With more and more small and marginal farmers forced to take up daily wage labour on larger parcels of land for survival, the state government is facing a big challenge to bring them back into the institutional credit system after the lockdown us lifted.
While state Agriculture Minister Dadasaheb Bhuse has urged district agriculture centres to roll out a kharif plan to ensure farmers get easy access to seeds and fertilizers, officials working with farmers in the backward regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada have expressed concerns over the financially wrecked small and marginal farmers ability to go back to farming their own fields.
A senior secretary in the cooperation department, requesting anonymity, said, “The government will have to provide a special economic package to address the concerns of small and marginal farmers. To begin with, every farmer in this segment would have to be brought within the institutional credit system and their debts waived. They will have to be given an adequate loan to cover the input expenditure for farming. Without these concrete measures, 40-45 per cent farmers will be forced to take up daily wage work on bigger farmlands or explore alternative jobs.”
A uniform agriculture package for big, medium and small farmers, the official said, will defeat the objective and favour only farmers with larger landholdings and other financial support systems.
In its annual report to the state government, in April, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development — an apex development financial institution in India — had pointed out, “The government should promote group farming, which has been formulated to make agriculture sustainable for small and marginal farmers. Along with these efforts should be made to bring new farmers, especially small and marginal, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers, under the crop loan by different strategies, like revamping tenancy legislation and organising them in joint large groups and self-help groups.” It also mentioned that ensuring timely availability of adequate quantity of required agriculture inputs, like seeds and fertilizers, would be key.
With recurring droughts coupled with low irrigation potential, not extending 18.9 per cent, there has been a rise in the number of small and marginal farmers over the years.
The agriculture census data shows, “There has been an increase in small/marginal farmers’ holdings from 78.06 per cent to 79.52 per cent. While an average landholding size, in respect of marginal farmer, has decreased from 0.47 hectares to 0.44 hectares, the average landholding size of a small farmer has decreased from 1.44 hectares to 1.33 hectares.”
Overall, the total number of farmers in the state with small/marginal, medium, and big landholding is 1.53 crore. This is out of the state’s total population of 11.24 crore.
Sources in Krishi Kendras, which is coordinating with small/marginal farmers, said, “The state government will have to look beyond crop loan waiver to help farmers. Till now, 18 lakh farmers received Rs 11,000 crore loan waiver.”
The government plans to disburse crop loan worth Rs 74,000 crore in 2020-21. But if small and marginal farmers are not brought into the fold of the credit system, they will not be able to take any advantage of the new crop loan.
Former CM Devendra Fadnavis said, “Though it is effective to make farmers debt-free, crop loan waiver is not the lasting solution… To believe a one-time loan waiver will end the agriculture crisis or stop farmers’ suicide will be wrong. A holistic approach, with greater financial and logistic support, targeted for sustainable farming for small and marginal farmers is necessary.”
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