The Ministry of Agriculture has acknowledged in Parliament that the average monthly income of a farming family in India is less than Rs. 2,400. Farmers in Karnataka earn even less than the national average, Devinder Sharma, food and agricultural policy analyst, has said.
“The tragic case in Belgaum underlines this,” Mr. Sharma said. He was speaking to The Hindu on problems in agricultural marketing in the context of the suicide of sugarcane grower Vittal Arabhavi on Wednesday. The farmer was participating in a protest demanding remunerative price for produce, outside the Suvarna Soudha where the legislature is in session.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q. Is the hike in Minimum Support Price demanded by sugarcane farmers justified?
A. If government employees can get DA linked to inflation every six months, and after every few years get the benefit of another pay commission, farmers too deserve to get an assured economic price linked to inflation… Let us not forget that unlike wheat and paddy, sugarcane is an annual crop. Farmers wait for a year to get a remunerative price. When sugar mills across the country form a cartel and refuse to pay a remunerative price, what do you expect the farmers to do?
How do you view the argument of the sugar factories that the demand is down in the global market and they cannot afford to pay high prices?
India is the biggest consumer of sugar. Exports from India are minimal. So the international demand has hardly anything to do with the domestic prices. The problem is the industry’s reluctance to modernise and diversify. Besides sugar that each mill produces, more than 24 byproducts can be produced commercially, including ethanol and methanol. A study by T.N. Prakash of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, shows how the contribution of farmers to the economy is being underplayed. On an average, 1 tonne of sugarcane produces 100 kg sugar, 150 units of electricity and about 35 litres of alcohol (not including other byproducts). Market value of these manufactured products exceeds Rs. 30,000. Aren’t the farmers justified in demanding even 10 per cent or Rs. 3,000 a tonne out of this? How is the farmer at fault if the sugar mills are not run efficiently?
What are the lacunae in the policy in Karnataka in stabilising agriculture prices?
As far as sugarcane prices are concerned, Karnataka has a role to play in determining the price. Sugar mills are invariably controlled by politicians. The prices are therefore determined on the basis of which political party has a bigger clout.