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Editorial:Will 2018 Save Farmers from Turbulence?

In a nutshell, 2017 has recorded large-scale farmers’ protests due to various reasons, which include falling of remunerative prices and questionable implementation of loan waivers. 2017 was indeed a turbulent year for the agriculture and food sector in the country.

The sudden decision to demonetise high-value currency on November 8, 2016, when rabi (wheat) sowing was underway and the kharif (rice) marketing season was on, had an adverse impact on farmers’ income – much of which is in cash transactions.

The year saw a fall in remunerative prices of commodities in several states due to a mismatch in demand and supply. Already reeling under a cash crunch, small and marginal farmers did not have money in hand, leading to country-wide unrest and agrarian distress.

According to a news article in The Wire, the slowdown in the farm sector is reflected in the recent officially released lower gross value added (GVA) growth (GDP minus taxes and subsidies on products), at 1.7% in 2017-18 as compared to 4.1% in the second quarter of 2016-17. This is attributed to a 2.8% reduction in foodgrain production during the 2017-18 kharif season. The growth in livestock products, fishery and forestry, however, was estimated at around 3.8% for the same period.

By several accounts, there was no abatement in farmers’ suicides in the last two years, and Maharashtra continues to head the list. The latest figures for 2016 and 2017 are not available, but according to the National Crime Records Bureau, 8,007 farmers committed suicide in 2015 as compared to 5,650 in 2014. This does not include suicides by 4,595 labourers in 2015 as against 6,710 in 2014.

The year also saw deaths of 21 farmers from inhaling poisonous pesticide used for controlling pest attacks on cotton crops.

Other issues like the commercialisation of genetically-modified mustard remained in a limbo, with the government dithering on its stand in the face of opposition from civil society groups and RSS-affiliated bodies like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

Finally, as the year came to a close, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests recommended in its report said that no GM crop, including GM mustard, should be introduced in the country unless its bio-safety and socio-economic desirability was examined by a “participatory, independent and transparent” process.

The year 2022 is far away. First, the Modi government will have to clear the hurdle of general elections in 2019 and for that, farmers’ issues will have to be addressed urgently and decisively at the national level.

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