Crisis Begets Crisis

Changing Agrarian Scenario

Santosh Rana

The condition of agriculture in the country has been undergoing a basic transformation. Previously, the power used in agriculture was almost exclusively animal power and human muscle power. In contrast, of the power that is used in agriculture at present, at most five percent is animal power and another five percent is muscle power, while the rest is mechanical power.

When widespread use of animal power was introduced in agriculture by means of ploughs, carts, Persian wheels etc, some ban on beef-eating was imposed on purely economic grounds. In the changed circumstances of today, the relation between agriculture and animal rearing has fallen into a crisis. In earlier times, young calves were castrated in farmers' houses and kept as bullocks. These young calves were assigned a high place because demand for bullocks was immense. This high demand is now a thing of the past because use of animal power in agriculture is very low. What would happen to the young calves?

Common sense suggests a serious rethinking about whether the laws banning beef-eating or cow-slaughter that exist in various states are still necessary. But what is happening is exactly the opposite. The rampage that is going on in the name of protection of cows is bringing about a crisis, not only in the social sphere, but in the agrarian sector also.

In the 1960s, many political activists on the left were inclined to think that land to the tillers would solve all the agrarian problems. In 1977-78, in the process of distribution of vested lands, the number of recipients was so large compared with the amount of land available for redistribution that many of the newly distributed plots were too small to engage ploughs, and had to be tilled with spades. Compared with the period when non-cultivating landowners had in their hands much land, real output increased in the whole of the state, but that increase was mainly in terms of output per acre. There was little increase in output per man-day. A revolution in the application of mechanical power was very much necessary in order to achieve increase in labour productivity.

Those at the helm of affairs of the Indian state thought of a green revolution without smashing the caste system, without implementing land reforms. Hence there remained a basic defect. Yet it cannot be gainsaid that they had recognized the role of the state in the development of agriculture. The state undertook investments in agriculture, although they were not of the required magnitude. Various institutions for agricultural research were set up, and many seed farms were built up in order to make the results of the researches accessible to farmers. These farms were of much importance in India's agrarian economy.

From the early 1990s, the Central Government began to tried in an opposite direction. Investment in agriculture stopped and it was told that the multinational corporations would henceforth do the work of agricultural research, and they themselves would supply seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and machinery. After two decades of implementation of this programme, one now sees that Indian agricultureis now dependent on a handful of foreign multinationals. Sometimes ago, two multinationals combined to form a monopoly enterprise of gigantic size, which would control the larger share of the global market for seeds and pesticides, and they would have virtually no rival in India. They would use this monopoly power in order to raise the prices of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides at will and thus to intensify the exploitation of the farmers. The net result must be more suicides and loss of whatever self-reliance India has attained in respect of production of food.

The only way to escape this onslaught is higher public investment in agriculture, manufacture of seeds in conformity with the demand and climatic conditions in the country, testing the effectiveness of those seeds in the seed farms, supplying these tested seeds to the farmers and purchasing the crops produced by the farmers at fair prices. For this purpose, many centres for agricultural research, along with many agricultural farms, are necessary.

One of the agricultural farms set up during the 1960s is located in Goaltore of the district of Bankura, West Bengal. In that farm, some cultivation still takes place for producing seeds, although the one thousand acres of land belonging to this farm could have been used more fruitfully for seed-farming. Still the scale of potato cultivation in the surrounding areas is large and production is often hampered owing to inferior quality of seeds. The problems regarding potato cultivation could have been well-tackled by utilizing this seed-farm. Many other seed-farms of this state, which have been left to decay in a similar fashion, could have been used for the improvement of agriculture. In as early as the Left Front period, the state government started thinking about winding up the Goaltore seed-farm. After the formation of the new government in 2011, it has been handed over to the Industrial Development Corporation and it is claimed that its land belongs to the 'Land Bank' of the government.

The partial land reforms of the 1980s represented a success of the Left Front. But attention to the development of agriculture was necessary for advancing this success. Cooperatives could have been formed for consolidating the small plots of land, and initiatives could have been taken for modernization of agriculture as a matter of state policy. Towards the last phase of Left Front rule, there was a proposal for handing over the task of modernization of agriculture to multinationals, although it could not then be implemented. Now the Trinamul Congress-led government has declared its intention to move along the path of contract farming. There is a slight dose of novelty in their proposal, but in essence it is not at all different from indigo cultivation of the colonial era.

The upshot of the way agriculture and industry are being shown as opposed to each other and agriculture is being neglected in order to prove the priority of industry, while leaving the farmer's fate to the discretion of plunderers, must be a deadly one. The necessity of industry cannot be gainsaid, but agriculture cannot be forgotten in the process of industrialization. The example of Europe is often highlighted. But there too, agriculture was modernized along with industry. The chemicals industry was built up mainly in response to the demands of agriculture. The bat-stool accumulated over centuries on the Pacific coast in Chile gave birth to mountains of sodium nitrate, called Chile saltpeter in chemistry text books. This fertilizer, obtained at little or zero cost, brought about a revolution in agricultural production in Europe.

In order to get out of the present crisis of Indian agriculture, the state must undertake investments in this sector and many more new farms should be set up in order to supply improved varieties of seeds to farmers. The task is not easy, because seed farms require land. Hence using the land of seed farms of the state for other purposes is extremely myopic from a social point of view. It is futile to expect anything from the central government. It would, on one hand, bring about a communal polarization in the name of cow protection and, on the other hand, would hand over the entire agricultural sector to the multinational monopoly capital. Power of a state in the present framework is limited, but a new orientation can be opened up even by using the limited option with perspicacity. But if the trend is to worship capital singlemindledly on the pretext of industrialization, it will be difficult to escape a disaster to the country, along with that to the peasantry.

[Reproduced in English from Ananda Bazar Patrika, 26, October]

Vol. 49, No.20, Nov 20 - 26, 2016