Prime Minister Narendra Modi vehemently declares his commitment to farmers in all public forums, including his signature radio show and the social media. In Twitter terminology, @narendramodi aspires to #pro-poor&farmer-friendly. Is @aamkisan impressed by Narendrabhaiâ€™s rhetoric? Given that it has been a bad year for farmers, with no sign that he will deliver on promises made to them over Chai pe Charcha 13 months ago, their scepticism is understandable. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) tenure started on an unhappy note, farmer-wise, with Modiâ€™s swearing-in heralding a free-fall in prices of cotton and paddy â€“ two of the principle kharif crops. By November 2014, cotton prices were at their lowest in five years, and paddy prices at their lowest in four years. Arguably, there wasnâ€™t much India could have done to shore up prices in the face of Chinaâ€™s release of reserve stocks of cottonor Iranâ€™s crackdown on rice importsrom India (allegedly after President Hassan Rouhaniâ€™s requested meeting with Modi did not materialize). But the Opposition pilloried the government in Parliamentfor failing to step in with adequate farm support. The government could certainly have avoided the shortage of urea which hit farmers before the rabi sowing (September to December) last year. It failed to to ensure timely imports of urea, resulting in a shortfall. From June to October of 2014, imports were negligible. While Minister for Chemicals & Fertilizers Ananth Kumar told Parliament that all was well, comparative figuresfor the last five years show there was an inexplicable â€“ and drastic â€“ slowdown in imports during that period. Whether it was oversight, or the new dispensation seeking suppliers with whom it was comfortable, is anybodyâ€™s guess. Bharat Krishak Samaj chairman Ajay Vir Jakhar â€“ an urbane, soft-spoken, practicing farmer â€“ says: â€œFarmers had to pay 40 percent extra for a bag of urea, either in cash or in terms of compulsorily buying a bag of weedicide/pesticide with it.â€ He says there hasnâ€™t been black marketeering of fertilizers on this scale across the country in over a decade. Farmers protests escalated into agitations from December 2014 to February 2015: shortage had hit at the time of sowing, but continued thereafter. To prevent rioting among urea-hungry farmers, bags of fertilizer were distributed through police stations in Haryana. From Jhajjar in Haryana, Madhepura in Bihar and Guna in Madhya Pradesh came reports of farmers looting trucks carrying urea. There were rail rokos and stone-pelting, a sort of farmersâ€™ intifada that went largely unreported. A surge in urea imports in November-December of 2014 did not ameliorate matters in time for the rabi season, because of the time taken to move supplies. By then, the impact of the central governmentâ€™s â€œ no bonus on MSPâ€ policy was already being felt in the rice-growing state of Chhattisgarh and setting off alarm bells elsewhere. In recent years, state governments like those in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have boosted agricultural production by offering incentives to farmers in the form of a â€œbonusâ€ over the central governmentâ€™s minimum support price (MSP). The MSP, intended to protect farmers from market fluctuations and exploitation by middlemen, is decided by the Committee on Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). But most farmers feel it does not cover the actual cost of inputs. The state governments then steps in with a bonus which offers farmers assured returns for their produce. Madhya Pradesh used the bonus-on-MSP policy to spectacular effect, resulting in a recording- breakingagricultural growth of 25 percent in 2013-14, up from around 20 percent the preceding year, and 20 percent the year before that as well. Itâ€™s small wonder that when the Center informed states in June last year that it would no longer fund purchase of produce from farmers at the â€œbonusâ€ price, chief ministers were upset. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh shot off a letterto the Prime Minister, asking him to reconsider the policy on the grounds that it would lead to a â€œsignificant reduction in cultivation of paddyâ€ and impact the overall food security of the country. The rationale behind the move â€“ to quote the June 12, 2014 circularfrom the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution â€“ was that â€œbonus by the state government distorts the market of the concerned commodity and drives private buyers out of the market in the state.â€ Food policy expert Naresh C Saxena agrees, saying â€œGiving bonus to farmers does not increase overall (foodgrains) availability, it only transfers grain from the market to government godowns, besides increasing the burden of food subsidy.â€ This is in keeping with the suggestionsof the Shanta Kumar Committee on reform of the public distribution system, submitted in January this year.