The green fields of Punjab, considered India’s granary for the wealth of its agricultural produce, are today awash in red, as the mountain of farmers’ debts stands taller than the mounds of grains.
And it’s not just the State’s small and marginal farmers, for each of whom Captain Amarinder Singh’s government announced a ₹2 lakh loan waiver, who bear a debt burden. A study by economists in Punjabi University in Patiala has shown that indebtedness is as prevalent among farmers with larger holdings as it is among agricultural labourers. The study showed that indebtedness in rural Punjab is shockingly high, with 86 per cent of farmers in the State and over 80 per cent of agricultural labourers reeling under debt.
According to the study, carried out by economists led by Punjabi University professors Gian Singh and Anupama Uppal, 32.6 per cent of marginal farmers with less than 1 hectare (ha) of land and 14.65 per cent of small farmers with 2 ha live below the poverty line.
Similarly, four out of five farm hands live below the poverty line as they suffer from lack of employment opportunities.
“There is an urgent need to take measures to overcome the problem of indebtedness…The government should provide interest-free loans to marginal and small farmers and agricultural labourers,” the study, brought out as a book by Lambert Academic Publishing last month, pointed out.
An average marginal farm household had a per capita annual income of ₹29,325 whereas that of a small farm holding was 41,668. A typical agricultural labour household had a per capita income of ₹16,735, one-fifth of the national per capita income in 2014-15. The per capita income of farmers with large tracts was 5.78 times more than that of those with marginal-size farms. But they too are in debt. “The loan per indebted household increases as the farm size goes up,” the study said.
The average debt of sampled farm households was ₹4,74,216 and that of agricultural labour households was ₹54,709.
For the study, the researchers surveyed 1,007 farm and 301 agricultural labour households in Mansa, Ludhiana and Hoshiarpur districts, which fall in different agro-climatic regions, namely South-west Punjab, Central plains and Shivalik foothills.