In Bihar, the woes are not of farmers alone

Patna, Sep.21 (ANI): The Kharif acreage across the country is likely to exceed last year's level by 78.93 lakh hectares.

The Crop and Weather Watch Group in the Union Agriculture Ministry at a recent meeting in August had noted that the crops are so far sown in 950.22 lakh hectares as against 871.29 lakh hectares in the corresponding period last year.

As per data received from States, paddy has been sown in 312.42 lakh hectares as compared to 293.24 lakh hectares this day last year, showing an increase of 19.18 lakh hectares.

Particularly paddy, which had registered an alarming dip due to the drought last year, showed an increase of 19.18 hectares. So for pulses, coarse cereals, oilseeds and sugarcane. n the underdeveloped and traditionally flood prone land in north Bihar, however, there is no cheer but only despondency, as this is the land of the golden yellow maize crop, grown on soil made fertile by the periodic floods.

Sought by traders and corn companies across the country, this wonder crop and its derivative corn is what sustain the livelihoods of a vast agricultural community, specifically in Khagaria district.

Maize is a two-season crop, sown and harvested both at kharif and rabi seasons.

The soft green crop emerging from the womb of mother earth seemed to usher in good tidings, as it has been every year. This year, however, it has been a bitter harvest.

On opening the outer covering of the corn, the farmers were shocked to find, hardly any grain. It was missing.

The fruit of their labour had come to naught and they could see their source of income, and their sustainability for the next agricultural season vanishing before their eyes.

This happened not just in Khagaria area that is really the 'maize-growing centre' but was a pattern across north Bihar.

An estimated 35,538 hectare in Samastipur district produced a negligible crop. 25% crops of the 35,400 hectare of sown crop in Begusarai district produced no grains at all.

Similarly, 20 per cent fields of the 20,000 hectare sown in Muzaffarpur district were denuded of grain.

Lakhisarai district 14,000 hectare (30 percent fields produce nothing), Katihar 26,800 hectare (40 per cent produce nothing), Darbhanga district 10,500 hectare (50 percent produced no grain. In Purniya district 21,000 hectares was sown with corn but no grain was recovered. All in all, a staggering estimate of 50,000 hectares of land yielded precious little.

With the farmers distraught across the region, the Department of Agriculture tried to go into damage control, first making cavalier statements about lack of technical knowledge amongst the farmers being responsible for this loss.

The farmers, who have been cultivating the land over generations, knew better. The fault lies with the seeds being assiduously promoted by the government and sold by large seed companies. The responsibility of the destruction of maize crop across north Bihar lay clearly with these players who had gone out to promote their flawed product. In the process, they played with the livelihoods of countless farmers.

In the face of this mammoth destruction, the government announced compensatory packages for those who had lost out. This still has not reached the farmers but even if it does, soon, there are core issues here which need to be addressed.

Issues, which go beyond the one season loss of maize crop in Bihar but can be reflective of a larger malaise in the agricultural sector, one that can be pinpointed to a lack of political will. It is this will that has been missing in Bihar's polity since decades.

When the Green Revolution blazed its trail in other areas of the country like Punjab, why was Bihar left out in the cold? Especially since it is primarily an agricultural economy and more so, in large parts even today it remains rain-fed.

Should not the policies have been formed to give a boost in every way, be it irrigation, farm inputs, support prices and loans to farmers?

According to Charkha Features, even today the agricultural potential in the State stands diminished with small and medium farmers engaged in a struggle to make their land yield enough to sustain themselves and in the larger sense, sustain agriculture.

Ironically, the Central Government's mega-programme MNREGA is proving to be proverbial double-edged sword for Bihar's beleaguered agricultural sector. This has led to a shortage of farm labour, crucial for productivity of these small holdings.

Farm labour also is prone to seasonal migrations which again breaks the back of these farmers. Their decline would be tragic for agricultural productivity at large.

Actually it is not only about Bihar though the problems are certainly acute in this predominantly agricultural economy. It speaks of neglect at a larger scale, of the priority given to the sector at the national level. According to sources, during 1980-90 the agricultural development rate was between 3.13 and 3.28 percent which declined further, between 1.75 to 2.07 per cent during 2004-09. During 2000-2010, there was a mere 15 percent increase in the wheat procurement price while there was a 40% increase in diesel and urea, both crucial inputs to sustaining productivity.

Basically, the farmer is not being provided a supportive environment to maximise his yield and live a life of dignity. He is largely left unprotected from the vagaries of the market.

While the produce fetches less and less in the market, input costs rise at an alarming pace. Ironical, since in this climate of Food Security concerns across the country, the prime food producer is being neglected and often stands on the brink.

The problem is deep-rooted, perhaps, it is more complex than what compensatory packages for crop failures can solve.

It may sound simple but in a sense, it is revolutionary. It signifies the need for the entire system of policy making to change; to be driven by the needs of those who form the largest chunk of our population. They should not be at the receiving end of policies but be the decision makers themselves. By Kunal Kumar (ANI)

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