Showering love on farmers

Published: Friday 31 July 2009

Did anyone check if they want such love?

organizing agricultural markets is an exercise in managing contradictions. There is the need to ensure farmers earn from their efforts, both for reasons of social justice and the country's food security. At the other end of this equation are consumers. Affordable food is essential for any society. And given the nature of international trade and how it is used by countries to leverage strategic and political advantages, each sovereign nation tries to ensure it does not have to depend on factors outside its control for food. Governments the world over subsidize farmers in some way or the other. No one protects farmers as aggressively as do countries in Europe and North America--countries that otherwise preach free trade and economic liberalism to the rest of the world.

The economic advisers to the Indian government, who did not consider in the Economic Survey a parliamentary committee's recommendation to ban foreign direct investment in retail, are high priests of economic liberalization. They want to push India headlong into their idea of a developed society. But none of them has ever tabled a workable plan to ensure the Indian farmer's income. In fact, they relentlessly suggest India should get people out of agriculture and into more 'developed' income-generating jobs in industry and trade.

The high priests of free trade are no better. They also look at farmers and agriculture as an intermediate stage. There are many who quote Marx on taking people out of the idiocy of rural life. They want the government to subsidize and mechanize food production, so the farmers can take part in building their idea of a classless society.

Both the Right and the Left of India's political economy do not believe in the farmer. They do not talk of farmers as consumers, of farming as a way to live a productive life. Both do not bother to consult farmers, to understand what they want. It is not easy to find out what Indian farmers want because they work different kinds of soils, speak different kinds of languages, and grow different kinds of crops. But a serious inquiry would show farmers cannot do well if the rural economy is not revived. The rural economy, in turn, depends on ecology. Economists--of the Left and the Right--do not like ecology. It is difficult to control through graphs and percentages.

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