In a year of inflationary expectations, everyone is watching the progress of the monsoon keenly. The news is mixed. Rainfall has been slightly above normal cumulatively, but in regions with agrarian distress, it has been scanty. What’s scantier is the policy mix required to meet this challenge.
Cumulatively, from 1 June to 16 July, rainfall has been 4% above normal. The northwestern part of the country, comprising the bread-basket region of Punjab and Haryana, has received rainfall well over the normal mark. The problem lies in peninsular India where rain has been deficient. This is a region where poor rainfall or crop damage spells trouble quickly, for unlike the better endowed regions of the country, farmers in Vidarbha and Telangana do not have the wherewithal to cope with adverse weather conditions.
There are few, if any, risk reduction measures that have been put in place by the government. One such measure would be to go in for crop insurance, whereby farmers don’t have to bear the brunt of adverse natural conditions. This will ensure that if they lose a crop, they don’t lose their life. Insurance of this form has been difficult to put in place:?Regions with a record of erratic rainfall and large numbers of small and marginal farmers find it difficult to get it. Either the premium is too large or even if a scheme is put in place, its implementation is nowhere near what is required.
For example, in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, where the dominant crop has been cotton, farmers have begun favouring soya bean. The risk attached to cotton, in the form of pests which can wipe out an entire crop, made this change possible. This was done by farmers without government intervention.
This may not be possible everywhere. Even in Vidarbha, rainfall has tapered off for the week ending 16 July, raising anxiety levels. It should, given the lackadaisical attitude of the state government. But this is not an isolated case; other parts of the country are no different. Governments, state and Central, need to understand that crop insurance needs to be revamped and tailored to local and regional conditions. This has not worked so far. It needs to if India is to rid itself of the spectacle of farmer suicides.
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