Why Gujarat’s farmers want to quit

This is the fourth in the series of posts examining some really poor analysis of economic statistics of the state of Gujarat. In this we will look at a technique called analytical gymnastics (or jumping from one conclusion to another).

Better pay elsewhere

This is fourth in the series of posts examining some really poor analysis of economic statistics of the state of Gujarat. In this we will look at a technique called analytical gymnastics (or jumping from one conclusion to another).

According to the census of 2001, roughly 46 percent population of the state is dependent upon agriculture (27.67 percent cultivators and 17.91 percent agricultural labourers). Together they contribute only 15 percent to the state’s GDP, while industry and services contributes 39 and 46 percent, respectively. Consequently, there has been a gradual decline in food grain production (from 65.71 lakh tonnes in 2003-04 to 51.53 lakh tonnes in 2004-05), raising doubts about the food security of small and marginal farmers. An NSSO survey in 2005 found 40 percent of the farmers saying that given an option, they would give up agriculture.[Shivam Vij/Tehelka]

In 1999-00, across India, agriculture accounted for 60% of the share in employment but about 25.3% share of GDP. Since then, the share of agriculture in the GDP has been falling. It’s around 20% now, but the share of employment has remained roughly the same.

Shivam betrays a common fallacy: the notion that farmers should always remain farmers. Even when the farmers of Gujarat are saying that they’d prefer not being farmers. As the figures show, there’s better money to be made in industry and services in Gujarat.

Connecting low agricultural productivity with a fall in food grain production is one huge leap of logic. Not all farmers grow food crops. Farmers decide on what to plant depending on the returns they get. If cash crops are expected to fetch a better price than food crops, then a rational Gujarati farmer would grow cash crops. Gujarat, it so happens, is “predominantly a non food crop economy with preponderance of groundnut, tobacco and cotton”. So we can’t tell much about the the state of Gujarat’s agriculture by looking at a decline in the production of food grains.

But why should a fall in the state’s food grain production be a cause for concern? The connection with food security is bogus: it is always possible for Gujarat to buy its food grains from other states, or even import it from abroad. Food security improves with rising incomes. And you can’t raise incomes if you insist farmers must remain farmers and further, they should grow foodgrains.

9 thoughts on “Why Gujarat’s farmers want to quit”

  1. Congress is trying to make hay out of farmer suicides in Gujarat. Has anybody checked how many farmers are committing suicides in congress ruled states like Maharastra? It seems to be a national trend under UPA rule at the center. Not Too long ago, Sankarsangh Vagela of Congress was chiding Farmers of Maharatsra to learn from Farmers of Gujarat. On Sept 11, 2007, The Hindu reported.Follwoing (See the link http://www.hindu.com/2007/09/11/stories/2007091159851300.htm)

    ‘At the Akola conference, Mr. Vaghela said, “There are power cuts in Gujarat and Maharashtra. The farmers in Gujarat, just like farmers here, chew tobacco but after that they go to work on fields but the farmers here [in Vidharbha] sit idly. What can the government do in this situation? You must try and emulate the farmers of Gujarat.”
    He advised the farmers of Maharashtra to go to Gujarat and see for themselves the practice there.
    “While flying to Akola [in a helicopter], I did not see a single farmer working on his field,” Mr. Vaghela said.’

    How come farmers of Gujarat that were touted by Congress as model farmers for other states to emulate have suddenly became a campaign issue for Congress? (Apparently to woo farmers lobby that dissident BJP leaders have been able to mobilize against Modi) Congress is now trying to deflect attention away from UPA’s failures in addressing woes of farming sector and blame states instead for plight of farmers. In the era of globalization and open markets, farmers are forced to be savvy, innovative, productive and competitive – traditional and conventional farming is going thru trying times. Both center and state needs coordinated strategy to manage the transition to different era of farming. Simply exploiting the fall out is cheap politics.

  2. Corroborating what you said, the production of food grains in Gujarat fell to 51.53 lakh tons in 2005 from 65.71 lakh tons in 2004.

    But during the same period, the production of cotton increased to 54.4 from 40.3 the previous year.

  3. Again the original article says –

    According to the census of 2001, roughly 46% population of the state is dependent upon agriculture (27.67% cultivators. and 17.91% agricultural labourers.). Together they contribute only 15% to the state’s Gross Domestic Product while Industry contributes 39% and Services sector contributes 46%. It is hence not surprising that there is a gradual decline in food grain production (from 65.71 lakh tonnes in 2003-04 to 51.53 lakh tonnes in 2004-05). While the obvious reasons for these include more investment on cash crops and a shift to other tertiary sectors, it also raises a serious question about food security for the marginalised people.

    This is also no surprise then that in another survey conducted by NSSO (July 2005) approximately 40% of the farmers in the state said that given an option they would like to shift from agriculture. It has also been brought out in the recent studies that both agriculture and labour have suffered extensively in the last decade or so while investments have shifted to industries. This is all the more serious while, there is no fall back system being provided for the people dependent on agriculture for their survival. May 2005 NSSO data also said that each of the 48 lakh farmers in the state was reeling under a debt of Rs. 15,526.

    Once again, does not negate your point completely, but is a more complete picture. The original article notes that decline is foodgrain production is not surprising given the shift to cash crops and other sectors. But it is problematic for marginalized people…. by that i assume he means subsistence farmers.

    I am in favour of getting people out of the treacherous and unproductive trade of agriculture and into more stable professions. The unprofitability of agriculture is a problem if, as Avinash notes, there is no fall back option. The Gujarat governments (past and present) as well as the union governments(past and present) are to blame for perpetuating a stupidly restrictive industrial policy including horrid labor laws.

  4. Gaurav,

    Strangely, the Avinash Kumar article is one piece that I didn’t read while examining Shivam’s article. The reason why I dissected this piece was because it appeared in a magazine with a reputation and a circulation.

    As for fall back options: I’d just point to inflexible labour laws. The historical fall back option for farmers is a job in manufacturing. In terms of sheer numbers this is the way out for marginal farmers. Other options include working in agricultural services, government and trade ! The first two require education/investment in relevant skills, and the latter requires capital. And you can’t get a loan if you are landless or don’t have clear title to land…

  5. Gaurav,

    On your blog you have asked Nitin to ‘stop attacking poor Shivam’, but all he is doing here is pulling up some really sloppy journalism. I dont think having another person to point fingers at (Avinash Kumar) lets Shivam and Tehelka off the hook here, they supplied a very popular platform, and published under Shivam’s name. This criticism will be read perhaps by a few thousands at INI blogs. Tehelka’s reach is much wider.

    It is quite another matter for the topic here, that I hope Modi is defeated in the polls, and brought to book for crimes of omission, if not of commission, for quite another horrendous thing. (As a matter of fact, I wish we had a system such that this could be done even to a sitting CM).


Comments are closed.