Sunday, April 21, 2019

India's Unending Agricultural Crisis

Indian farming is in the news because of the ongoing election. The Modi government came to power mostly because of support in rural areas, and the opposition Congress party is trying to win those votes by talking up the bad situation in India's villages. Which is exactly what Modi's party did when they were out of power.

I am not very familiar with the ins and out of Indian agricultural policy, and maybe there are things the government could do to improve the situation. This angry essay, which the Times ran a year ago, has a long list of complaints, some of which may be valid, about poor credit policy, poor water distribution, favoritism toward agribusiness, and so on, which seemed to me eerily like the complaints of farmers from China to South Dakota.

But in the long run India's peasant class is pretty much doomed no matter what the government does, because peasant agriculture is simply not compatible with modern life. In fact modernity as I understand it pretty much means that people stop being peasants and become something else.

The Times story on the current election features many farmers who have less than 5 acres of land and plan on dividing that among their three or four children. How could that possibly be made to work?

The process by which agriculture moves from 70 or 80 percent of the workforce to 2 percent has been painful everywhere, and some of the stories one reads about farmers' desperate efforts to stay on their land are heart-rending. But I don't see how a massive exodus from the land can be avoided.

Sometimes the details of what we do matter, but sometimes we are in the grip of vast economic or social forces completely beyond our control.

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