Bail out agriculture through farmer-centric approach
by Ashok B Sharma on 28 Jun 2014 1 Comment

Agriculture in India is ceasing to be a profitable enterprise. The most unfortunate part is the growing distress among the farmers, who are responsible for our food security. Incidences of farmers’ suicides remain high and previous governments did little to redress farmers’ woos. The latest reliable data available on farm suicides shows 13,754 reported cases in 2012 - 3,786 in Maharashtra, 2,572 in Andhra Pradesh, 1,875 in Karnataka, 1,172 in Madhya Pradesh.


Only farmer security can make agriculture profitable and retain youth force in agriculture and the rural economy. It is unfortunate that the policies of the previous governments were designed to pull out people from agriculture and cause migration to cities and create urban slums. With a view to boost the livelihood prospects of farmers, the National Commission on Farmers suggested fixing minimum support prices (MSPs) for crops at a minimum of 50 per cent higher than the weighted average cost of production. But the implementation of this suggestion has been long awaited.


The monolithic Food Corporation of India (FCI) needs urgent restructuring to enable purchase of farm produces in different parts of the country. Procurement of farm produces should be done at the level of cluster of villages where farmers can get the full benefit of the MSPs. Storage facilities or grain banks should be set up in the cluster of villages. This structure will be cost effective and enable cheaper transportation of food grains from surplus to nearby deficient areas. FCI should expand its mandate to procure more crops, including some horticulture crops and pulses.


Agriculture in India still remains as a gamble with the monsoon. This year, weathermen predict a poor monsoon. If the forecast turns out to be true, it would cause additional hardship to farmers.


The Modi government which has declared its intention to phase out subsidies on fuel and fertilisers should know that this is not in the interests of farmers and agriculture. Adequate power and diesel subsidy should be given to draw water for irrigation. Drip irrigation materials should be sold to farmers at a subsidised cost. De-silting of canals, energising tube wells, repairing faulty pumps should be taken up on war footing. Subsidised seeds should be given to farmers to grow alternate crops. Special attention should be given to the chronic dry areas. Subsidised fodder should be provided for milch animals and poultry, particularly in dry areas. These are some immediate measures to mitigate the hardship of farmers.


With a view to combat droughts and floods in the long run, Modi government plans to inter-link river basins. But several experts fear that this measure may lead to severe consequences, including soil salinity. Regional small links can, however, prove beneficial and this has been the traditional practice. Large inter-state river links would not only be costly, but also have severe ecological consequences.


Instead of building costly large dams that can cause displacement of people and may have disastrous consequence in the near future, government should encourage small check dams and construction of canals and water harvesting. Land degradation is taking place at a fast pace. According to a recent estimate, 32 per cent of the total land area (105 million ha.) is degraded. A report on desertification released by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 2007 stated that about 69 per cent of the land in the country is dry.


The plan for soil health cards for all farm plots for assessing land productivity is a step in the right direction. But it should be followed with fast and rigorous implementation for prescribing measures for restoring land productivity. Large tracts of degraded land should be brought back to agriculture. Unfortunately, prime farm lands are lost every year as a result of acquisition by corporate houses for setting up their business enterprises and for urbanisation. There is a need to check this trend. Land can be acquired for public purposes like setting up of schools, hospitals, construction of roads and railways.


According to the Government, “steps will be taken to convert farming into a profitable venture through scientific practices and agro-technology.” But the technology needs to be region specific taking into consideration the agro-climatic conditions. In the name of introducing scientific technology, the government should not allow introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops, particularly GM food crops, which have well known health and environmental risks.


The Modi government’s plan to provide urban facilities in rural areas is a welcome step. But instead of encouraging corporate houses to set up rural business enterprises, it would be better if loans and other facilities are extended to the rural unemployed to set up business enterprises like processing units, storages, grading facilities, fertiliser and pesticides distribution units, agri implement manufacturing in rural areas. Alternately, these business units can be set up by local cooperatives.


Finally, if the Government seriously intends to wipe out farmers’ woes and revitalise the rural economy, its policies and approach should be farmer-centric and not corporate-centric. Just as the Government has plans for the urban economy, it should have vibrant plans for the rural economy. We have had enough of urbanisation of the economy. What we need now is ruralisation of the economy.

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