Don't need subsidies, give us the right price
For most Indians, Mahendra Singh Tikait is the man who brought Delhi to its knees in 1988 with a rally that brought the national capital face to face with the agrarian reality. While others who relied on his support went on to positions like cabinet minsters and opted for comfortable alliances with agribusiness companies, Tikait remained a farmer leader. In a three-hour interview, he spoke of India's agrarian crisis and its underlying causes. Down To Earth also sought the views of academics close to India's agricultural economy. While Tikait talked from his experiences, the experts talked from their studies. They were not too far apart.
Farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union spoke to Savvy Soumya Misra, Kushal Pal Singh Yadav and Pradip Saha in his village Sisauli. Excerpts
On the current situation of farmers
Farming does not pay anymore. Prices of farm inputs have soared, but the farmer does not get the right price for his produce. In 1966 [about the time of the Green Revolution] a tractor came for Rs 11,000 [today a very basic model tractor costs Rs 2.5 lakh], a farmer paid Re 0.4 for a litre of diesel [he pays around Rs 34 now]. Fertilizer, pesticide and seed prices have also increased manifold.
Back in 1966, we used to get electricity for 24 hours. Only on Mondays was there a power cut for 5-10 hours. Today we get electricity barely for 4 hours in 3 days--at many places even this is not available.Earlier we could buy eight to nine bags [of 50 kg] of cement after selling a quintal of wheat and still make something [a bag of cement comes for Rs 200 now and farmers can barely manage 5 bags after selling 100 kg]. Ten grammes of gold came for Rs 250 [gold sells about Rs 13,000 for 10 grammes today].
On the cause of farmers' problems
Farmers have borne the brunt of faulty agricultural policies. I believe that till the minimum support price (msp) paid to farmers is at par with the consumer price index, there can't be any solution to their problems. In 1966, the msp for wheat was Rs 76 per quintal and the farmer was paid Rs 13 per quintal of sugarcane. They are paid Rs 1,000 per quintal of wheat and Rs 81.8 for a quintal of sugarcane now. But I think a fair msp for a quintal of wheat is Rs 3,000 and for sugarcane farmers deserve to get Rs 250 a quintal. But I cannot openly ask for such a drastic rise because it might cause an uproar about the farmer asking for too high a price for his produce (even though it is the right price). The farmer might be thought of as being greedy.
So, I think the government should keep msps and the input prices at the 1966 level. Let the fiscal policy be farmer-centric. I believe that currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 are of no use to the farmer. Currency denominations should be of Re 1, Rs 2, Rs 5, Rs 10 and Rs 100. Doing away with the higher currency denominations will curb inflation. Earlier we could use 1 paise, 2 paise, 5 paise, these have gone now. Unless currency denominations are kept small, prices will keep rising.
On the impact of the Green Revolution
It has done more harm than good. I am not against technology per se but the Green Revolution has robbed us of our traditional farming methods. We have lost our rights to preserve seeds and are at the mercy of seed and pesticide companies. This government is for the wealthy and the powerful. Foreign companies have a well-laid trap to snare us. We can't use seeds for more than a season. We have lost our traditional eating habits. Seed and pesticide companies are raking profits but the farmer has nothing hardly any education, no food security and barely any access to health facilities.
On farmers in western UP relying on non-institutional finance like moneylenders
Farmers do get institutional loans but not without having to deal with middlemen. So they prefer the local moneylenders. Of course, moneylenders charge more interest. But remember farmers have a lot of self-respect. They will seek help only in dire circumstances, and the moneylender is the one who is at hand in such situations.
On the loan waiver scheme
The scheme is not the permanent solution for farmers' problems. We told the Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that loans of all farmers should be waived. After this they should make provisions to give the farmer the right price for his goods [Takes great offence when we use the word maang. Says the word is derisive and that it should be replaced by the English equivalent demand. Says that the word maang makes the farmer feel worthless his profit, his loss ].
We must not forget that a loan is a loan. Why should a farmer need to take loans? He should be given the real value for his crop and prices of farm inputs should be controlled.
On the government consulting farmers
The government never confers with farmers' union while framing agricultural policies. Besides, there is little cooperation between the different farmers' unions. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar says a lot of farmers do come for discussions with the government. But many of them are agents of multinational companies. Recently, some farmer leaders even shared a platform with pesticide company representatives. Sharad Joshi, for instance, had a meeting with agro-company representatives. The agriculture minister told me that some of the so-called farmer leaders have taken positions which are completely against ours. The views that they present to the government are a complete opposite of what the real farmer wants. What to do in such a situation?
On the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) Doha round of negotiations
I have lived in Europe for some time. Governments there subsidize the farmer for keeping there land fallow. Compared to farmers' in these countries, our farmers' get almost no subsidies. At the same time, we do not need subsidies. Just give the farmer the correct price for his produce. In any case all these talks won't solve any of our problems.
At the recent wto ministerial at Geneva, there were talks of opening the Indian market to agricultural produce from other nations. If you start getting everything from outside, it will destroy things. Just think what will happen to the sugarcane farmer if wet get all our sugar from outside? What will happen to the wheat farmers here if we import all our wheat? What will happen to our paddy farmers?
On trying to match subsidies given to farmers in the developed world
I don't quite understand what the government means by subsidies. Tell me who is getting subsidies here?
On the option of keeping seeds for the next season
This will make farmers' completely independent of seed companies. Farmers used to keep seeds for the next season earlier. Don't we have scientists in the country? They should develop seeds, which can be used for more than one season.
On going back to traditional farming methods
At least it will revive traditional food habits and eliminate the need to consult doctors frequently. Traditional farming that relies on cow dung, cow urine could also solve a lot of our problems. But then where are the animals to provide such inputs? Most of them have been sent to slaughterhouses.
On productivity of traditional farming methods
Productivity might come down initially, but our input costs will also reduce drastically. This will make agriculture much more profitable for the farmer.
On wage labour rates
They have not increased significantly. In recent times they have varied between Rs 80 and Rs 125. But the economics has completely changed. About 40 years back we used to pay our labour by giving them something from our harvest. They used to keep some of it to feed their families and sell the rest in the market and earn money. This enabled them to buy all the other things they needed for their family.
But today we only pay them monetarily. Because now they will not accept it if we only pay them by giving a part of our harvest. The money they will get by selling it is not sufficient to run their family. But the farmer still has to make do with the money that he gets by selling the same harvest.
On trials of genetically modified vegetables like Bt Brinjal, Bt tomatoes and Bt papaya.
We do not know the pros and cons of these vegetables. We cannot keep the seeds of these vegetables for the next season. How can they be profitable to farmers?
On farms in the West being more productive than those in India
In the West, farmers have better facilities. Take for example, the sprinkler system. Our farmers hardly have the money and means for such technologies. Even till date there is very little water and hardly any irrigation in many parts of India . There is no electricity supply either. So despite spending money in buying seeds the crop fail for lack of irrigation. Everyone talks of productivity but nothing can be done without water.
On the future of agriculture and of farmers in India
It is in complete darkness. Today the government is acquiring fertile land from the farmers' at dirt cheap rates. I am not against industry but industries must not be set up on fertile land. Industry should only be set up on barren lands.