"Poor Farmer"...

... or the systematic deglamorization of the food production industry.

Disclaimer: I'm no economist. I do not even claim to understand all aspects of farming and its markets. I'm just perplexed about why its so uncool to do it.

Food Clothes and Shelter

The clothes and shelter guys are raking in the moolah - or at least branded-apparel-retail and housing/infrastructure seems pretty big. Food, if at all, is the most critical of all those necessities. There's a guaranteed, growing market. More people, younger people, and if news reports are anything to go by - more people are eating more, there's more veggies on peoples plates on an average, and a lot many people seem to be ok paying a lot for not just everyday stuff, but even exotic erstwhile-unpronounceable stuff. Any other industry with this kind of a consumer profile would be extremely attractive. What's so wrong with agriculture ?

Industry ?

1. Commercial production and sale of goods.

There are a bunch of other definitions, most of which could easily include the citizenry involved in production and sale of food for the entire population. Some have capital (land) which they put in skill and effort into producing something worth paying for in the market, while others do not possess capital, and operate at a lower profitability level by selling skills to either get a share of the produce or in return for some cash and benefits.

Profit? Market ?

Over the last few decades, the government seems to have denounced the economics part of what should've primarily been a market activity. It tried telling them what to grow and when, how much to sell it for, and to whom, and dictated costs (and sadly, the quality and availability) of the raw material and other inputs needed. To be fair, even the "finished goods" industry lived under these circumstances, but I guess they were better organized and more into economics than the farming community to start with, resisted, and found ways around it - and finally managed to surge when the rules eased up.

Pride ? Real, livable, edible, monetary pride ?

The farming community, in the meantime, has only been further beggared and impoverished by their supposed do-gooders, and probably know way lesser about economics than they started off knowing. They've been painted in a permanently-stricken-by-poverty shade, consigned to inertia-unless-the-government-doles-something-out. They've not been free enough or helped enough (I honestly don't know if the latter is needed for the former) to learn enough about insurance, or drip irrigation, or re-learn micro-irrigation and water harvesting, etc. They haven't wisened up enough to make a healthy percentage of what the final market pays. The government, where it has removed the middlemen, has become one itself.

Over the years, "farmer" and "poor" have been made pretty much synonyms of each other. Along with reduced land holdings (and lack of co-operative farming ideas, or newer higher yield farm management) this has meant the only "respectable" options are those in-the-city.

Why isn't the average farmer a smart businessman, capable of managing the risks associated with the uncertainty of the rains, and of understanding and exploiting the demand/supply cycles without having those controlled by government decrees to ensure sugar mills are bound to buy X tonnes of cane at Y price etc ? Why aren't at least a decent percentage of people taking up farming as an alternative lifestyle after a few years in an urban career ? Why is it always a "brave/foolish" step and means a reduction in opportunity/lifestyle ?

I guess as long as the farmer is "poor" and every interaction with him guided with that as the foundation of it, the repetition of the fact will ensure its truth.

As an aside, the cities aren't much better for it. There is much more competition for much fewer jobs - I wish the security guards and maids had lesser competition and could earn better wages, and more "respectably". A healthy countryside economy (I'd rather not use the terms "rural" or "agrarian" because of the subtle negative connotations they've assumed over the years) will indeed be good for all of us. It may take some of the "truths" away from those trying to hoist Red flags and bring in improvement through "revolution", not the more sustainable market-driven approach. For God's sake - food is NEVER going to go out of fashion - just make sure you teach them how to recognize and profitably use that fact, not how to use automatic firearms, morons.

I await the day a retort to a post like this will emnate from a village - not by some "rural-BPO" employee but someone who's got a stake in a vibrant food-indutry-driven economy thats not just dying to sell all its land to the next mall as the neighbouring city eats into the landscape.

[ Yes I've made a lot many generalizations. Also, one cannot probably merely start treating all farmers as businessmen and leave them to their fate and hope to see wonders overnight. However, that MUST be the long term aim - to see farming and agriculture as a primary option for many - to see more innovation in that industry - to see more money - more pride. All dialogue must assume that as its cornerstone - and not dole out "alms" by way of 60k crores being written off. It must be a "trade", however benign it needs to be to start with. ]

1 comment:

shivku said...

commendable observations, despite the generalizations.