In recent years, farmers have suffered because of erratic monsoon rains, unseasonal showers on the eve of harvest and volatile prices, which at times dipped below the support price because of large stocks and good harvests. Lower yields because of high temperature and low rainfall due to climate change also added to their distress. The impact of climate change on agriculture was already visible. The government’s laudable objective of addressing agricultural stress and doubling farmers’ incomes consequently requires radical follow-up action, including decisive efforts to bring science and technology to farmers, replacing untargeted subsidies (power and fertiliser) by direct income support, and dramatically extending irrigation but via efficient drip and sprinkler technologies. The pattern that emerges is that crops grown in rain-fed areas, pulses in both kharif and rabi, are vulnerable to weather shocks while the cereals, both rice and wheat, are relatively more vulnerable. Prime Minister Modi’s poll campaign announcement that the Centre would bear the cost of the farm loan waiver in Uttar Pradesh, which resonated in Parliament as opposition MPs demanded a similar lifeline for farmers across the country. The government stand has dimmed chances of a nationwide loan write-off. The Centre’s partisan action did create backlash and lead to heart-burns in left-out states, particularly Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Punjab, where agrarian distress has driven a significant number of farmers to suicide. Tamil Nadu had waived Rs 124.45 crore of farmer loans. If the sectoral slowdown or sickness can be a ground for writing off large industrial loans, the persisting crisis in agriculture cannot be overlooked. A handful of big borrowers have created a mountain of bad loans for banks, while many farmers kill themselves over ridiculously small amounts. Loan waivers, however, cannot match, or replace, efforts for sustainable growth, which requires higher agricultural spending and productivity. The road map, including MSPs, has to be on the lines suggested by the Swaminathan Commission.
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