The Indian economy is taking fast strides towards attaining higher growth. But such growth cannot be achieved without factoring in the demands from the agrarian sector, which employs around 50% of the
country’s population. The country’s economy has reaped the benefits of the green revolution and extensive land reforms in certain states. Yet, there is a growing need to re-focus on the agrarian sector.
BE’s Saptarshi Deb spoke to farmers from the Subharatnapur village situated in the Gopalnagar 2 Gram Panchayat, Bongoan subdivision, North 24 Parganas, West Bengal.
Agricultural Land – 1 Bigha
I try to ensure two to three crops every year. In spite of that, there are hardly any margins. I am mostly into vegetable farming because it is less capital intensive as compared to paddy cultivation which requires constant irrigation and labour. The cost of agricultural labour is constantly increasing. Small and medium farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to afford agricultural labour. But we cannot do with external labour inputs. On an average, we need to invest around `20,000 to cultivate potatoes on one bigha of land and in a good year we would earn a profit of around `2000 for our efforts. This year, I had sowed pointed gourds. But they have been afflicted. I do not think the yield would be significant. Agriculturists like me are fast taking to other avenues. I have started a poultry farm to sustain myself. Many others, who have large land holdings, are converting part of their agricultural land into timber plantations. The only problem is that it is time consuming and though the return is assured, the gestation time is often more than 10 years.
Agricultural Land – 2 Bighas
This whole region was famous for jute cultivation. Now you would hardly see any farmer into jute cultivation because of its labour intensive nature. Most of the farmers of this region have shifted to vegetable farming. The most pertinent problem faced by us is the regular price fluctuations in the agricultural wholesale markets. The prices change almost daily and are based on the supply reaching the market on that day. We have no storage facility and cannot afford to hold on to our agricultural produce for the prices to turn favourable. It is the wholesalers who buy from us who have access to the nearby cold storage. I think it would have been a good, if agriculturalists could have directly reached the retail market. That would have ensured high margins for us. But a small farmer cannot afford to spare the time that is required to reach the retail market. He has to depend on the fluctuating wholesalers to buy his produce on their decided prices.
Agricultural Land - 12 Bighas
Agriculturists like us cannot see any substantial profit in agriculture. The prices of agricultural products have remained more or less the same over the years. But the costs of agricultural inputs have multiplied. For example, urea was `3/kg few years ago. It is now `7/kg. The costs of pesticides have also increased. The constant price fluctuations in the wholesale market only add to our woes. We have no guarantee that a good crop would ensure a good margin. Often, a good harvest gluts the market and prices fall. That is a reason that so many of the farmers are cultivating so many different types of crops and vegetables. A mechanism to control the wholesale prices will help the sector.
Many of us are also diversifying into other sectors. I have invested in a fishery on my agricultural land. Some governmental support on agricultural inputs like fertilisers and pesticides may prove beneficial for us. Institutional credit is not widely available for agriculturists
in our region.