that will be on the agenda in instances of political, money related and different outrages or in several scenarios raised by insightful journalists. The poor functioning of the media weakens the process of agenda setting in policymaking.
Apart from the media there are several actors have a part to play. International actions often have an influence over a country’s policies. Despite the deteriorating condition of Indian farmers the US dragged India to the WTO claiming that India’s agricultural subsidies “exceed” what is permissible while India claimed that the US has used a wrong method of calculating. This allegation by the US comes when India has been shaken by challenges by different farmers' associations, who are protesting that the Indian government has neglected to give the subsidies through Minimum Support Prices which the government had guaranteed. Making the motive of US behind this move at WTO clear, Perdue stated, "India represents a massive market, and we want greater access for U.S. products." This would constantly mean cutting into the income of Indian agriculturists. "India" he said, "must be transparent about their practices. For trade to be free and fair, all parties must abide by their WTO commitments” (Kulkarni, 2018). With the farmers continuously protesting for their rights and the crippled condition of the agricultural sector, this move by the US is a major drawback as India cannot afford to lower it’s subsidies. On the other hand it has been witnessed that US has been the highest violator of the WTO policies and that it’s farmers are very happy with the free and fair trade.
Let us look into the policies that the USA aims to implement under the Farm Bill passed in 2014. The Price Loss Coverage (PLC) or Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program for farmers to utilize it as their safety measure. The PLC program pays farmers when the market price drops below the established reference price. If the crop year U.S. average market price is less than the reference price on a particular commodity, a farmer who grows that commodity is eligible for payments. Under the Conservation title it introduced toe new programs: ACEP and RCPP. While the former aims at counteracting non-agricultural employments on wetlands or prairies, the latter aims at partnering with “state and local governments, Indian tribes, cooperatives, and other organizations for conservation on a regional or watershed scale” (Monke, Johnson 2018). The Market Access Program provides monetary support to promote US agricultural commodities. It also aims at increasing the spending’s on Research and development in the agricultural field and subsidizing crop rates. USA also provides two types of crop insurance: crop-yield insurance and crop-revenue insurance to it’s farmers.
The question that arises over here is that can Indian policymakers utilize similar policies to provide relief to the farmers? While around 120 million people are involved in faming in India, only a small fraction of approximately 2.3 million people are involved in the USA. In such a situation it is difficult to determine whether the policies introduced under the US farm bill will be useful in the Indian context or not. Apart from this there are several problems faced by the Indian farmers that are not faced by farmers in the USA, number one being that of “moneylenders”. Across the nation steps must be taken so as to shield farmers from private moneylenders who pursue exceedingly exploitative practices. To accomplish this, the government needs to spread awareness among rural populaces about new plans and their rights. Such an exertion should be made remembering the low rates of proficiency in country regions, especially for the female population—their knowledge on specialized and non-specialized parts of present day farming is justifiably low. In spite of the fact that the legislature has propelled a TV channel called DD Kisan to serve agriculturists, there is no quality research on whether the intended interest group is watching it or not. Secondly, small and marginal farmers are often exploited by the rich ones. The rich ones usually take the advantage of the subsidies while the tillers continue to suffer. Thirdly, lands in India get divided amongst the farmer’s sons as a result of which the land keeps getting fragmented.
Despite these differences we can still borrow some policymaking ideas from the USA. Something similar to the Regional conservation Partnership Program can be implemented as a result of which the central government joins hands with the state to curb the crisis. The state invests much more than the central government on developmental activities like irrigation and, market reforms are also state subjects. Therefore a uniform partnership between the state and the central government throughout the country can help us witness changes. Also more than encouraging imports the government should facilitate the promotion of Indian agricultural products on the international platform like the US Market access program. We have also witnessed that interest groups play a very strong role in the USA and if a similar importance is given to the interest groups in India, issues existing around the agrarian crisis can be solved.
With the problems pertaining to the Indian farming society several solutions can be proposed. The problem of small and fragmented lands can be tackled by urging farmers to join their resources and land .i.e., cooperative farming. When it comes to seeds the policy explanations are planned towards making seeds accessible to the Indian agriculturist, sufficient amounts of seed of prevalent quality at the proper time and at a reasonable cost to meet the nation's sustenance and dietary security objectives. Manures and fertilizers should be made available to the marginal farmers in the remote areas of the country which in turn will help them to protect their crops and increase the produce. With only one-third of the crop area being irrigated, the Indian government needs to aim at irrigating more land (at least 50%). Lastly, more number of farmers should be introduced to mechanized ways of farming and the markets should be excessively regulated to protect the Indian farmers from middlemen and moneylenders.
With the huge population and dynamic politics India often slows down in it’s process of implementing policies. Evidently the Prime Minister’s Office has been gaining more power with passing time and thereby should give more attention to the matter. In the midst of the increase in development of disparity in India; in the midst of the situation when disagreement has been condemned; when strategies of the state and Centre are failing to live up to the expectations of the poor; at this point the only fix lies in "going back to battles of justice", feels celebrated journalist and rural undertakings master P Sainath.
Abrol, IP 2002: ‘Agriculture in India’ (mimeo) Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, New Delhi.
Mahapatra, D. (2017). Over 12,000 farmer suicides per year, centre tells Supreme court. Times of India. [online] Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/over-12000-farmer-suicides-per-year-centre-tells-supreme-court/articleshow/58486441.cms [Accessed 29 Nov. 2018].
Parvathamma, D. (2016). Farmers Suicide and Response of the Government in India -An Analysis. IOSR Journal of Economics and Finance (IOSR-JEF), [online] 7(3), p.3. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e54b/d6124eb91a24aa6d14b776daefca89a1f1e9.pdf [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].
BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | World Bank loan for India farmers. (2018). Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6245366.stm
Kedia, S. (2018). To Indian media, 75 percent of population does not matter: P. Sainath. Retrieved from https://yourstory.com/2017/06/p-sainath-indian-media/
Saha et al., (2018) 4 Years - 4 Budgets: What Has This Central Government Delivered? Retrieved from http://www.kractivist.org/wpcontent/uploads/2018/01/Kisan-Green-Paper-Jan30-2018.pdf
Johnson, Renée., Monke Jim. (2018). Congressional research service. What Is the Farm Bill? Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22131.pdf
Kulkarni, P. (2018). Amid Agrarian Crisis, India is Pressured By US to Reduce Farm Subsidies | News Click. Retrieved from https://www.newsclick.in/amid-agrarian-crisis-india-pressured-us-reduce-farm-subsidies.