Prakash's buffalo died the other day, while he worked at our farm .The loss of a livestock for common rural folk is a catastrophe.The misfortune was exacerbated even more by the fact the animal was eight months into gestation.Whole of the village grieved with Praksh, whose wife could not stop crying for anguish.The whole affair brought my attention to two important truths.

    1) Its just heartbreakingly easy for the rural poor in the UP to descend to stark ruin with a single accident.

    2) A lot of empathy exists among peasantry in the villages as opposed to the urban middle classes where an occurrence of theft or robbery in the neighbourhood would inspire haste among neighbours to protect themselves and be a fuel for gossip, but would hardly elicit any sympathy.

    Economists have long argued the economically nonviable size of land holdings in UP as the principal factor in holding back development in the state and leading cause for poverty . In a state such as UP where agriculture forms not so much as the back bone but entire skeleton for the state economy this begs for immediate addressal and careful consideration.

    Smaller land holdings provide huge challenges in tilling. Smaller farms are much harder to irrigate individually, are far less productive then there larger counterparts and since smaller farms often mean just one crop per season this exposes the farmers to undue risk as failure of that crop in a season can spell utter doom for the unfortunate soul. Most farmers being still heavily dependent on erratic monsoon, for basic irrigation, this is quite a common occurrence. Paltry yield means farmers are hardly ever left with any surplus to invest in equipment or better seeds.Small farmers often lack even the most basic of facilities, indeed having a borewell at your farm is a luxury here in U.P. that few can afford.

    Subsidies have helped but very little and that too at a substantial cost to the exchequer. The policy of handing out credit hasn't aided matters at all , in fact in most cases it has compounded the problem severely as the farmers find it extremely hard to resist the temptation, and often end up spending the borrowed sum on other pressing concerns, a daughter's marriage , for example.
    With almost no chance of ever repaying the loan, the result is same as expected in most cases, with the borrower parting with little land he has.The early agricultural co operatives among farms used to function as little else but mediocre forms of credit union, unsurprisingly they failed spectacularly.

    What I am proposing here is a form of agriculture where farms would be tilled collectively but not as they been under the socialist model.In this form of collective farming which would be a job for the village panchayats, reasonably large aggregates of farms would be cultivated jointly with the consent of individual farmers under government supervision.
    Finally a real job for Panchayats which until now have served only one useful purpose in UP, To take democracy to the grassroots level in villages and to allow the center to have influence in villages bypassing the state.
    Under this system the responsibility for providing irrigation, machinery, seeds and fertilizer would lie with the government where as the job of ensuring co operation among the farmers would be tasked to the village Panchayats.
    The resultant redistribution of the produce which would be proportional to the land and labour provided by the farmers would again be entrusted to the state.

    Not only would this solve the problem of bad agronomics as collective farming under government supervision would ensure that best farming practices are implemented therefore increasing the yield by a considerable margin, but farming co-operatives would also empower the farmers to demand better prices for their crop. This would also ensure availability of labour which till now has laboured only on paper under MNREGA .

    Farming collectives would make it far more practical for the government to provide some form of security to farmers in case of a failed crop, also failure of one particular crop would not render the farmers completely destitute if another succeeds in the same harvest.I hardly need point out the numerous social gains collective farming could have in a deeply fragmented society such as ours.

    Overall the benefits of collective farming are immense and real as opposed to the present policy of handing out sops and loans, or wages for imaginary works that never happened.Collective farming does not come without its own set of challenges , the greatest among them being ensuring co-operation among farmers and fair play.

    Ofcourse farming co-operatives is hardly new concept, variations have been tried in many countries, some have been extremely successful, and are still going on strong, examples being in US, New Zealand and Mexico, i am sure the reader would already be aware of ground breaking success dairy co-operatives have achieved in India and abroad.

    I should however point out that the form of collective farming proposed here is quite different from the one that was forced upon in the Soviet Union and China under the communist system, where peasants were reduced to being labourers to fund ambitious industrialization programs for the regime.

    'Consent' being the key word , the role of government here has to be one of a moderator and supervisor rather than of an enforcer.
    Whether such a system can be implemented ? , It certainly is not impossible , but all said and done , the matter of small land holdings has to be addressed emergently if UP has to rid itself of the chronic poverty and underdevelopment that has ailed the state for ages.

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