For more than a month now, over 100 farmers from Tamil Nadu have been waging a protest in Delhi against the failure of the central and state governments to provide compensation for their crop loss due to drought last year. The agricultural loans of the farmers of Uttar Pradesh have just been waived off. The farmers in Maharashtra too are agitating, demanding a similar waiver.
Despite having a normal monsoon season last year, and a record production of cereals and pulses crops, the agony of farmers across the country seem to be far from over. Is it an indication of how difficult it will be to fulfill Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream of doubling farmers' income by 2022? As agriculture expert and Niti Aayog member Ramesh Chand points out in a recent study, the real income of farmers has been declining during the 2011/12 to 2015/16 period. He attributes that to the below normal monsoons for two consecutive years (2014/15 and 2015/16), poor output and low prices. According to him, for farmers' income to double, it should register an annual growth of 10.41 percent till 2022/23.
Chand lists out a six point agenda to make this happen.
Improvement in productivity comes first. Resource use efficiency to minimise cost of production comes next. Increase in crop intensity, diversification towards high value crops, shifting cultivators from farm to non-farming occupations and better realisation of prices for farm produce are the other suggestions.
According to Chand, aggregate productivity of India's crop sector increased at the rate of 3.1 percent during 2000/01 to 2013/14. If this rate of increase is maintained, it will result in 18.7 percent increase in total farm income in seven years. Income from crops constitutes 70 percent of income from agriculture. Added with the income from live stock, the percentage increase could be 27.5 in the next seven years, he says. While judicial use of resources can result in another 26.3 percent increase in farmers' income the rest will come from other interventions. Chand says that the combined effect of the seven potential sources of growth comes to 75.1 percent in 7 years and 107.5 percent in 10 years or by 2025/26.
Incidentally, even at the best of times - when the growth rate in output was impressive, number of farmers to share the income declined, and prices realized by farmers grew - farmers' income grew at 7.46 percent a year. That calls for a sharp acceleration of the ongoing and previously achieved rate of growth in farm income. Also, the National Sample Survey Office, in its 70 Round of survey report released in April 2016 had estimated the average monthly income per agricultural households during the agricultural year July 2012- June 2013 to be Rs 6,426. The average monthly consumption expenditure per agricultural household during the same time was Rs 6,223.
In other words, it's a hand to mouth existence for Indian farmer and any decline in income can result in a Tamil Nadu like situation. Income doubling, however difficult it might be, is critical.