A Pakistani farmer is an unfortunate figure. The state treats him as a second-class citizen thanks to the increasing power of the urbanites to formulate policies and allocate resources. On the other hand, industrialists consider him just a milking cow meant for providing the raw material for their industries at less than market prices but buy their substandard products at the asking pricesEven the society, for whom he toils day and night, does not treat him well. None of us are thankful to him for the food we eat, the clothes we wear. He is invariably ridiculed for being illiterate and uncouth. Unfortunately, most of us only see the flashy cars driven by the scions of big landlords and assume that every farmer is making hay. However, such people represent only less than one percent of any farming community. Rest of the lot is just living from hand to mouth, trying to survive against heavy odds. Can you imagine how much work of countless human beings had been invested in ensuring that there is food on your table three times a day? I will invite you to come and see the planting of rice in a paddy field. With the temperature hovering around 100 degrees FH, women plant saplings in water which is as hot as your coffee. And every woman must bend hundreds of times a day to plant these saplings in an area of an acre-a backbreaking jobIf the crop survives the vagaries of weather which sometimes can play havoc with his standing crops, rodents of several types are ready to have a feast on his hard-earned produce. Finally, when he takes his crops to the market for selling, there are many predators ready to pounce on the fruits of his efforts ensuring that he is not fairly compensated for the efforts he made to produce that crop, forget about fetching decent prices. There are several ways in which he is exploited. While the prices of agricultural commodities generally get depressed at the harvesting time more due to collusion of the vested interests than the market forces of supply and demand, the middleman will take away a sizeable chunk of his produce on one pretext or another. In fact, the middleman will have his cut in three ways. Firstly, he will charge higher prices for the inputs he provides to the farmer. Secondly, he will charge usurious rates of interest on the loans he has advanced for this purpose. Thirdly, he will pay him less than market prices when he purchases the agricultural produce the farmer brought for sale.Even the ordinary consumer unwittingly joins in this exploitation. Yes, you and me. We are willing to pay any price for clothes, cars, and cosmetics but will always haggle to the last to purchase agricultural produce at throwaway prices as if it is our birthright to buy these goods for a pittance. We will pay an industrialist his asking price for his products but are ready to pay only a “reasonable” price for the agricultural commodity. Frankly, the biggest culprit in this system of oppression is the state which tries its best to ensure that agricultural terms of trade, the ratio of agricultural prices to industrial prices, both measured as price indices, should remain in favour of the industrial sector. It has two objectives in mind for this unfair treatment of farmers. On one hand, it wants to ensure availability of agricultural raw material at throwaway prices to the industrial sector and on the other, it wants to suppress prices of food items for fear of urban unrest in case the farmers get fair prices for their products.We are willing to pay any price for clothes, cars, and cosmetics but will always haggle when purchasing agricultural produce at throwaway pricesThat is why, with few exceptional years, these terms of trade are always against the agricultural sector, more by design and less by default. They are under the impression that any increase in the prices of agricultural commodities in general and of food crops in particular, would directly and proportionately increase the general price level in the country, creating labour unrest. The proponents of this point of view always come up with a lot of statistical evidence to prove their hypothesis, relying on neoclassical theories with a full battery of jargons.Unfortunately, the poor farmers do not have this much of sophisticated skills to reply and their case for fair returns goes by default. Evidence and logic do not corroborate this hypothesis.Every student of economics knows how complex are these issues having multiple sources of origin and affected by the myriad of economic and non- economic factors. No doubt, when a country is facing inflationary pressure, prices of food items increase along with the prices of other non-food items. That is expected because inflation by definition means an increase in the general price level over a period of time but in no way, you can blame the farmers for causing this escalation in inflation. It is extremely difficult to pinpoint a single causative factor to blame for a complex and constantly evolving situation; you must treat it with judicious use of a broad-spectrum remedy, not a single shot dose.Secondly, even if we agree for argument’s sake that paying good prices to the farmers will result in inflationary pressures and cause increased misery for the poor, it is the duty of the state to formulate a comprehensive social safety network to help those affected by the inflationary trends. You cannot put entire responsibility of saving the poor on the shoulders of one stakeholder in the economy; let other sectors also play a role in this noble cause by paying proper taxes.Thirdly, if we do not motivate the farmers to produce food commodities by paying them fair returns, it will result in reduced production of the very food crops which are supposed to keep the general price level stable either due to a loss in productivity of their crops or diversion of land use to more lucrative cash crops.John F. Kennedy said about the plight of American farmers 50 years ago that “The American farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything he buys at retail, sells everything he sells at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” It is as true a statement about Pakistani farmer today as it was true for the American farmers 50 years ago. Only during the food crises, the governments raise the procurement prices of agricultural commodities but forcibly purchase the surplus from the farmers, depriving them the opportunity to receive the true market prices for their produce.What are the essential requirements for stopping this mistreatment? How to restore the dignity of those who, despite putting in their best efforts to ensure the food security and industrial progress of the country are always considered second-class citizens?A few ways in which this could be done are;Give respect to the farmer whom Faiz Ahmed Faiz rightly addressed as the “Representative of God on Earth.” Be thankful to the one who makes it possible that all of us have access to our food items at affordable prices and enough raw materials for our industries. That is the least you as a privileged human being can do for another human being who is not so privileged.Sometimes, delay in harvesting of fruits and vegetables, particularly of tomatoes and onions coming from Sindh and Balochistan, results in shooting up their prices temporarily. Have patience if it does happen and do not start clamoring for their imports from India. It only helps trading classes of both countries while ruining the farmers from Sindh and Balochistan who fail to fetch decent prices from Punjabi consumers due to the import of heavily subsidized Indian products.The state must rationalize the prices of the inputs farmers use for cultivating the food and nonfood crops and ensure their availability at the right time and nearest to the place of production. The government must allocate a substantial amount in its contingency budget to provide a subsidy to the farmers if the prices of these inputs are increased unreasonably by the traders.Ensure that the farmers get prices for their produce which should not only cover their financial costs of production but also compensate him for the intangible labour enabling him to live a decent life. One of the ways that farmers get fair returns for their efforts is selective procurement when the prices of agricultural commodities crash because of overproduction. Do not punish him for producing enough food for you.Improving the marketing infrastructure such as rural roads, storage warehouses, and market places would go a long way in helping the farmers to sell their produce at reasonable rates, improving his mobility, holding capacity and bargaining power. In order to obviate the possibility of his ruination due to vagaries of weather or other natural disasters, introduce crop insurance schemes.The writer is currently doing PhD in Political Science from Maxwell School, Syracuse University, USAPublished in Daily Times, June 4th 2018.