In his over forty years as a farmer, Ramesh Bacchav does not remember anything, neither depressed markets nor burgeoning loans, ever causing him to question his pride in his work. Until three years ago, when the 50-year-old accompanied his younger son for an entrance exam in Vadodara.
“At the exam center, other parents seeing off their kids in Audis and BMWs sniggered at us — I’m fighting tears even as I remember that day,” says the resident of Juni Bej village in Nashik’s Kalwan taluka. “We are a spectacle for city folk.”
Both of Bacchav’s sons eventually looked up engineering diplomas and told him flatly that they are unmoved by his labors on their 4-acre farmland. One is hoping to land a job in a large telecom company while he stays an Ayurveda store’s computing system humming; the other is with a small mechanical engineering firm. Both live in Nashik, and Bacchav often required to supplement their meagre salaries with little cash gifts.
As the state plunges into an unexpected early drought year, its third agricultural drought in six years, families across rural Maharashtra find increasingly that the young at home, generally those who manage to get some manner of education, see farming as a self-defeating cycle of losses.
“There’s a Marwadi saying — dhan ka naash Kare sheti, that which destroys wealth is farming,” commented Ramdas Bacchav, president of Juni Bej’s Primary Agricultural Cooperative Society (PACS). “And youngsters can see the truth in that over the last few years when we have had either drought and crop loss or bumper crops and losses due to poor prices,” he adds.
Ramdas’s sons are not in farming either – one works for a private firm while the other joined the Indian Army.
In the Marathwada region, which has borne the massive brunt of cyclical drought in recent years, anything for a fixed pay is seen as a better career move than farming.
The share of agriculture and allied activities in Maharashtra in 2016-17 as a share of the Gross State Value Added was 12.2 percent, down from 15.3 percent in 2001-02, a decreasing trend even while the majority of the population remains dependent on the sector. But a regular decline in the size of holdings, repeated years of losses and the rising number of small and marginal farmers render the sector unviable for anyone who can afford to make a choice.
Dr Ashok Dhawale, president of the CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha that led 40,000 mostly tribal farmers into Mumbai after a 180-km march from Nashik earlier this year, says that while the agrarian economy has taken deep hits in the past few years, there has been little by way of policy to make farming more farmer-friendly, more attractive to the youth.
Dhawale commented that between drought and poor market realizations, it’s inevitable for youngsters in rural Maharashtra to opt out of farming. “It’s definitely something for policymakers to think about. What happens to agrarian society due to these changes, what happens to food sovereignty? Will neo-liberal policies lead to large corporates taking control of agriculture? The present policies have proven incapable of tackling these questions,” he says.