AP has 35.7% tenant farmers, the second-highest in the country, and 65-80% of farming in the paddy dominant belts of the coastal districts is done by tenant farmers.
One of the major issues impacting the country’s agrarian sector and its growth is the perplexing issue of tenancy. Despite land leasing being an informal and restricted practice, it is widely practised leaving tenant farmers susceptible to exploitation by landowners. Bringing some respite to these hitherto neglected farmers, Andhra Pradesh enacted the Crop Cultivator Rights Rules Act (CCRA), 2019 and the pivotal Rythu Bharosa scheme.
Agriculture accounts for 15.96% of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a major source of livelihood for more than half of its population. Its growth over the years has been wavering, from a -0.2% in 2014-15 to 6.3% in 2016-17, and then contracting to 2.8% in 2019-20. The fallout of COVID-19 and the economic ramifications has once again propelled the discussion on the need to revamp agriculture policies as demonstrated by the agrarian distress and farmer protests across the country. Aiming to empower farmers economically through market reforms, fair pricing and cash transfers, recently the Centre and state governments have initiated a slew of reforms. However, even then, at a time when farmers are grappling with the twin problems of drought and floods, the key issue remains the same – tenant farmers, who are the most vulnerable and marginalised, remain outside the safety net.
As per National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) 2013 study, one in seven farm households is a tenant, accounting for nearly 13.65% of total farm households. According to the NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS) study conducted in 2015-16, about 52% of agricultural households were engulfed in a debt trap, with an average outstanding debt of Rs 1.04 trillion. This exclusion of tenant farmers from institutional credit support is further substantiated by the recent focus group discussions with farmers conducted by Swaniti Initiative in Andhra Pradesh (AP).
AP is an agrarian state with enormous production in paddy, maize and shrimp-aqua, 69.27% of the farmers hold an average landholding of 0.4 hectares and 19.31% have an average of 1.22 hectares, according to the AP Socio-Economic Survey. According to the 70th round of the NSSO report, the state has 35.7% tenant farmers, the second-highest in the country, while the national average is 10.4%. It is also estimated that about 65-80% of farming in the paddy dominant belts of the coastal districts is done by tenant farmers. In this backdrop, the state also has high rates of farmer suicides, which increased from 664 in 2018 to 1,029 in 2019, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Addressing most of these concerns, the state government aims to prioritise farmer welfare through the flagship Rythu Bharosa scheme that emphasises inclusive growth. Through its components, the scheme empowers farmers, assuring them cash transfer, Rythu Bharosa Kendras (RBK), training and a scientific approach to farming.
Rythu Bharosa, one of the core nine pillar welfare schemes of the AP government, incorporates small and marginal farmers (holding less than 5 acres of land) and tenants as beneficiaries, a majority of whom belong to BC, SC and ST marginal communities. A sum of Rs 13,500 is provided to the farmers, of which Rs 6,000 for small farmers is borne by the Centre under the PM KISAN scheme. In the case of tenant farmers, the whole amount is borne by the state government. Three trenches of payments have been released for the year 2019-20 impacting 46,69,375 farmers, of which 1,58,123 are tenant farmers.
In addition to cash transfer, farmers in the state are assured of services like 9 hours of free electricity, crop insurance, digging of free borewells, interest-free loans, help in purchasing farm inputs, and training and capacity building through RBKs. The farmers can purchase farm inputs through digital kiosks stationed at these kendras.
Ramana Reddy, a groundnut farmer from Anantapur, says he saves an additional Rs 180 per week on transportation costs. With the setting up of the RBKs, which are usually located in the gram panchayats, he doesn’t need to travel to the city to buy certified seeds and urea.
Incorporating some of the preparedness brought in during the pandemic, the scheme also has targets for the opening of food processing units and clusters in each constituency. This helps in corroborating the local logistics supply chain, providing adequate employment opportunities, and warehouse management.
One of the major limiting factors that hinder the transfer of benefit to tenant farmers is the identification of scheme beneficiaries. AP enacted CCRA, 2019, aiming at a better tenant-landlord relationship by introducing the CCR card. The card is an agreement between the tenant and landowner, and is countersigned by the Village Revenue Officer (VRO). CCRA also encompasses provisions for the tenant farmers to get bank loans, input, and other subsidies.
However, Subbaiah*, a groundnut tenant farmer also from Anantapur, said that he did not receive the cash transfers as his name was not registered and his landowner was not willing to sign the CCR card. Subbaiah’s story is not an isolated incident. Despite the government’s assurance that the title of the landowner will remain unaffected, many landowners are still reluctant to sign the agreement.
Rythu Bharosa serves as a model which can be scaled up in other states. The scheme also entails proposals of building Janata Bazaars, warehousing facilities, near the vicinity of the village secretariats. Recently, as a part of the same, a comprehensive land mapping survey has been announced making use of drones, rovers and marking stones. Initiatives like CCR cards should be implemented effectively throughout the country so that a tenant farmer database is maintained. The effective identification of intended beneficiaries, which is a pertinent part of the scheme to prevent leakages, will further pave the way for the doubling of farmers’ income.
* Name changed
Krishna Kanuparthi (Development Associate) and Roshni Sekhar (Junior Field Associate) work with Swaniti Initiative in the Andhra Social Development Program (APSDP).
This piece was previously published at The News Minute.