|A paddy farm in the great northern plains.|
Some years back, the celebrated Indian President Abdul Kalam was addressing students at an annual event organised by K Govindacharya's Bhartiya Swabhiman Andolan at Gulbarga in Karnataka. He exhorted students to work hard, educated themselves to become doctors, engineers, civil servants, scientists, economists and entrepreneurs. After he had ended his talk, a young student got up and asked why he didn't say that they should also become farmers.
Abdul Kalam was floored. Whatever be his long winding answer, the young student had actually punctured his argument, and at the same time brought out the great bias towards farming.
This incident came to my mind when I was reading this moving essay by a farmer from the United States. Bren Smith, a shellfish and seaweed farmer writes in the New York Times (Aug 9, 2014) Don't Let Your Children Grow up to be Farmers (http://nyti.ms/VeffqD): "The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small -scale farmer isn't making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat." Accordingly, 91 per cent of all farm households in the US rely on multiple sources of income. This is happening in a country where the Farm Bill 2014 makes a provision for $ 962 billion of federal subsidy support for agriculture for the next 10 years.
Ironically, the stark reality remains hidden in the Year of Family Farms.
Farmers are a dying breed. Writing in the Newsweek magazine (April 10, 2014), Max Kutner says: "For decades, farmers across the country have been dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. The exact numbers are hard to determine, mainly because suicide by farmers are under-reported (they may get mislabeled as hunting or tractor accidents, advocates for prevention say) and because the exact definition of a farmer is elusive." (Death on the Farm http://www.newsweek.com/death-farm-248127).
Well, what is happening in America is not an isolated development, farmers are dying across the globe.
When some weeks back I said on a prominent TV channel that on an average 2,80,000 people living in rural areas every year have been committing suicide for the past decade in China, the nation was shocked. A lot of concerned viewers called me up and wrote to me wanting to know more about the death on the Chinese farm. According to news report, nearly 80 per cent of the rural people who take their own lives in China are victims of farm land grab. In India, almost 300,000 farmers have ended their live since 1995. Again, like in the US, farm suicides are also under-reported in India with some States now trying to hide them by shifting these deaths to some other categories. Even in Europe, which provides massive subsidy support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the serial death dance continues unabated. In France, 500 suicides have been reported in a year. In Ireland, in UK, in Russia, and in Australia farmers are a dying breed.
In India, although we keep on saying that agriculture is the mainstay on the economy, in reality it isn't. Employing some 52 per cent of the population, the share of agriculture in country's GDP has been progressively on the decline. It is less than 14 per cent now. I have been saying for long that small farmers have to get into multiple of jobs to keep their chulas burning. Some studies point out to roughly 58 per cent farmers relying on the rural employment guarantee programme (MNREGA), which provides for 100 days guaranteed employment. Still worse, the people who feed the country actually sleep hungry. More than 60 per cent go to bed hungry every night. Nothing can be a worse illustration of the great tragedy on the farm.
It's not because of any unexplained natural calamity or a virus that the farms across the globe are first being hit by recession, and then depression. It is part of global economic design to move farmers out of agriculture, and by doing so to shift food production into the hands of heavily subsidised and environmentally-destructive agribusiness companies. It is generally believed that for any country to grow economically, the share of agriculture in the GDP must be brought down. In US, agriculture is only 4 per cent of its GDP. In India, it is less than 14 per cent now. By the end of 2020, I am sure it would be somewhere in the range of 10 per cent. Small scale agriculture is therefore being deliberately stifled.
In my understanding, the unwritten economic prescription is to make farming non-viable so that farmers are left with no other choice but to quit. In a quest to keep food prices low, the economic paradigm support large agribusiness conglomerates. The demise of the farmer therefore is predetermined. It's only a matter of time before the farmer as a species goes extinct.