A recent news report highlighted a government sponsored study that 96% of farmers in Punjab are under the burden of heavy loans. It comes as a great surprise because farmers in Punjab were considered to be among the richest in the country. Not anymore.
The study revealed that many small-time farmers were lured to buy heavy-duty expensive farming equipment which they did not need.
Add to it the increasing expenditure of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and you have the picture of a farmer who can see no escape from the loan trap.
Other news items suggest that water levels of underground water have fallen more than 1-3 meters in many areas in Haryana and Punjab forecasting a severe water crisis in the summer and a possibility of damage to crops in the next season.
Another news is about the entry of genetically engineered brinjal and other vegetables in the market. The introducing agency said that the current need was to feed the increasing masses in face of climate changes that were rendering traditional farming practices as failures.
A Lack of Knowledge
An overall view of the situation points to certain drawbacks of modern agricultural practices. The increasing cost of tractors, petrol, chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc. are driving the farmer to borrow loans. And lack of proper water management practices lead to heavy and indiscriminate use of tube-wells that day and night pump out water leading to depletion of underground water. Now we have genetically engineered crops that are being pushed upon the hapless Indian consumer who is blissfully unaware of the proposed dangers. The authorities in power seem to be in undue haste to promote the very crops that have been either put to hold or totally boycotted in the West. (Check: www.poisononplatter.com)
Turn to Nature
The current government’s fascination for industrial growth is obvious. Even to the extent of using thousands of acres of prime agricultural land for developing SEZs and promising the independent farmer a menial job in the proposed industry. No comments on the relief and rehabilitation package for the displaced farmers. Where it exists apart from the files, only the government knows.
In this current craze for technology, our offer is to turn to tradition. Organic farming, dependence on the cow for manure and fuel, the bull for ploughing and transportation, and using traditional time-tested seeds that are resistant to local pests and diseases and have proven nutritional benefits. Organic farming has evolved to great extent now and its practitioners claim high yields with modern practices with lower requirements for water and natural fertilizers and pesticides.
Although the production may in the beginning years be less than machine dependent modern day chemical and biotech farming, in the long run, we have a farmer who is free from the trap of debt as most of his requirements can be met from his own farm. Add to it the use of renewable energy resources that lead to little or no dependence on petrol, diesel, and electricity. When we compare using the bull for ploughing or operating a pump to draw water or produce electricity, it may appear to be less cost effective than using tractor or electricity from the state, but then we are ignoring the massive subsidies that are given for diesel, electricity, and other farming equipments by various governmental agencies.
The need is to look at the future and not just think short term. With farmers being driven to commit suicide we may not have many in the long term to till the land. And even if there are enough, we may not have the petrol to fuel the farm-machines.