Gujarat’s Krishi Mahotsavs suggest a strong social bias against the small and marginal farmers

krishiBy Counterview Desk

Since the summer of 2005, the Government of Gujarat has been organizing every year a month long Krishi Mahotsav (agrarian festival) in its favourite campaign mode. While the campaign entails financial costs to the coffers, it also means massive mobilization effort involving over one lakh functionaries of government departments, farmer co-operatives, panchayats, Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs), private input suppliers, and agricultural marketing companies — all in an effort to “expose” the farmer to modern technologies, new crops and market opportunities. The importance the government gives to the Krishi Mahotsav can be gauged from the fact that in 2012, the Gujarat chief minister addressed farmers live almost daily on huge life-size LED screens, sitting in Gandhinagar. As many as 140 LED screens were used daily for more than three weeks at the cost of Rs 47,000 per screening.  

If Gujarat’s powers-that-be are to be believed, the Krishi Mahotsav has “promised” an innovative approach to reinventing agricultural extension, to reconnecting the scientist with the farmer, and in general, to extending the farmer’s production possibility frontier.  However, a recent study “Reinventing Agricultural Extension?: Preliminary Assessment of Gujarat’s Krishi Mahotsav (Agrarian Festival)” has sought to ask a pointed question — Has the Krishi Mahotsav served its purpose? Senior scholars Tushaar Shah, Itishree Pattnaik, Sonal Bhatt, G. Kopa and Amita Shah, who have authored the study, have also sought to answer few other questions, like — Do farmers find it worthwhile? Is it able to reach out to one and all? Part of the International Water Management Institute-Tata Programme, the scholars based their study on a survey of 1,445 farmers spread across 25 villages in as many districts of Gujarat to analyze their perceptions about Krishi Mahotsav.

No doubt, awareness about Krishi Mahotsav among the farmers, thanks to propaganda around it, has been quite high. Around 69 per cent of the farmers were aware of it and 65 per cent thought it to be a ‘good programme’. Yet, the study found that “awareness and participation were particularly high among large farmers”, and was “particularly low among SC and landless households.” It said, “A quarter of the sample farmers attended the Krishi Mela and around one fifth attended a Krishi Shibir; over half were aware that the Krishi Rath had visited their village and had visited the same. A majority of these respondents were large landowners.” It adds, “Predictably, the landless were the least aware (49 percent).”

The scholars comment, “There was thus a strong scale-bias in exposure to Krishi Mahotsav. Those with money to travel and time to spare were more likely to attend Krishi Mela and Krishi Shibir. Only eight per cent of the sample farmers visited the model farmer’s field. Many of the small farmers and landless had to forego this opportunity because they could neither afford travel cost and the time for it, nor forego their wages during that period. Moreover, they thought that they had no use for new information when they had no means to use it.”

The scholars point towards how gram sabhas were to be organized by the gram sevaks and the sarpanches in each village prior to the visit of the Krishi Rath. Even then, “41 per cent respondents said they knew the gram sabha was organized, and 32 percent admitted to having attended such a gram sabha. Awareness and participation in the gram sabha was found to be the highest among large farmers and lowest among the landless and ST farmers.” In fact, the authors found that “there was much dissatisfaction and heart-burning with the manner of deciding beneficiary households as well as the delivery of the kits to them. Many households found the free agricultural inputs of no use as they were either landless or they got them after the sowing season.”

The survey showed evidence of considerable “mistargeting”, with medium and large farmers walking away with agricultural kits. It said, “Around a quarter of the sample farmers said that they received literature on extension education and admitted using it. Once again, the utilization of the literature was better among large farmers but low among ST, tenant and women farmers.” During the Krishi Mahotsavs, private seed, fertilizer and equipment companies are highly motivated in using the opportunity provided by Krishi Mahotsav. Yet, around 14 percent respondents interacted with the staff of Gujarat Green Revolution Company (GGRC), which provides drip irrigation support, and 27 percent with private input producers, apart from interaction with officials from the lead bank/ NABARD (16 per cent) and officials of APMC (16 per cent) was relatively low.

Even here, the scholars emphasize, “overall, interaction with various extension agents was found to be the highest among large farmers and quite low among small, SC and ST farmers.” In fact, “wide gap existed between awareness and adoption of new crops. Awareness levels were high among large and medium land owners and low among rainfed farmers, ST and women headed farm households. The gap between awareness and adoption rates varied greatly across categories of improved practices as well as of farmers. Indeed the bulk of the adoption was concentrated in the former three categories; and the average for the sample as a whole was pulled down by the very low adoption rates of the SC, ST, landless, rainfed and women headed households.”

The scholars underline, the large (10 + acres) farmers were “at least three times more likely to adopt these practices compared to the landless, rainfed, tribal and women headed households. The highest gap between awareness and adoption exists with respect to improved irrigation practices, soil health management and water harvesting practices.” Especially in things like “soil health management and water harvesting, large farmers were found to be miles ahead of the rest in awareness as well as adoption of better practices.” In improved marketing practices, “large farmers were the most enthusiastic adopters of new ideas.”

The scholars found “a similarly strong scale bias in awareness and availing of government subsidies under Krishi Mahotsav.” They add, “Overall, some 30 per cent of the sample farmers were aware about government subsidy schemes; but only 11 percent availed of subsidies.” The discrimination against the small farmers was clear: “Landless families, small and marginal farmers, rainfed farmers, SC and women headed households benefited the least”, the scholars point out, adding, “Small and marginal farmers, for example, were 35 percent of the total sample but only 5 percent of the sample households who availed of subsidies.” On the other hand, the large farmer households, in contrast, “were less than five per cent of the sample each; but were respectively 14 and 19 percent of sample households who benefited from government subsidy schemes.”

Well-owners showed a higher participation in Krishi Mahotsav, the study says: “Nearly twice the proportion of well owners in our sample participated in Krishi Mahotsav activities compared to non-well owners”, adding, “This suggests either or both of the following two things. First, owners of wells/ tube wells take their farming more seriously compared to farmers without ‘on-farm water control’ that wells/ tube wells offer. Second, Krishi Mahotsav has had little or nothing to offer to rainfed farmers. Moreover, because the irrigation department — responsible for managing major and medium irrigation systems — is not included in Krishi Mahotsav, canal irrigators miss out on the opportunity to interact with a key service provider.”

Coming to soil health card and kisan credit card and how these are helping to change the way farming is done in Gujarat, the scholars say, “Our sample survey showed that the penetration of soil health card and kisan credit card is limited. Just around 10 percent of the 1445 farmers we sampled had these cards. Most farmers who had these cards had not used it even once. The lukewarm response of farmers to soil health cards was evident in our qualitative discussions with farmers.”

Further, while “the penetration of agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry kits was surprisingly high”, there was a “massive scale bias is evident in accessing these schemes. Large and medium farmers have more than their fair share of everything.” The scholars say, “Most large and medium farmers have soil health cards and kisan credit cards. Most also received the agriculture kit. The rainfed and the tribal farmers were the worst off in all the five schemes.”

The scholars quote scientists and officials to say that “the succession of annual Krishi Mahotsavs had led to over-exposure and fatigue among officials and farmers, resulting in waning farmer interest and dwindling participation.” In fact, “officials suggested more frequent Krishi Shibirs in place of the present format of Krishi Mahotsav.” They said, May, the hottest month of the year in which everyone is busy attending weddings, is not the best time for Krishi Mahotsav and suggested a redesigned Krishi Mahotsav in two parts: summer and winter.”

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