The Other Vidarbha

When villagers are free to do what they want

Jaideep Hardikar of DNA reports something that P Sainath somehow manages not to (linkthanks Neelakantan). A village in Vidarbha that refused to take up the UPA government’s “debt relief” measures and…is doing rather well for itself.

The Girata SHG, to which he’s a mentor, is imitating his mode—farming and live stock management that reduces risks and shields them from volatilities. “We transport milk in autorickshaws to Washim, where we sell it,” informs Prakash. The dairy collective clocks a monthly income of Rs4 lakh with a net profit of Rs1 lakh, which is shared equally by its 20 members. That comes to a modest Rs5,000 a month-per head or Rs60,000 per annum, in addition to the returns from agriculture. Each member contributes Rs100 to the collective as his monthly saving. Thus the 20 members save Rs2,000 every month, or Rs24,000 annually.

A majority of the villagers are now linked to this activity. Now, the neighbouring 23 villages have decided to follow the model, with Girata as the epicenter. “We’ll increase our production, form a 23-village federation, and diversify into processing,” says Prakash. The collective that owns an autorickshaw, a tractor, and a deep-freezer now wants to buy a van with a chiller for better milk transportation. The SHG has also set up an outlet at Washim to sell milk to consumers. Two women’s collectives of the village have taken on the responsibility of keeping the financial records of the village dairy. [DNA]

Imagine the UPA government’s policy initiatives had focused on building good roads and reliable power supply instead of seeing the problem as one of “debt”.

The Girata initiative is an experiment—it’s too early to tell whether it will succeed. But what it shows is that people take the initiative to help themselves. Imagine the government stopped discouraging from doing so.

Related Links: Vidarbha whodunit; half-baked solutions; and Suvrat Kher’s post on groundwater management that was published in Pragati.

Goodbye cotton, hello soyabean

The rational farmers of Maharashtra

Just how does P Sainath position facts that show how Maharashtra’s farmers are capitalising on the opportunity created by rising global foodgrain prices? Oh, by saying that they are replacing one type of volatility (planting cotton) by another (soyabeans).

After pointing out how farmers are reaping the benefits of growing soyabeans, he goes on to point out the risks of growing soyabeans, and the dangers of planting the same crop season after season. As if there are crops that somehow defy these risks.

Mr Sainath, unsurprisingly, fails to underline three really important points: first, that given a chance, farmers can help themselves by taking advantage of available opportunities. Second, information about prices, weather and market conditions enabled this. And third, following from the above, just letting them do what they like (and not placing value judgements on what they should grow) is the best solution.

Related post: Rising foodgrain prices present an opportunity for Indian farmers

Right said Sainath

The UPA reserves its unkindest cut for the Vidarbha farmer

It is not common to see this blog cite a P Sainath article in approving terms. He continues to cast the issue of agrarian suicides in divisive terms, but gets one thing right in this op-ed about the UPA government’s 60,000 crore loan waiver for small farmers.

One funny outcome of the budget is that the media are now talking about farmers. Of course, the ‘analysis’ of what is ‘pro-farmer’ comes from the elite. From CEOs, stockbrokers, business editors, corporate lobbyists and touts in three-piece suits…

For three years, while the misery and suicides mounted in Vidharbha, there was not even the admission that a loan waiver was possible. Indeed, it was shot down by those now taking out full page ads claiming credit for it. As they complain in Vidharbha, this is not about karza maafi. It is about seeking voter maafi (voters’ forgiveness) in election year. [The Hindu]

Now a little analysis tells you that the loan waiver does not provide relief to the farmers in greatest distress. But it does allow the Congress Party to go to anyone who does not do the little bit of analysis—including famous columnists (linkthanks Amit Varma)—and claim that it has done a great good job for the poor farmer.

So why is this the unkindest cut? Well, because now the middle class millions will really believe something is being done about those farmers, and people like P Sainath will get less of a sympathetic hearing, because—as the Congress Party says—aren’t we spending 1.5% of the GDP on bailing out distressed farmers?

Economic analysts have tended to focus on moral hazards, lurking fiscal deficits and the impact on the banking sector. Those are serious issues. Now it is not uncommon for politicians to bail out distressed constituents. What is unpardonable in the UPA’s case is that the loan waiver doesn’t bail out those it claims to bail out.