‘In winter’s chill or summer’s heat, A farmer works so that the world can eat’
The history of Agriculture in India dates back to Indus Valley Civilization Era and even before that in some parts of Southern India. Today, India ranks second worldwide in farm output. Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry and fisheries accounted for 13.7% of the GDP (gross domestic product) in 2013, about 50% of the workforce.
But things have taken a drastic toll in recent years.
Drought! Loans! Untimely rains! Low market prices! It often seems like farmers have endless suffering in their lives.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why none of us wants our kids to become a farmer because in today’s scenario farmers are the most distressed workforce.
On the one hand, India adores these farmers. On the other, Indian policymakers create the most impossible regulatory environment for the agricultural sector, trapping farmers in a low-income, low-productivity occupation.
The basic malady is known—too many people are unproductively engaged in agriculture, depressing agricultural incomes. The only way to solve the farmers’ problem is to make entry to other sectors attractive by creating employment opportunities, and to make it easy to exit farming. But the entangled myriad state-level regulation has gotten in the way.
Barriers to entry into the labour market are well known. Oppressive labour regulation creates a large, vulnerable and informal market that is less attractive for farmers, and job creation has not kept pace with population growth trends. The bigger problem for farmers, however, is the barriers to exit, which has attracted little discussion in policy circles.
In India, we like to worship, even deify our farmers. This emotional attachment comes with a side of paternalism. They need our trust, not worship. We need to treat them like adults who know their best interest, which often is to exit the agricultural sector. But the barriers to exit, intended to protect them, are trapping them. Indian farmers are experiencing filicide, not paternalism.
- Bhavya Bhatia