Governance

‘Accelerating exodus from farming key to achieve target of doubling income’

To double farmers’ income reduce the number of farmers, suggest policy makers

 
By Richard Mahapatra
Last Updated: Monday 29 July 2019
Doubling Indian farmers' income wil;l be tough. Photo: Getty Images

Among senior officials in the Union government and members of the Niti Aayog, conversations now start and end with one subject: “doubling farmers’ income by 2022”. Clearly, the obsession with open defecation-free India is over as, unofficially, India has achieved the target before the October 2019 deadline.

But the new target to double farmers’ income by 2022 has officials scrambling for “specific ways”.

There is hardly anything new to offer for the agriculture sector barring the same old programmes assuring good returns to farmers, says a secretary to the Union government. “This is where this target is a difficult one to be described with specific points as the Prime Minister wants to know,” he adds.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested a seven-point strategy to achieve the target. But conversations with officials often divert to accounting the income of a farmer, and also what to double and how to do it.

There would be no more new programme to be declared for farmers in the near future. But officials already point out that they are more into calculating the target figure for 2022. For records’ sake, none of them have an official estimate of income to be doubled by 2022. This is despite the fact that Prime Minister’s promise was to double income of farmers in 2015-16, when he made that promise.

Income has been increasing fast in comparison to farm income. The gap between farm and non-farm incomes has grown from a ratio of 1:3 in the mid-1980s to 1:3.12 in 2011-12.

In this context, the government’s strategy to increase income of farmers has very few options, says an official of the Union agriculture ministry. To achieve the target of doubling income over the 2015-16 level, according to various government estimates and also widely being accepted one, farmers’ income must grow by 10.41 per cent annually until 2022-23.

The government’s strategy is to not just take into consideration the exact income from agriculture, but a farmer’s total income from all sources that include majorly non-farm sources. Economist Ramesh Chand has even said in his research paper for the NITI Aayog, the disparity between a farmer and a non-agriculture worker is so wide that it can only be bridged by:

  • Substantially increasing income from agriculture, or
  • Reducing the number of farmers, so that the income is shared by fewer people (enhancing per capita income)

Add to it the not so encouraging economy of agriculture.

In rural areas, farming engages 64 per cent of the total workforce that contribute 39 per cent of the total rural net domestic product. This points to overdependence on agriculture and underemployment.

The Government’s strategy is to shift out this underemployed population to non-farm sector. It is already happening.

During 2004-05 and 2011-12, the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) found, 34 million farmers moved out of agriculture. This is 2.04 per cent annual rate of exit from farming. According to NITI Aayog’s estimation, if this trend continues, share of farmers in total workforce would be 55 per cent by 2022, the year the income doubling has to be achieved.

Specifically on cultivators, Chand estimates, their number would decline by 13.4 per cent by 2022-23. “This implies that the available farm income will be distributed among 13.4 per cent less farmers,” suggests Chand in his paper. He suggests that by increasing the rate of farmers leaving to non-farm sector to 2.4 per cent/year from the current 1.81 per cent has the potential to achieve the target by 2022.  

“Total number of cultivators is required to come down by 2.4 per cent each year,” he says summing up his strategy to achieve the doubling farmers’ income target.

Such is the share of non-farm income in a farming family’s total income that encouraging them to shit to non-agricultural options are “imperative” to doubling their income by the target year 2022, according ot another study.

The paper on strategy to double farmers’ was by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)-National Academy of Agricultural Research Management and the International Crop Research Institute for the semi-arid tropics. It was based on a survey of farmers in six states.

In the next few weeks, the Chief Ministers’ Group on Agriculture Reform will hold a series of consultation. One of their jobs is to look at how to shift farmers into non-farm jobs.

As a strategy adopted since 1970s and based on what China did, this will be focussed upon while ensuring those who are left with agriculture get a remunerative price for their produce. 

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