Poor irrigation and financing failures add to Indian farmers’ troubles

Prasanna Patil, the director of the Tushar Samriddhi Project, a watershed conservation initiative in Aurangabad launched by the Forbes Foundation and the Confederation of Indian Industry, Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services, talks about the challenges farmers are facing when it comes to the monsoon season.

To what extent are farmers dependent on the monsoon rains and why?

In my region of Aurangabad, the farmers are mostly small and marginal farmers with poor irrigation facilities. Only about 17 to 18 per cent of the crops are irrigated, so they really depend on the monsoon for any kind of yield they want to have from the agricultural land. The entire economics of a small and marginal farmer – one with fewer than two hectares of land – revolve around the monsoons. The dry periods are getting longer. It is not only the total quantity of rain that the farmers get, but also the distribution of the rain during the growing season.

What are the solutions to these challenges?

The news is filled with farmer suicides and debt-ridden farmers. As far as the mitigation measures are concerned, we need to have water conservation structures in place in working condition, and farmers require support during the dry spell for their irrigation. If you take the example of the cotton crop, if you have drip irrigation (a pipe system that allows water to drip slowly to the roots of crops), the cotton yield becomes three times more than the monsoon-dependent yield. But we don’t have enough rainwater or groundwater available for irrigation, so automatically it comes down to conserving more water. The third thing is extending the credit to farmers to purchase the irrigation so they have some agricultural technology.

Should banks be providing more credit?

The mainstream banks have not been that enthusiastic about agricultural lending because they do not see any business in it. The cooperative movements and the credit societies failed miserably to provide micro credit, especially to small and marginal farmers.

Why have they failed to provide the funds?

One important reason is corruption. Also, there is a failure in their business model because farmers depend on government subsidies and government policies keep changing. The farmer remains debt-ridden. Agricultural sector loans have become risky. Banks do not dare venture out and provide loans to the sector. Farmers are used to depending on subsidies, so it has become a big game. Some of the farmers don’t repay the loans, so the banks think it is risky to extend loans to any farmers.

Are other investors coming in to solve these issues?

Some corporations have shown interest in duplicating our water conservation project in other villages. They are seeing that it is not only the question of the farmers’ livelihood, but it is related to everything – the economy, the GDP – so the corporations are taking interest in some long-term investment and experiments in water conservation.


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