Sometimes in the early 1990s, I was among the few farmers chosen to undergo a training on hybrid paddy cultivation. Prior to that, I had already started demonstration cultivation of hybrid paddy. Then my district, Sonepur, was geographically divided into two distinct parts by the Mahanadi River. There was no bridge then. I was selected as the representative farmer of my block. The training was scheduled towards the end of July at the DAO office in Sonepur. The river was in spate. Boats were not making ferries. Being a young and enthusiastic farmer, I somehow managed to persuade few boatmen, who were known to me, to ferry us across. We (the farmers) were present at the venue by the stipulated time. But the scientists (who were to train us) or the officers (who were to manage us) were nowhere in sight. They reached at about 12 noon. The meeting started more than 2 hours behind the schedule. As soon as the meeting formally started, I stood up and raised my protest for the delayed start. The Chairman found an excuse in inclement weather for their delay in arriving. When I pointed out that the weather was no different to us and in addition we had to cross a violent Mahanadi river and still made up to the venue in time, the officer told me “that’s why we are paying you 25 rupees for attending the meeting.” I lost my sense of decency and immediately turned the big table on the people sitting on the dais, which included the officer. After they regained their posture, I told them, “Officer, look at my pant and shirt pockets. I can put many officers like you in each of those pockets. And you show me 25 rupees? And if at all you expect me to be present in time just because you are paying me 25 rupees, then my government is paying you in hundreds to do the same thing. Why aren’t you then reaching in time?” It was a different matter that in spite of being a ‘big farmer’, my earning was only a fraction of what the officer earned and thus my thundering that I keep officers like him in my pocket was had no truthfulness.
But the reaction was the outcome of an aggrieved and avid farmer whose self esteem was badly hurt by an arrogant officer. In that case the officer beg apology and I accepted that. But the broad point here is that farmers in Orissa are treated that way most often. I mean they are treated with disdain in every sphere. That was not the only instance when I had to face such situation and such approach. I had to assert myself to restore my dignity each time I was faced with similar situation. My personal experience is that very few farmers are treated well by the officers and the authority. And most often than naught, such lucky farmers are engaged in other professions, like legal, polity, teaching etc. And whatever respects that they get accrue from the non-farming profession.
Ironically, the level of respect for a farmer is declining with each passing time. This is an outcome of linking respect with money and not with nobleness of the profession. The general perception is that those who do not find engagement anywhere find engagement in farming. Since, respect is being weighted in terms of money, even a mere gutkha shop owner commands more respect than a farmer. It is an irony that producers of the most necessary item for human survival get less respect than those whose services are not required or less required for survival or existence.
Since, CAPITAL has become ‘the word’ in every social and commercial dealings; farmer is getting more and more stressed as CAPITAL is eluding the farmer even with a lot of energy and expenditure. When even a peon has the ability to give good schooling to his wards, a farmer – how so ever big he may be - struggles. And that is not very easy to cope with these days.
The farmer has also tried to grow with new ideas and technologies. But the laws of economics and engineering innovations, that so well bolster other sectors, fail to apply that way in case of agriculture. The demand-supply mechanism is quite complex in agriculture. Even if you can somehow assess the demand, it is very difficult to get an idea of supply – considering numerous pulls in the production and supply chain and the gross unorganized nature of the sector. Unlike other sectors, utilization of new technology does not reduce the cost of agriculture production. But the farmer is forced to adopt those these days. Climatic factors and reduction in soil nutrient has made things more difficult. While the expenditure has gone up in one upward direction, the income has not only failed to correspond to expenditure but also has become more unstable. While purchasing power of everybody else has gone up, the farmers have been left lurching. In such circumstances, the stress on the farmer is becoming suffocating.
A close look at the profile of the farmers who have killed themselves clearly reveals this aspect. Most farmers were ‘farmers only’. Not like me who earns part from agriculture and part from elsewhere. They did not have a pan-shop, they did not collect and sell firewood, they did not work in unskilled job opportunities like the NREGS. They only toiled and more toiled in their agriculture fields. And they lost there. They did not have a supplementary or substitute options elsewhere. They did not want compassion. They wanted respect for their profession. But that element stayed wanting.
What the government is doing is nothing. At best it can be termed as a humiliating compassion. What else will you term the government’s declaration to compensate Rs 800 for a hectare of lost kharif crop? What is the value of Rs 800? Seed alone costs at least 125 percent more than that.
Our government takes pride in having a comprehensive agriculture policy? A new policy has replaced the earlier one. But the fate of agriculture has only deteriorated further. This will continue to happen as long as agriculture is seen merely as the sector giving employment to more than 70 percent of the workforce. Agriculture has to be seen differently. Agriculture has to be seen as social service. Those who render such service have to be considered as first class citizen. And if CAPITAL determines class of a citizen, then such environment has to be created where the farmer becomes a capitalist - with a lot of surplus money. In other words, farming has to be the preferred profession.
I believe that when farming will again become the preferred profession, we will have less farmer suicides. And that can happen only when a farmer’s purchasing power increases at par with other occupations. It will be great if we decide on ways to restore the pride of the farmer, not be compassionate on him.
Bimal Prasad Pandia
Cell: +91-9438488563 / 9937888566