Agriculture is the ancient, essential and the foremost important occupation in the world. Man began systematic cultivating of plants and crops thousands of years ago and produced food for the very basic need of life. In order to meet the needs of everyone, he ought to adopt various methods of cultivation, store grains and the produces, and enrich the ways of consuming the produces. He had to fight with the nature, the primary threat the agricultural farms face every day that includes sunlight, heat, rainfall, soil and other climatic conditions. As the methods of cultivation evolve, the risks also develop for the cultivators to obtain the effective yields as expected.
Today’s risks are different from what the farmers dealt in the yesteryears. Most of the risks are artificially created, and some are politically motivated. The government and the administration have been playing a double role of educating the farmers on appropriate methods of cultivation on one hand and denying the rights of the farmers in implementing those methods on the other. Farmer’s profession has been highly politicized when it comes to accruing loans, grants, resources and lastly in selling the produces too.
The agricultural sector has gone in to the exorbitant state of horrified scenes that include farmer suicides, desiccated crops, and dried lands with no water. Deaths due to starvation and lack of nourished food are another tragic affair going on in the country.
What Gandhi can do in such critical situation? Do farmers become greedier? Or, do they have something learn from the teachings of Gandhi to sustain prevailing conditions that throw them out of their profession succumbing to natural and artificially created atmosphere in the field of agriculture? This article broadly explores the agricultural scenario and tries to answer these questions.
Agriculture under normal conditions
“To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.“ – This statement from Gandhi has a lot to learn for one to understand the basic philosophy behind farming. Agriculture is mainly a bodily labour. Traditionally, a farmer has to wake up at 4’o clock in the morning to start with his days work in his farm. He had to finish his work much earlier than noon before the Sun gets hotter. The manual labour supplemented by assistance from domestic animals like horses and bulls along with certain tools like axes, crowbars and ploughs constitute the agricultural infrastructure.
Later, the machinery was gradually introduced in farming. Electric motors replaced manual pumping of water from wells. Tractors and other machines helped farmers in plowing the soil and harvesting the crops. This mechanization reduced time and effort put on the farming as a whole. The downside implication due to this change is that farmers become lazier at a snail's pace. They got more leisure time to focus on other aspects of life.
Natural climatic conditions are the main concern of the farmers. Sowing and harvesting largely depend upon the start and the end of the seasonal rains. The two-thirds of the produces must be brought to whole sale market or to the retail shops directly. The duty of the government is to ensure and facilitate this process.
India’s thousands of villages relied upon such normal state of agriculture. The traditional methods of cultivation yield a minimum satisfying the minimum needs of the farmers. Failure of seasonal rains spoils the whole business. “…Only a few know that agriculture in the small and irregular holdings of India is not a paying proposition. The villagers live a lifeless life. Their life is a process of slow starvation. They are burdened with debts…” - Gandhiji’s biographer D.G. Tendulkar wrote in his 1953 article Village Industries.
Farming, in general, was never a lucrative, happier profession.
Agriculture in transitional conditions
In 1943, the world’s first recorded food disaster “Bengal Famine” occurred in British India in which 4 million people died of hunger. Poor rainfall, conditions aroused due to India’s freedom struggle was two prominent factors that drove the farmers in Bengal out of their profession. After independence in 1947, “Green revolution” was meted out to achieve large increase in crop production by the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and high-yield crop varieties. It aimed at supply of enough food for growing population besides raising the concern for protecting the environment due to industrialization.
Agricultural colleges and universities were established in 1950’s to undergo training and research on various methods of farming. Farmers were periodically informed about agronomic measures and problematic areas in cultivation. Partial scientific approach and machinery added more vigor to the farming sector. Production increased to meet self-suffices.
