People speak with such mathematical certainty about the necessity of reversing the ratio of farmers to non-farmers in India.
We can’t argue with Math, can we? Ah, if only they don’t conveniently ignore the ecological factor and the human factor. What will it mean for independent small farmers to shift to servile jobs? What will it mean for the future of humans (I think the earth will bounce back to health, after you know what), when more people are producing and consuming things that use up more resources that cannot be replenished? Are we going to employ them all in service industries? Will it not drive up consumption of luxurious items, and therefore, wasteful production of things? And what will the service industry service, if there is no equivalent manufacturing sector, either in India or abroad? We talk about America and China. Not only are their GDPs much higher than ours, their defence spending is also proportionately higher. Already, our military spending is more than that of Japan, Germany, UK and France, and almost as much as Russia, all with higher GDPs. There is surely some unarguable maths behind this too – x% of GDP should go to defence. Nobody can ask, why can’t it remain constant or be reduced? (Pakistan! China!) With more people needing to be employed, jobs have to be created. A bulk of those jobs might be in needless military activities. Orwell has got pretty much everything right, so far. I see no reason why he’ll be wrong on this count.
The economic benefits of shifting small farmers away from farming will be offset by the ecological and sociological damage it will cause.
I don’t profess any mathematical equation. But I’ll nevertheless say this with a logical certainty that I sound no more unscientific than those with that magical equation.
Perhaps, a better idea will be to give a perennial paid vacation to all those small farmers and their descendants. (Never mind the farmer tag on my profile, it’s part fake; I’ll opt out.) The farmers and low-waged farm workers have subsidized our luxurious lives so far, and it is a good way to return the favour, and also do ourselves a favour. They will do far less damage by simply not producing anything (as against joining the industrial/service economy). Anyway, as per those mathematical equations and prophesied technological innovations, we will have astronomical productivity in the industrialised farms and automated industries – it can surely support half a billion loafers.
The reason I am on such ranting mode, if it seems like one:
1. From Manmohan Singh and PC to every urban intellectual with a PC or a laptop have been saying this for long. Two on my timeline this week.
2. The open well at our farm dried up a few months ago. Now the bore-well at the farm, where we have rented a house, has also dried up. It is the main source of water there for us, our elderly landlords, the cattle and the trees. They re-bored with no success. They just drilled another borewell for over 1350 feet, with no success. For now, they have taken the cattle to the neighbour’s farm, who had this year drilled a 600 feet borewell and a 1300 feet borewell with some success. In the last two weeks, our landlords have already bought two tanks of water at Rs.1500 per tank (for residential use). There is panchayat water also but the quantity that reaches their farm is too little. Yes, worst case, a few pots can be carried from the village pipe, a few hundred meters away. We’d been staying back at Coimbatore, reluctant to go there and burden them by seeking our share; reluctant to see their broken hearts, though our presence may offer the lonely couple some solace. And therefore, I had time and internet connection to ramble.
The elderly couple I’m talking about are medium farmers (based on land holding). They became medium farmers because they couldn’t afford to remain as big farmers. They sold their 30 acre land and bought 6 acres and built a modern large house on it with attached bath and western toilets (renting out the old tiled house with Indian toilets outside to us). And those bloody western toilets need some 15 litres of water everytime they pee or poo. I don’t know if the villagers of yore had knee problems, but they do have now, and they too, those who can afford, need those western toilets. And we have made it such a shameful act for the rural rich to even pee outside, in a village, on their own farms, when there is not enough water. Nor have we helped them build toilets that consume minimal water.
But, anyway, I can’t argue with math, and rain. The small farmers don’t. The interest income on FD is already way higher than farm income. Land appreciation is what was holding them back. The land prices seem to have stalled in many areas. They will sell out. One by one.