The apathy of successive governments of Andhra Pradesh towards the deepening agrarian crisis has resulted in farmers groups organising themselves to put pressure on political parties during election time.
The Rythu Swarajya Vedika, an umbrella organisation of various farmers’ groups and non-profits working in the agriculture sector, has released a report, Farmers’ Agenda for 2014 Elections, for the upcoming Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections. The report has urged political parties to focus on empowering the real cultivators, ensuring income security and sustainability, and addressing land matters which are the biggest source of corruption and mis-governance.
More than 35,000 farmers have committed suicide in the past two decades and about 1.4 million farmers have left farming to become agriculture labourers in the past decade.
Rythu Swarajya Vedika points out that even as 60 per cent of the population in the state depends on agriculture and allied activities for livelihood, successive governments in the state have failed to formulate farmer-friendly policies, leading to deep distress among farmers.
“Agriculture and allied activities are immensely important not only to the particular sections of people who are engaged in them. They hold the key to many of the Central priorities of the nation, such as food security, rural livelihoods, health, rural-urban balance, environment and addressing climate change, “ says the Farmers’ Agenda.
For giving institutional support to farmers, the organisation has demanded setting up of a state agricultural development board on the lines of the National Dairy Development Board, which helped create hundreds of dairy cooperatives, with sufficient allocation of financial and human resources to build farmers’ institutions across the state in the next fives years. Apart from this, a farmers’ income commission should be established to assess farm incomes and ensure minimum incomes, and if the farmers’ incomes do not meet the minimum income level, then the government should take responsibility for the shortfall, demands the farmers’ agenda. Besides, at least 10 per cent of the state budget should be earmarked for agriculture and rural livelihood promotion, it says.
Even the National Policy on Farmers 2007, which calls for a policy reorientation, was not followed in Andhra Pradesh and many other states, points out Rythu Swarajya Vedika. The policy says, “progress in agriculture should be measured by the growth rate in the net income of farm families... not only in millions of tonnes of food-grains and other farm commodities.” However, according to the organisation, while tens of thousands of crore rupees are spent in the name of farmers, there is no accountability whether this expenditure is resulting in increasing the net income of farm families.
Rythu Swarajya Vedika has demanded 10 per cent of total budget be spent on agriculture and rural livelihood promotion and a 25 per cent increase in public investments in this sector every year. Rythu Swarajya Vedika points out that about half of the real cultivators, especially tenant farmers and women farmers, are completely left out of the various government support systems, including low-interest credit, crop insurance, compensation for disaster damage and input subsidies. As a result, money spent on farmers is enjoyed by ineligible persons, the organisation points out. The loan eligibility cards system introduced for the benefit of the tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh three years ago needs to be implemented properly, the agenda document says.
'Set land records straight
Farmers’ organisations have urged for a comprehensive land resurvey immediately across the states in order to update the land records and reflect the current situation in terms of ownership and use. Modern technology such as GPS can be used as is being done in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, and the land records will be completely updated and computerised, resulting in transparency, elimination of corruption and harassment, and reduction in litigation, they point out. In this process, special attention should be given to assigning titles to women based on current use, inheritance laws and other policies, they add.
Further, the organisation demands that land-use planning should be seriously taken up in rural areas to prioritise between use for different sectors and purposes. Transfer of land from agricultural use to non-agricultural use need to be minimised in the interests of people’s livelihood as well as food security and production needs of the nation.
As part of the process of distributing land to the poor, millions of Dalits and backward community members have been given land but they are unable to enjoy the benefits since most of the land is infertile and remains uncultivated due because of lack of irrigation facilities. In many places, pieces of land distributed to the poor communities have been alienated. High priority should be given to developing the land, providing irrigation facilities and preventing alienation of such land, urge the organisations. During land acquisition, consent of gram sabhas should be ensured and the process of Social Impact Assessment needs to be strengthened, the farmers' agenda states.
|Major demands of Farmers' Agenda 2014 elections
- 10 per cent of budget for agriculture and rural livelihood promotion
- Set up agriculture development board, farmers income commission, state prices commission and commodity boards for building value chains for commercial crops
- Farmer service centres at cluster level to provide single window services in terms of extension, inputs, market and financial services
- Affordable institutional credit at 4 per cent interest to all real cultivators, effective insurance for crops and livestock
- Effective disaster management and adequate compensation and income security to farmers
- Equitable access to land and water through land settlement and survey, formulating land use policy to regulate land use shift, promotion of water harvesting and water recharging, regulating water use and promoting water cooperatives
- Improve regulation to ensure biosafety with GM crops and quality and price regulation of seed
- Special package for ecological farming, women farmers, tribal areas, rainfed areas and farmer suicide-affected districts