Today I want to share a heart wrenching story that I recently came across.
It was an anxious day for Hema, an 18 yr old. She was to appear for her SSC board examinations . All those long hours spent studying were to be put to the test, and like every other teenager her age she was hoping and praying for a good performance.
That morning as she collected her hall ticket and touched her father's feet for his blessings, little did she realize that her exam tensions would be the least of her worries when she returns home that day.
Her father,a farmer was facing adverse times, a flood had ravaged his entire crop rendering his season's worth of hard work to waste. The calamity crushed his aspirations to repay a loan he had taken. As the sole bread winner in his family and farming his only profession his entire family's aspirations were on his shoulders. He left his house after a meal with his wife. He visited his favourite temple in the neighbourhood and headed to his farm.
But that day was no ordinary day. Hours later a village acquaintance found his body hanging from a tree in his field. By the time he tried to pull him down he realized it was too late and rushed to inform his family.
Another Son of the Soil was lost! But why?
Here's an attempt to unravel this mystery:
An agrarian country like India has close to 60% of its population directly or indirectly dependent on Agriculture, A fact we are proud of and have always been. Farmers are who drive this great nation of ours.
Contrary to what the urban population may think the life of a farmer is not easy. What's disturbing is the high suicide rate amongst farmers in India.
A lot of research and speculation has taken place over the years by various experts and institutions on trying to find what the "Trigger" is for this behaviour.
Farming is a dexterous profession that entails the crop being planted, picked, harvested and hauled by hand (in most cases). It usually is family run with the Parents and wards working together.
Two key challenges I would like to talk about are below:
1. Climate and Mother Nature:
A consistent weather pattern and the lack of natural calamities like a draught, flood etc is one of the most vital aspects of farming.
Irregular rains, a plummeting water table level and other environmental factors spell failure and success in a farmer's life to a large extent.
Access to Knowledge: With the help of technology and innovative irrigation some of the above challenges can be addressed, but awareness and implementation are both almost absent in most areas. Most farmer empowerment campaigns try to use the mass media to educate farmers not considering the fact they are primarily used by farmers as a medium for entertainment and not education. Farmers will thus remain isolated from the rest of the world.
Farmers work hard to create produce fit to be sold in a marketplace. If the conditions are suitable for farming, it means a lot of farmers have a good produce leading to a fall in prices, prices rise when a crops are in short supply, which means as a farmer there is assurance for the price you will receive for your crop. This affects the famers which own small cultivable lands the most.
The existence of a middleman and lack of facilities for a direct farm to marketplace transaction has led to smaller profit margins for farmers.
Loss due to pests and other natural entities that cause degradation of crop have led to a new practice of using genetically modified seeds that are more sustainable. The cost of such seeds is higher, which in turn requires a higher investment.
The lack of banking facilities has driven farmers often to moneylenders that will lend them money at sky-high interest rates of 30%-50%. Corruption in the existing banks dealing with farmers has led to bribery being a prerequisite to procure a loan from a bank.
One instance of a failed crop or a draught leads to the farmer facing a huge load of a spiralling debt. Add to this humiliation from loan sharks and banks trying to collect their loan.
The Government has time and again announced various schemes, some have been implemented while a few others are underway. But the lack of transparency in government policies and schemes has led to it benefitting only a select few, while a bigger chunk of the populace that is in dire need of help remains unattended.
What can be done to make things better?
For a problem of this magnitude there is no immediate cure, but sustained efforts can certainly ameliorate it.
Lower Bank Lending Rates and Removal of Corruption: Lowering lending rates to farmers will encourage most farmers to approach reliable state owned banks where seeking a loan does not require a bribe to be paid.
Fair Pricing: The variation in prices of essentials like seeds, fertilisers etc needs to be controlled and made conducive so as to protect farmers from sudden surges in pricing.
Direct-to-Market Relationships: Farmers need to create mechanisms to be able to surpass all middleman and have access to the marketplace directly.
First Hand Access to Expert Opinion: There need to be face-to-face training for farmers showing them the practical and theoretical techniques that they can use to improve crop quality, crop life and others facets of their profession. They need to be trained to grow alternate crops that can be cultivated when the weather is not conducive for the staple crops they usually grow.
A dedicated counsellor needs to be present in each village ready to counsel families and individuals facing challenges in the profession on the best way to tackle obstacles
Concrete Reforms and Widespread Adoption: The administration needs to move beyond simply announcing policies and schemes and move towards ensuring a transparent and widespread adoption of the proposed reforms that are not limited to a select handful of pockets in the country.
Encourage Alternate Industries: Running entire households simply based on one source of income is a practice that shouldn't be encouraged. Adoption of Alternate industries associated with the Agricultural Field will ease the burden on the earning members of the family.eg. Fisheries, Food Packaging etc.
All of the above in the long run will help create a better future for farmers and in turn our great country India.We don't want another Hema's childhood ruined, Do we?