Loan Waivers – A Death Knell for Farmers
Sadhguru : In Karnataka, seventy-one percent of farmers are in distress loans, and in Tamil Nadu, eighty-two percent. A distress loan means the person who has taken the loan has simply no means to pay back. It is like you are earning ten rupees, but you have taken a hundred rupee loan. We know that there is no way for you to pay back, and the interest is multiplying. The only thing a farmer can do is default, run away, sell the land, or hang from a tree. In the last fifteen years, over 300,000 farmers have committed suicide. In the four wars that India has had – three with Pakistan and one with China – this many people did not die on both the sides put together.
In 1969, before the bank nationalization happened, there were largely only private banks in this country. A private banker will not lend to the farmer. He will lend only to the businessman, to somebody who has property that you can mortgage or where he knows that the business will make money. This farmer may not make money, so why would he give him money?
So, apart from a few cooperative banks, with very small capital that could not do much, nobody was lending to the rural population. That is why the central government nationalized all the banks. In other words, if you were running a bank and had a few thousand crores, the government just took all your wealth without any compensation. The nation did such a cruel act to ensure that the rural populations have access to banking. And it has made a huge difference – it has been a revolution in the country.
But now as a solution for farmers’ distress loans, political parties are giving loan waivers to win elections. So as a banker, you must give a loan, but they need not pay back. How long will a transaction like this go on? Suppose I give you hundred rupees and somebody else comes and says, “You don't have to pay him back.” I just lost my hundred rupees. The next time, even if you say, “I'm dying,” I will not give you ten rupees. Is this not the way society works? If it is assured that you are not going to pay me back, even if you say it is the most dire emergency, I will not want to give you a rupee.
What will happen is that the banks will invent a new form to fill, which asks for your forefather’s name from ten generations ago or something else, in such a way that the farmer could never fulfil the legal formalities to get the loan. This is what loan waivers will do. Once again we are pushing the farmer away from proper banking and back into the moneylender’s hands, where the interest rate is sixty to seventy percent per annum. Once they borrow a hundred rupees from that person, they are a slave for a life. This is a clear death knell for the farmer.
The phenomenal effort of nationalization of banks and flushing rural economies with banking money is being destroyed right now. This can be changed dramatically with agroforestry. If the government just gives the farmers a one-time incentive to shift to agroforestry, after that, he will not even need a loan.
To Cut a Tree, You Have to Grow a Tree
Agroforestry, or tree-based agriculture, is not a new idea or concept. In southern India, in any agricultural land, there always used to be a minimum of twenty-five to fifty trees, at least on the boundary. I have seen in Karnataka, people used to plant trees when their son or daughter was born and name the tree after them. If they cut this tree, their daughter’s marriage is taken care of, or their son’s university education is taken care of. When the farmer needed money, all he had to do was cut a tree.
Today, the timber business in the world is over $250 billion. Is India sending any timber to any part of the world? No. But we are importing over Rs. 1 lakh crores worth of timber products.
This is because no farmer in India wants to grow a tree today. If he grows it, he cannot cut it. We have stupid environmental laws. This is a law we want to change. In the last term of the central government, we got eighteen species of trees released that you can grow and cut. But you still cannot cut the high value trees like sandalwood, red sanders, teak and rosewood. I want to bring in a law that a farmer can grow whatever he wants and cut it whenever he wants.
Now somebody will start a campaign accusing me of promoting tree cutting. Yes, I am promoting tree cutting. But to cut the tree you have to first grow it, right? If you grow a billion trees, you may cut a few trees. Otherwise, if you are not allowed to cut it, you will not even grow it.
Cauvery Calling – Marriage of Economy and Ecology
In the last 25 years I have been watching with concern, the gradual depletion of river flows across the country. Cauvery is forty percent of what it used to be fifty years ago. The simplest solution for this is to ensure there is sufficient tree cover in the river basin through agroforestry.
This is the essence of the Cauvery Calling campaign. It is a marriage between economy and ecology. We are looking at shifting farmers to agroforestry and planting 242 crore trees in the Cauvery River basin. This will cover one third of the basin under shade and revitalize the river. In Tamil Nadu we have converted 69,760 farmers into agroforestry and within five to seven years, their wealth has increased by three hundred to eight hundred percent. Once we show this as an implementable large-scale model in the Cauvery basin, it can be replicated for other rivers as well. And once you show that agroforestry is economically successful, it will happen everywhere.