The Abandoned Indian Farmer

In Delhi, two governments are so busy advertising their efforts towards farmer welfare, they forget to do any actual work.

How It All Started

We uncovered a shocking truth recently when we tried to help one of our farmers build a cold storage.

Balraj Rana wanted to help a hundred odd farmers from his area store exotic veggies — which happen to be extremely perishable — for a few hours before having them picked up by our team. He hoped to build a cold storage for this purpose, which he planned to share with his fellow farmers for free.

So, together, we set out to ask the National Horticulture Board (NHB) for a subsidy for a small cold storage with about 5 tonnes of capacity. At their Gurgaon office, we were told that they only offered subsidies for cold storages with capacities of 5000 tonnes or above, at a rate of 35%. This was far greater than what Balraj Rana and his fellow farmers would need to store their produce for a few hours. The NHB then suggested we approach the Delhi Government for help.

Our Shenanigans with Two Governments

To our surprise, the Horticulture Department of Delhi Government informed us that they had no scheme in place for building cold storages. We found that had to believe, and asked for a written statement stating the same. It took us about 3 weeks and multiple visits to obtain the piece of paper, but they eventually did hand us the letter.

With the letter in hand, and with much confusion, we went back to the NHB to ask for a subsidy. There, after negotiations that went on for a while, the NHB agreed to offer us a subsidy for our 4-tonne cold storage at the same rate they offer for building 5000-tonne storages. The offer made no sense because, if the same offer were to be availed for both, a cold storage with 5000-tonne capacity would be charged a substantially lower rate per cubic centimetre than a 4-tonne one. Also, at a 35% rate, we would only get about 20 thousand rupees for a facility that would cost us 4 lakhs.

After we turned down the offer, the NHB suggested we try our luck at the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH), which falls under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India. At the MIDH, we learned that the central government does not offer agricultural subsidies directly, and only does so through state governments.

And so were directed back to the office of the Horticulture Department of Delhi Government, which, after we repeatedly visited their office in the span of about 3 weeks, finally accepted our application. We were assured that our application would be forwarded to the MIDH. A week later, we called the MIDH to find out if our application had really been forwarded.

A senior official at the MIDH informed us that they hadn’t received our application from the NHB. When we told him the two governments had been dallying for about 2 months, he called us to his office.

Unlocking the Truth

At the office of the MIDH, which is run by the Government of India, we found out that the Horticulture Department (Delhi Government) had, in their action plan for the year 2016–17, only asked the central government for a sum total of INR 50 lakhs to aid the farmers in Delhi-NCR.

We couldn’t understand how either Government would have approved that. How does one even begin to help thousands of farmers (who live in a state the size of a small European country) with only enough funds to purchase an entry-level luxury car?

A Deceptive Consolation Prize

After hearing our story, the MIDH offered us 3 options.
1. Build a pack house worth 4 lakhs and get a 50% subsidy for it. For that amount, though, all we would get in Delhi would be four walls with a tin roof. What would a small farmer even do with that?
2. The second option was to build an integrated pack house for 50 lakhs — with machines for sorting and washing produce, along with a cold storage — at 35% subsidy. (It beats us how a bunch of small farmers can be expected to build such an expensive facility.)
3. The last option we were presented with involved building a cold storage for 15 lakhs at a subsidy of 35%. A facility that expensive would process about 30 tonnes of produce, and would be geared more towards long-term storage. But with our short supply chain, we would only need to store produce for a few hours to keep it fresh till it’s picked up. Why would we build a 30-tonne cold storage where a 4-tonne one would suffice?

A Sorry State of Affairs

After being harrassed by the two Governments for over 3 months, where we nearly lost our minds and wasted countless hours visiting their offices, we discovered that their policies only favour rich farmers.

Who will take care of poor farmers or farmers who try to make a living by selling a more modest quantity of yield? Aren’t those with smaller pieces of land and fewer assets to their names the ones who are presented as the primary beneficiaries of all governmental plans? Aren’t their faces plastered all over ads that serve only to accumulate public goodwill, instead of disseminating information to those who would need it the most? Aren’t they the ones who really need these subsidies and would benefit the most from them?

We’ve heard big talk about both Governments’ numerous programmes to provide compensation to farmers. How about eradicating the need for compensating them instead? How about privileging preventative measures over curative ones? How about focussing on the upliftment of farmers instead of compensating them for losses they bear due to the negligence of the very governments that later come forward with a balm to soothe their pain?

Here’s our suggestion: help small farmers build small facilities that best suit their purposes. Have measures in place to ensure they get help when they need it, so that they don’t have to visit your office often enough to memorise even the scratches on your office furniture.

We bring transparency and honesty to the business of food.