“If agriculture does not work, the economy does not work either”: IIMB’s Centre for Public Policy hosts talk on ‘Ramrao – The story of India’s agrarian crisis’ on October 20

Bengaluru: “We need to see what we could do, within our resources, to handhold the farmers and develop capacity building on the ground”, said Nagpur-based Jaideep Hardikar, independent journalist, researcher and writer, while discussing the problems plaguing Indian agriculture, based on decades of his committed journalism and reporting. He was speaking during a webinar hosted by IIM Bangalore’s Centre for Public Policy (CPP), titled: ‘Ramrao – The story of India’s agrarian crisis’, here today.

Jaideep Hardikar’s recent book ‘Ramrao’ breaks down India’s farm crisis through the story of Ramrao Panchleniwar, a farmer in Vidarbha who survives his suicide attempt. The talk was moderated by Prof. Arpit Shah, faculty in the Public Policy area of IIM Bangalore.

The YouTube link to the talk is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLbbmebeq-k

Jaideep Hardikar stayed with Ramrao Panchleniwar for seven to eight years since his suicide attempt in 2014, trying to understand what led him to take such an extreme step, while also trying to ensure that he was alright. “I try to explain to readers who do not understand such issues. I tried to portray the story of all farmers of India through Ramrao, who according to me, is the average Indian farmer. Instead of focussing on jargon or too much data, I tried to bring the focus on Ramrao’s life and what it meant to be a farmer. I decided I will be part of the story and explain the broader context of his struggles. I relate the story from where he took the extreme step – to where he survived – although his struggles remained the same”.

Reacting to frequent references to him as a ‘Chronicler of suicides’, he explained that he was actually a reporter reporting on life. “I try to fathom the reasons leading to the spate of suicides by farmers. Post 1990, due to globalization some sectors were growing at an exceptionally past pace in India. At the same time, the contrast was very gloomy. What began as few farmers taking their lives in Andhra Pradesh, quickly led to similar cases being reported from other parts of India like MP, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, etc.”

Explaining the huge and complex phenomenon of agrarian issues, he said: “The large number of people living in the countryside face a multitude of challenges specific to different agro-climatic zones. There were local, national and global elements, economic issues, climatic issues, problems related to market, social and other issues.

“The problem is such discussions are only confined to people who are interested or involved in such issues. For example, Karnataka has several blocks with persistent drought, but this has no impact on Bangalore at all. This country has not started to discuss and debate solutions. I call the migrant labourers non-resident villagers. Since the village economy cannot sustain them, can the industry absorb so many people and make their lives easier?”

“My book shows there are no quick-fix solutions. Also, it is not as if farmers do not adopt any measures themselves like organic farming, changing crops, etc. We also need to understand that populist measures will not fix these issues. New technology is implemented without realizing agro-climatic issues will not help the sector. Instead, we need relevant policy support and financial support.”

Describing himself as a supporter of collectives, he said: “When farmers come together for a common goal, they are better off.”

He said that all of us need to put our heads and resources together to help boost the sector.

“We need to diversify agriculture and related sectors and look into district-specific issues. We need to augment their income sources and need to see how to build inclusive market systems. Agriculture-plus is the way forward. It is not a rural issue anymore-it will consume all of us, unless addressed effectively. Farmers do have their own coping mechanisms and are battling it out – we need to see what we can do, within our resources, to best boost their efforts.

Remember, if agriculture does not work, the economy does not work either.” In this regard he said he felt that institutes like the IITs, IIMs as well as the agricultural universities need to think about the issues and how to solve them.

Jaideep Hardikar, in his career spanning about 25 years, has worked with several English newspapers, including The Telegraph as its Central India correspondent. Hardikar is the recipient of many coveted national and international awards and fellowships, including the Prem Bhatia Memorial Award and Sanskriti Award for Journalism. Hardikar is a visiting faculty at several journalism schools in India and is associated with the Asia Centre at the Monash University, Australia.

The YouTube link is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLbbmebeq-k