Opinion

Timely package for TN farmers

A. Narayanamoorthy P. Alli | Updated on March 12, 2018

Tamil Nadu rice farmers have been hit more by rising costs than Cauvery-related woes. — N. Rajesh

The State government’s package does well to address issues of high costs and debt, but its coverage can be broadened.





The agony of the drought-ridden Cauvery delta farmers finally showed signs of receding, with the Tamil Nadu Government announcing a slew of measures, including a compensation of Rs 15,000 per acre for farmers having suffered crop losses of over 50 per cent.

The delta farmers claim that the relief is reasonable, as the crop loan given by banks was almost equivalent to Rs 15,000 per acre.

Farmers, by and large, also welcomed the sanctioning of an increase in the number of working days under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to 150, payment of relief of Rs 3 lakh to kin of farmers who committed suicide, declaration of 31 districts as ‘drought-hit’, waiver of land tax and rescheduling of co-operative loans.

UNADDRESSED AREAS

Apparently disappointed with the announcement, a section of the opposition has said that a relief of Rs 15,000 per acre is inadequate, owing to the soaring prices of agricultural inputs.

Besides, the opposition parties have also pointed out that the assistance package is silent on relief measures to distraught sugarcane farmers, displaced agricultural labourers and ‘fallow-land holders’.

How reasonable are their allegations? Is the relief compensation adequate and valid? At a time when it is being intensely debated that the MGNREGS is pushing up labour costs and throwing agriculture out of gear, the relief package talks about enhancing the number of working days from 100 to 150 per year. Doesn’t this move of State policymakers seem contrary to the interests of the farm sector, despite being welfare-oriented?

Although the Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Association (CIFA) hailed this relief package as a consolation to the beleaguered 1.75 lakh Cauvery delta farmers, the Federation of Delta Farmers’ Association said that the relief package had left out about 3.75 lakh farmers who would have to rely on crop insurance cover alone.

The legitimate demand of farmers of northern districts was that all farmers across the State oscillating between hope and despair due to successive erratic monsoons and subsequent depletion of surface water and sub-surface water, needed to be brought under the purview of package, regardless of the volume of crop loss.

Caught in the midst of a capricious monsoon and the Cauvery imbroglio, over one lakh delta farmers of Tamil Nadu had to stare at massive losses of their samba and kuruvai crop.

Lamenting over the crop loss, after having spent about Rs 15,000-25,000 per acre, the State’s paddy cultivators have often linked their woes to the perpetual rise in cost of cultivation rather than to the water row.

MGNREGS IMPACT

As per the cost of cultivation data of the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP), the farmers of Tamil Nadu incurred losses in seven out of 10 years from 2000-01 to 2009-10 in paddy cultivation. In fact, the cost of cultivation (Cost C2) of paddy in the State in 2009-10 was Rs 46,960 per hectare.

Facing a double blow of crop loss and mounting debts, this relief package of the State government is pretty appreciable. However, it could have been a fair one, if the State had fully compensated the crop loss which would include the debt cost as well.

By providing a host of subsidies with regard to meeting the rising cost of diesel and preventing water loss from main canals to agricultural lands, the scheme seems to be taking the right steps, based on enhancing sustainability and economic viability. With parched farmlands being left for cattle-grazing, the plight of about 2.5 lakh farm labourers hangs in the balance.

The State’s relief package has given due attention to those displaced by accommodating them under the MGNREGS.

But MGNREGS schemes in richly irrigated areas often come in the way of ‘crop work’, leading to artificial scarcity of labour, which, in turn, upsets the wage rate.

The State needs to be cautious about increasing the number of working days from 100 to 150 per year, as CIFA and data from the Ministry of Agriculture have hinted that the scheme is instrumental in increasing the cost of production of crops.

The State’s policymakers need to see to it that unskilled farm labour is employed only during the lean season of agricultural activity and that an ‘MGNREGS holiday’ is observed during the busy season.

SUGARCANE WOES

Owing to unviable remuneration from paddy crop, a few farmers in the delta region took to cultivating non-foodgrain crops such as sugarcane. However, with newspaper editorials going to town on the suicide spree of sugarcane cultivators in the delta region, the viability of the crop has been called into question.

An empirical exercise carried out with the use of CACP data reveals that with the cost C2 of sugarcane in the State in 2009-10 being Rs 98,354 per hectare, the State’s cane farmers were struggling to get even marginal returns over a ten-year period (2000-01 to 2009-10).

This brings forth the fact that the plight of sugarcane farmers is equally grim and the State needs to compensate them as well.

The Tamil Nadu Government’s compensation package, no doubt, is a measure to provide succour to the drought-hit Cauvery delta farmers. The delta farmers feel that their loudest voice is no more in death.

The relief package enhances the chances of the State in achieving its foodgrains output target. However, the State should also see to it that there is no disparity among farmers in terms of relief.

Besides, it should also consider waiving agricultural loans of farmers in all banks, so as to incentivise farmers to take up farming in years to come.

It appears that the State has rightly understood M. S. Swaminathan’s concern that if agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will go right.

Narayanamoorthy is Professor, Department of Economics, Alagappa University, Karaikudi. Alli is Assistant Professor, Economics, Vellore Institute of Technology.

Published on February 24, 2013

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