Q. What are your views on the growth of mechanisation or equipment-based agriculture?
A. Agricultural equipment have existed perhaps as long as agriculture. In the context of mechanisation, I presume the question is the power source used for the agricultural equipment. Till about 50 years ago, the source of power was
either human or animal. With the advent of tractors, many agricultural equipment underwent revolutionary changes in the source of powering; engines replaced animals and fossil fuel became the source of powering the engines. In India, 80% of the holdings are small or marginal and expensive fuel powered equipment are not suitable for such holdings.
Tractors certainly cannot operate on these small holdings. We now have power tillers, which are used in small holdings. While this speeds up the work of the farm, the problem is the cost of buying the equipment and more importantly operating it. The farm animal was an integral part of the farm economy; it provided not just power but valuable manning. With mechanisation, farm animals particularly, draught animals like bullocks have become useless and it is difficult to see plowing being done with bullocks anymore. This has led to an overall increase in the input cost of the farmers while unfortunately there has been a decrease in the output cost, i.e., the price of the crops that the farmers receive. This has led to a severe economic imbalance in the agrarian sector.
So, in short, new fuel driven agricultural equipment has not helped a majority of farmers i.e. the small and marginal farmers economically. In large holdings, tractors, harvesters, and planters have helped to perhaps lower the cost of manpower but have also led to unemployment and underemployment among farm workers in villages, which in turn have led to migration to cities and has opened its own Pandora’s Box of problems.
Q. Do the farmers receive enough funds for purchasing the equipment?
A. Credit to farmers is an ongoing crisis and while the agricultural sector has committed funding under the directions of RBI, most of the funding goes to agri-processing companies and not to the farmers. Farmers very often can avail only crop loans, which are used for buying seeds, fertilisers and other consumables for farming. Medium-term loans for purchasing expensive farm equipment such as tillers and tractors are not easily available to farmers and as the margin in farming has become negative, farmers do not have funds of their own for purchasing the equipment.
Q. Do the farmers need to hire someone
separately to learn about the equipment or are the farmers trained for the same?
A. Usually, agri-equipment sellers provide extension services through their field staff for training farmers in the use of their equipment. There is no organised sector for training farmers in using agricultural equipment. It is done at a corporate level by the sellers of the equipment on their own to further the sales of their product. I am not aware of freelance experts available to train farmers on the use of farm equipment. Some civil society organisations do offer this service but in very limited areas.
Q. What happens when the machines have some procedural fault? Can the farmers fix them on their own or they have to call for outside help?
A. Fuel powered farm machinery are complicated machines and when they breakdown, most farmers cannot fix them. Small workshops have sprung up in almost all villages where mechanics are available to repair and service farm equipment. This adds to the cost of farming on one hand but on the other hand, provides a grace employment in the village. For more complicated breakdowns, farmers do not have any records but have to take it to service centres of equipment manufacturers, which are usually far from the villages and this causes further strain and stress on the farmers.
Q. Are the farmers facing any specific concerns regarding the equipment?
A. With regard to tractors, tillers, harvesters, and expensive equipment while the farmers on one hand buy them as status symbols and believe in the advertisements that these will make their life easier, the burden of owning such equipment in terms of running cost, maintenance cost and the overall profitability of the farmer with falling prices and rising costs is nightmarish for them. Their specific issue is that they should have the equipment but owning the equipment should not make them go bankrupt.