SECURING FARMERS' WELFARE
In 2015, the ministry of Agriculture was renamed as the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare. The change in name is recognition that agriculture is not just about producing more food or crops but also about ensuring that the people engaged in this sector i.e. the Farmers live a comfortable and affluent life comparable to other sections of society.
After independence, India has attained food security and high agriculture production levels. But despite this growth in agriculture, farmers who form more than 45% of total workforce suffer from poverty, vulnerability and poor standards of living. As per NSSO data, around 40% of agriculture households will take up a different occupation if given a choice. In addition, the farmer suicides point to the distress among the farming community.
This shows that farmers as an occupational community are in dire need of social security measures.
Vulnerabilities faced by Indian farmers
• The biggest vulnerability faced by the farmers in India is small size of land-holdings leading to diseconomies of production. This coupled with high population growth and poor ability of industrial sector to absorb surplus labour force leads to poor per capita farm incomes. (85% of Indian Farmers are Small and Marginal i.e owning less than one and two hectares of land respectively)
• Vagaries of nature/weather in form of weak monsoons, excess and untimely rains/hails are a peril for the farming community in India. Also, natural vagaries not just affect the current year's production or income but their effects can spill over to coming years as well in the form -
o Loss of savings
o Rising indebtedness in order to meet subsistence needs
o Reduction of water levels in reservoirs, ground water aquifers, soil etc.
• Price movements due to supply side gluts in the market also affect farmers. Since farmers lack storage and warehousing mechanisms, they unload their stock soon after the harvest and there is glut in market leading to fall in prices. The need for credit for upcoming crop also leads to distress sale soon after harvest.
• The impending climate change is also leading to increased adverse weather conditions and increased incidence of pest attacks and diseases thereby increasing the vulnerability of farmers.
• Viewing farmer welfare only in terms of production and prices is misleading. Farmers being residents or rural India also suffer from the poor quality of rural amenities like lack of good transport infrastructure (16% of Indian villages lack all weather road connectivity) (still 25% of rural households lack electricity connection)
• As men move away from farm related work to other diverse occupations, the agriculture is witnessing 'feminisation' of agriculture and it is the women who are now exposed to these vulnerabilities.
Government schemes/plans/policies for farmer welfare
• Subsidized inputs like fertilizers, water, electricity, seeds etc.
• Priority sector lending, Jan Dhan Yojana etc. to ensure credit availability to farmers.
• Minimum Support Price mechanism and Public procurement to ensure remunerative pricing for farmers.
• Entrepreneurs Guarantee Scheme, 50% capital subsidy scheme, easy loans by NABARD, Cold storage development under National Horticulture mission etc. to ensure development of warehousing and storage facilities.
• Marketing reforms through Model APMC Act and E-NAM (Electronic National Agriculture Market) to ensure more options and better price for farm produce.
• Technology aided solutions in the form of -
o Soil Health Cards (testing the soil and providing recommendations to farmers on improving soil productivity and reduce fertilizer usage)
o Biotech Kisan (Krishi Innovation Science Application Network) to link farmers with the scientific community in order to boost farm production and incomes.
• For Social welfare of farming community schemes like MGNREGA (providing a legal/statutory right to employment), Direct Benefit Transfer, PDS, Indira Awas Yojana, NRLM (National Rural livelihood Mission) etc. has been taken up.
The state is the natural custodian of farmers' social security as well as public's food security. It is the duty of the state to protect them against natural risk, creating infrastructure and social amenities and facilitating knowledge and information flow.
But the tax-paying citizens who benefit from food security and the private sector which gains from a prosperous farm sector (through cross sectoral linkages) also have a duty towards farmers' welfare.
(Securing the Farmer's Welfare: Reality to Vision, Page - 33 by Nilabja Ghosh)
SYSTEMIC REFORMS IN MGNREGA
The basic underlying motive of MGNREGA is to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work
MGNREGA primarily aims at contributing to rural infrastructure development and other land-works in rural areas. It serves as an important catalyst in social and rural development.
To balance between growth and prosperity on one hand and social welfare on other the government adopted significant reforms in the MNREGS in last two years.
India has seen a steady decline in the proportion of national income coming from the primary sector. The most of the farmer households are living below poverty line. This income security among farmers has posed serious livelihood challenges leading to wide scale migration, diversion of land for non-agricultural purposes and rise in farmer suicides.
Government has taken steps to improve farm productivity, securing rural livelihood and infrastructural development. These include Fasal Bima Yojana, loan-waivers, interest free loans, soil health card, neem coated urea, etc.
Problems and reforms in MGNREGA
Programme suffered problems of repetitive works, futile and non-localised asset creation, etc. Systemic reforms have been taken up recently to resolve these issues and benefiting the rural poor including the farmers.
1. Removing agriculture distress by giving impetus to convergence initiatives for agricultural productivity and sustainable infrastructural development - The government has been laying impetus on works having a direct bearing on agricultural productivity including drought proofing, flood control, micro irrigation, water conservation and renovation of traditional water resources.
The government has notified 8 states as drought affected under MGNREGA namely Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in 2016-17. To address farmer distress in these drought-ridden states, the government has offered 50 days of extra work.
There is a considerable rise from 4% in 2012-13 to 18% in 2016-17 for total works under convergence making MGNREGA a more sustainable agricultural works programme. Mihir Shah Committee in 2013 mentioned inclusion of new works under MGNREGA for better agricultural productivity and sustainable asset creation.
2. Capacity building through skill development: Skilling the people has a multiplier effect on overall enrichment of the society. Project Life under MGNREGA aims to develop skills such as entrepreneurship skills and various trade related skills especially agri-related skills among the workers and their families.
This will give a significant thrust in achieving growth in agricultural sector through intensive skill development and will address the major problems of unemployment, migration, poverty, youth’s disillusionment with the agriculture, etc.
Note: Start-Up Village Entrepreneurship Programme (SVEP) to support 1.82 lacs entrepreneurs in next four years has been initiated by government of India recently.
3. Financial streamlining (DBT coupled with e-FMS): The DBT platform combined with the biometric based Unique ID program Aadhaar has effectively combated financial leakages through middlemen and also eliminate the duplicity and inconsistencies in records. The system will bring in more efficiency, accountability and transparency.
The government had directed the states to mandatorily adopt the existing framework of electronic fund management system (e-FMS). The mechanism would enable transfer of fund from the centre through an online system and enable efficient flow of funds down at Gram Panchayat Level.
4. Impact Assessment Framework: A governance reform aimed to monitor the tangible impact created by the works under NREGS. Basically to improve the quality and productivity of assets created and to create an accountable structure by enabling tracking the actual outcomes.
Strategic shift in approach towards rural and agricultural development under MGNREGA will help in generating sustainable livelihood and assuring social security to the farmers.
(Related Article - Systemic reforms is MNREGS, Page - 69 by Khyati Srivastava and Vidushi Sahani)