The Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture – ASHA, a national network of farmer groups, organizations and individuals working for the well-being of Indian agriculture and farming communities and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) organizing a two-day national workshop on Rethinking Economic Policies to Ensure Income Security in Agriculture at India International Centre, New Delhi on September 5 and 6, 2013.
The Agrarian crisis in India has been well-recognized, but the fact that it is continuing over the past two decades shows that the policy responses that were ostensibly meant to address the crisis have been inadequate or misplaced. It is starkly evident that agriculture and related livelihoods have been consigned to a low priority corner in the overall economic policy framework. Considering that 55% of our population is dependent on agriculture for livelihood and that India is a democracy, highest priority should be given to strengthening livelihoods of agriculture-based communities.
The National Policy for Farmers 2007, in its very first chapter “Need for Policy Reorientation”, says, “There is a need to focus more on the economic well-being of the farmers, rather than just on production... The aim of the Policy is, therefore, to stimulate attitudes and actions which should result in assessing agricultural progress in terms of improvement in the income of farm families, not only to meet their consumption requirements but also to enhance their capacity to invest in farm related activities.”
Kiran Vissa, Co-convenor, ASHA and Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, Co-convenor, ASHA, and Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture felt that this much-needed policy reorientation to focus on the economic well-being of farmers has not happened yet, and this is where the major challenge lies.
According to them, while some policymakers have emphasized that a large section of population needs to move out of agriculture, we should keep a few points in mind. (a) The reality of the past two decades shows that the other sectors have not created viable employment opportunities of a scale that can absorb even a small section of the agrarian population (even in the boom period of 2004-2009, only 2 million additional employment has been generated in the entire economy while 55 million have joined the workforce). Much of the migration out of agriculture is distress migration into insecure hazardous employment such as construction industry. (b) It has been demonstrated that small-holder agriculture has its own efficiencies in terms of input-use, family labour and capacity for diverse production, which have significant advantages over large-scale agriculture in the Indian context. (c) Widespread ecological problems related to soil fertility, excess chemical usage and groundwater depletion have shown that the path of large scale, heavily-mechanized, chemical intensive farming is disastrous for India.
While the debate continues over what is the desirable proportion of population engaged in agriculture, they said that we need to accept the reality that in the near future, a few hundred million people will continue to depend on agriculture and related activities (including livestock, agro-forestry, processing and value addition). Therefore, ensuring sufficient incomes for these families, including small farmers, tenant farmers, agricultural workers and livestock-rearers, should be a clear national priority. This is an essential element to ensure diversification of rural livelihoods, and to achieve other national priorities such as food and nutrition security, food sovereignty, poverty reduction, rural employment and sustainable urbanization.
They appealed that policymakers, academic experts, farmer organizations and civil society groups need to come together to conduct a deep examination of how the current economic policies are falling short of addressing the agrarian crisis and how they should be reoriented to ensure secure livelihoods in agriculture and related activities.
The participants at the workshop will include leading members of agriculture policy-making institutions, academic experts, Members of Parliament, farmer union leaders, policy analysts and civil society organizations. ASHA hopes that the substantive discussions in this workshop will help generate an urgent national debate on the future of Indian agriculture and the need to reorient public policy and build the necessary political will.