While India and Indians have become better off over the years, our farmers have been left behind.
Despite numerous loan waivers and decades of handouts in the last 70 years, the majority of farmers continue to live in a dismal state. The average monthly household income of a farmer is just ₹ 6,400 while the average debt is in excess of ₹ 47,000. One out of every three farmers is below the poverty line. About 85 percent of farmers hold less than two hectares of land, this makes it impossible for them to scale-up their operations and increase their income.
While politicians often try to relieve the distress in the agricultural sector with loan waivers and development schemes, no one seems to have a long-term sustainable solution to eliminate distress in the sector. The fundamental ills of the agriculture sector in India are severe underemployment and excessive intervention by the government in agriculture. Farmers cannot sell their land to whoever they want to, they are forced to sell their produce only at government authorised mandis where middlemen benefit more than farmers, and commodity and fertiliser prices are determined by the bureaucrats and politicians. In essence, except for tilling the land and sowing the seeds, the farmers have become completely dependent on the government.
The agriculture sector could provide a livelihood for only 14 crore people, yet more than half of India’s population remain dependent on it. The agriculture crisis in India is indeed a jobs crisis. An estimated ten lakh youth enter the workforce every month while barely any new jobs are created, thus they are forced to join the already crowded agriculture sector.
It is possible for farmers to lead a prosperous life. For that what they really need is a way out from low productivity farming into higher paying and more productive jobs. Unfortunately, the government cannot create jobs for everyone, they must come from private sector. For the private sector to create new jobs, our entrepreneurs need the freedom to start businesses and run them with minimal interference from the government.
With that, the farmers must be free from whims of the ruling government when it comes to determining the prices of their produce, selling their land to anyone they please, selling their goods at a place of their choice to whoever they want, etc. They should be free to choose what is best for them.