From the Viewsroom

Farmers deserve their due

Preeti Mehra | Updated on January 20, 2020 Published on January 20, 2020

They must get a fair share of the price paid by consumers

Last month at the convention of Karnataka Growers’ Federation (KGF) in Bengaluru, food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma popped this question to the audience: How much was a farmer’s share from a cup of coffee that retails anywhere between ₹80 and ₹250 per cup in upscale coffee bars? After much deliberation the consensus arrived at was a paltry ₹1 per cup. Given such meagre returns, it came as no surprise when the KGF demanded that the State government announce a loan waiver for coffee growers, hit by weather extremes and prices falling to a 26-year low. Three recent suicides by cultivators caught in a debt trap were highlighted to illustrate the crisis faced by 1.5 lakh growers and 15 lakh workers in plantations in Karnataka.

The plight of coffee growers is an example of the crisis of diminishing returns that confront cultivators of a range of vegetables, fruits and cereals. Equally unfortunate is that any sharp rise or fall in prices does not provide farmers enough relief. Thus, when retail onion prices fell in December 2018, farmers were reportedly getting less than 50 paise per kg, leading them to dump their produce on the streets. On the other hand, when onion prices recently skyrocketed to ₹100, the farmer got a mere ₹8 per kg.

In the case of rice and wheat much is made of the Minimum Support Price. But according to the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture (2018-19), only about 30 per cent of wheat and rice produced between 2002 and 2018 was procured by the Food Corporation of India and State agencies. The rest (70 per cent) was sold to private players at less than the MSP. So, what must be done to save farming? Experts like Sharma suggest that the Amul model, which ensures the farmer a fair share of the price paid by consumers, could be considered. Budget 2020 needs to come up with out-of-the-box solutions.

Published on January 20, 2020
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