In this transitional stage, farming witnessed two great ends; One, the adoption and adaptation of the modern methods of cultivation and, two, facing the challenges from environmental damages and economic instabilities. These two extreme ends literally put the farmers in a perplexed state as he began to feel that the control of farming has slowly been loosening from his grip. With traditional form of agriculture, a farmer bore the hundred percent responsibility of cultivation with hundred percent risk on the part from Mother Nature. And now, farmer was fed with too many instructions and practices as the business was completely put on the core of the scientific methods, environmental conditions and economic feasibility.
Agriculture in modern conditions
In the post-globalization scenario, agriculture has become global. The introduction of synthetic processing of seeds, , genetically-modified traits of crops, organic farming and other newer methods of plantation etc., have made the farmers richer and happier than before. Farming conditions and practices have been taught by experts. Farmers develop awareness about learning and practicing newer techniques through regular interactions with the experts and the media channels as well. The economic state of today’s farmers has grown much better than their ancestors owing to an overall improved state of economy in other sectors. Buying power, distribution channels and consumerism have made the agro-markets more profitable.
On the basis of the much known and widely acceptable statement, “Farming is the basis for all other industries”, one could analyze the impact and the sufferings of today’s farmers under four sections viz., Failure of government schemes, greediness of the farmers, inequality among the farmers and Corporatization.
- Failure of government schemes: Over the decades government has been increasingly rise the grants, subsidies, supply of seedlings and saplings, recommended fertilizers to farmers. Despite adequate rainfall in cultivable regions, production is lesser due to improper and wrong selection of crops for cultivation. Farmers get disappointed due to failure of crops due to mismanagement of techniques and practices as suggested by the government. Farmers borrow money from banks and cooperatives to farm; but the failures put them in despair. The net result is impoverishment.
- Greediness: Farmers are becoming greedier sometimes, to say it bluntly. In order to see higher returns, farmers go for certain type of crops of higher yields and finally end-up with loss due to mismatching of soil and environmental conditions. Moreover, farmers tend to demand more from the government to cope up with the changing lifestyles and increased use of modern amenities. Aid and importance given to them shall not be construed mistakenly as it would have adverse effects on the nation’s economy and the agricultural sector as well.
- Inequality: The newer techniques are demanded by all farmers. But, only a few can really go for it. Government assistance and expert suggestions are reaching only a set of few farmers whereas others are stuck with the traditional methods. The difference in yields and profits are wider among the farmers. Other economic factors such as rise in procuring price, retail price and interests for loans are highly dependent on farming size and yielding capacity. Suicidal deaths of farmers in the states of Tamilnadu, Andhra, Bihar and other states are mainly due to smoldering of crops.
- Corporatization: Many scattered farming lands are being bought by corporate as a whole for the purpose of industrialization. Even in the farming sector, corporate have made their entry leasing on lands owned by multiple farmers cultivating varieties of crops not so known to the farmers. Farmers have sadly becoming coolies selling their own lands for this purpose. Industrialization and corporatization of lands boost competitiveness and race between bigger and smaller farmers. This in turn, exerts pressure on poorer farmers distracting him from his traditional way of doing agriculture.
Gandhian dictum of decentralization has not been made applicable in the agricultural sector. The blood vein of the nations’ entire system has been centralized and corporatized throwing the poorer farmers out of the system. The trend shows that agriculture is no more a village economy these days. Both the government and the farmers got baffled with re-introduction of newer techniques like organic farming, natural farming, and natural manures. Most of them are newer names given to our ancestral, traditional techniques.
Agriculture was once popularly hailed as “God’s profession”. Today’s farming is not that divine. It exerts pressure, greediness, economic rivalry, and even slavery.
Governments are not doing enough to tackle the issues created artificially and those arise from nature. Monetary compensations to meet the failures have made the farmers lazier than ever. More number of farmers is running out of this profession due to expansion of ci ties, industrial development, and depletion of resources leading to the suppression of their right of being “the sons of soil”.
* Founder & Primary Consultant, The Centre for Information Technology and Gandhian Philosophy of Nonviolence and Peace, Mettur Dam – 636 402 Salem District, Tamilnadu, India.
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