East and West, successive governments have ensured that the farmers alone carry the economic burden of keeping food inflation low. Forget about profit, farmers are actually being penalized to grow food.
“Peter is being robbed to pay Paul”
Denying income parity with other sections of the society has made farming a losing proposition. In the absence of a fair level of income, many farmers have been pushed into a mounting spiral of debt in an effort to survive.
The suicide death dance long witnessed in Britain and India, taking a heavy toll of farming families, is a reflection of the economic hardship that farmers undergo for no fault of theirs.
Denial of a legitimate income to farmers: Sharma asks
- Why should farmers be penalized for keeping food inflation under control for people whose pay or pension rises annually?
- Why can’t the average consumer also share the burden of keeping food prices low?
- Why is farming the only section of society in the country which is being deprived of its legitimate income.
Drop in prices is destabilising agriculture – east and west
Today, the FT reports that in Pakistan, where more than 60% rely directly or indirectly on farm incomes, farmers’ incomes have fallen more than 25% in the financial year to the end of June, according to projections by the country’s central bank. While partly due to a global plunge in commodity prices, critics say the problem has been exacerbated by the failure of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to step in with support, and that the latest incentives for farmers are inadequate. The volume of Pakistan’s cotton crop has crashed by almost 30%. “The main issue has been a major drop in prices of crops,” Abida Hussain, a farm owner and former MP, told the Financial Times. “To stabilise agriculture, a way has to be found to deal with that fundamental issue.”
English dairy farmer Kathleen Calvert, and others, emphasise that payment which covers production costs and overheads should be the norm for food producers.
She adds that if food producers are not fairly paid it has a knock-on effect on many small rural businesses and affects their families and surrounding communities.
She makes further globally applicable points about small and medium sized family farms:
- they provide a level of food security and community enterprise that is pivotal to local community support systems in the event of natural or manmade disaster;
- they are centres of topographical knowledge and skills gained through individual experience that cannot be learned in a classroom environment or from a text book;
- they are our greatest national asset as they strike a balance between nurture and neglect of the land;
- and they provide local employment and business opportunities for a range of small suppliers of goods and professional services where different levels of income and assets spread wealth back into local economies rather than concentrating it and removing aspiration from the reach of ordinary people.
She would surely agree, as Sharma points out, that the money put into the hands of farmers will not only promote the security of future food supplies, but generate wider demand – the pre-requisite for industrial and manufacturing prosperity.