The Economic Survey 2018, presented by the National Democratic Alliance government on Monday, claims to have come up with new and startling data on how climate change would adversely affect farmers’ income. Yet, it did not prescribe any new solution to the problem which has been for long been studied and accepted by policy makers.
The Survey, by using new sets of data, claims that climate change could reduce farmers’ incomes by up to 25% annually. It, however, does not offer anything more than the existing schemes of the government to safeguard the farmers from the vagaries of the changing climate. The effectiveness of these schemes and their implementation has come under criticism, specially after a rising agrarian distress has been blamed for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s poor performance in the recently concluded Gujarat Assembly elections.
Agriculture employs close to 12 crore people in India and is the most employment-intensive economic sector in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to double the farmers’ incomes by 2022. Over the past two years, however, his government has been grappling with several manifestations of the country’s agrarian crisis. It had to deal with several crashes of farm commodity prices, the most recent of which was the plunge in potato prices in Uttar Pradesh earlier this month.
Given the severity of the agrarian distress, it is expected that this year’s budget would focus on rural areas, specially on farmers. While the Survey admitted that “the last few seasons have witnessed a problem of plenty – farm revenues declining for a number of crops despite increasing production and market prices falling below the Minimum Support Price”, it did not get into the diagnosis or prescribing solutions.
The survey instead focused on the “medium to long term” threat, that is climate change. Claiming to have used new sets of district-level weather data and a new methodology, the survey has come out with two major findings.
One, the agriculture yields are affected only in the years when temperatures are much higher or rainfall significantly lower than the normal. And two, the impact of such variations is higher in the rain-fed areas than the irrigated areas. The survey shows that temperatures in India have been rising and rainfalls decreasing over the years, confirming the global trends and the results of earlier Indian studies.
Without a policy response, this would lead to farm income losses of 15% to 18% on average and 20 to 25% in unirrigated areas, the Survey estimated. This would mean a loss of Rs 3,600 per year for an average Indian farmer at current income levels.
To address this, the survey prescribes transition to “climate smart agriculture” in which crops are made more resilient to climate change and smart irrigation techniques through which more yield can be achieved per water unit. These are not new concepts and the government has been researching and exploring them for several years now.
The survey also puts its weight behind the Central government’s existing schemes such as soil health card, direct benefit transfer in fertilisers, and crop insurance to make agriculture more efficient and climate resilient. However, ground reports and data on implementation of these schemes show they have not been effective in safeguarding farmers income so far. The Survey does not address the issue of their effectiveness.
Talking about other problems in farming, the survey hints at the Centre seeking larger control over agriculture, a state subject. The Survey points out that the northern states have a problem of excessive subsidies while other parts of the country are grappling with ineffective procurement of products from farmers, market barriers, poor irrigation and lack of infrastructure. But it leaves the question open.
“It is easy to say what needs to be done. How this will happen given that agriculture is a state subject is an open political economy question... The cooperative federalism “technology” of the GST Council that brings together the Centre and States could be promisingly deployed to further agricultural reforms and durably raise farmers’ incomes.”
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