Part 1 of this series can be accessed here.
In the long-term, Indian agriculture needs radical reforms. No, no, not in the reforms of the M.S. Swaminathan type that tinker with such issues as the Union Ministry fixing a crop’s “minimum support price” that will provide the farmer a 50 per cent profit on his cost of production.
Some startling statistics on the agricultural scenario were recently pointed by Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, a renowned scientist and a former Director of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Such reforms above may have suited the farming situation at the time when those were made between 2000 and 2004. But a lot has happened since then. As an article in “Business Line” of April 10, 2017, pointed out, “Agriculture in India has been facing many issues — fragmented land holding, depleting water table levels, deteriorating soil quality, rising input costs, low productivity. Add to this, vagaries of the monsoon. Output prices may not be remunerative. Farmers are often forced to borrow to manage expenses. Also, many small farmers not eligible for bank credit borrow at exorbitant interest rates from private sources.”
A most significant point brought to our notice by the above-cited article was that “Farmers are not a happy lot — about 40 per cent of them dislike farming and would quit if they can, as per the NSSO’s 59th survey. Not finding short-term and long-term solutions can severely impact food security.” (This National Sample Survey Office’s 59th Survey in 2003 was on “India – Situation Assessment Survey of Formers”)
Some startling statistics on the agricultural scenario were recently pointed by Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, a renowned scientist and a former Director of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Talking to “The Indian Express” at the beginning of July this year, he said, “an average size of the land holdings decreased from 2.30 hectares (1970) to 1.32 hectares (2000), 0.68 hectares (2020) and expected to further decline to 0.32 hectares (2030).” On the other hand, he said, “demand for food grains across the country would increase from 192 million tons (2000) to 342 million tons (2030).”
To combat this emerging situation, Dr Mashelkar feels it is imperative that “Every farmer will have to revert to scientific farming and double the production and minimize investment expenditure.” He believes that ‘The growing use of GIS/GPS and the sensor for planting, irrigation and monitoring yields would help in both improving the quality and quantity.” Exuding optimism for innovative start-ups in the field of agriculture, he said, “Agriculture innovation system’s biggest challenge will be to strive for ‘more for less’.” In other words, “The system will have to gear up the farmers to work towards higher productivity using lesser resources namely land, water, energy, and money.”
The idea of scientific farming is fine, Dr. Mashelkar. It’s just fine. But the point is: Who will goad and guide them to do that? The current generation of farmers is tradition-bound and too conservative in their outlook on life.
They will work hard, very hard, with their hands but not with their mind – except when they want to steal power from the overhead electricity pole.
For instance, they have not yet followed the simple compost system. They still don’t go for full-scale drip irrigation despite liberal Government schemes for financing IT. Most of them have not had the wisdom to invest in the LPG gas cylinder on their own, but will happily spend on a glass or two of “hooch” every day.
They still have a disinclination to send their daughters to secondary school but still love to get them married below the permissible age and do that with accompanying merry-making, even borrow it from the extortionist local money lender.
They will work hard, very hard, with their hands but not with their mind – except when they want to steal power from the overhead electricity pole. And if they do go for your scientific farming under government pressure, they will demand a GPS device all for themselves, and not share it within their community. They will be desperate for money but many of them but don’t want to send their wife to earn an extra income from the MNREGA Scheme. Nor will they keep their surroundings clean or choose to build a toilet in their home. For everything external, they want the government to give it … free. They’ll even agitate for hours together to get a GPS device free from the Talati or the tehsildar and… when in need, even sell it to someone else. The Congress culture of seven decades has truly gone into their blood. There are glorious exceptions, no doubt, to this criticism, but they are exceptions to the rule.
Above all, remember the most significant finding of the NSSO’s 59th survey of 2003 — full 14 years ago — that about 40 per cent of them dislike farming and would quit if they can.
The problem, therefore, boils down to: Who will undertake the scientific farming recommended by Dr Mashelkar?
…if corporates can successfully run tea estates, coffee plantations and spice gardens, orange gardens, flower orchids and grape vineyards, why can’t they be allowed to own farms growing paddy, wheat, pulses and other food crops?
The only quick answer one can think of is bigger farms run either on a co-operative basis like Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. in Anand, which started in 1946 as the Kaira District Milk Union under the guidance of the inimitable Sardar Patel and organization skills of Morarji Desai, now owns the worldwide Amul brand and which is today jointly owned by 3.6 million milk producers in Gujarat.
The second option is that corporate houses be inducted into farming. After all, if corporates can successfully run tea estates, coffee plantations and spice gardens, orange gardens, flower orchids and grape vineyards, why can’t they be allowed to own farms growing paddy, wheat, pulses and other food crops?
All such privately owned or run crop farms need are consolidated bundles of the optimum land of the small and marginal farmers. These bundles of land can easily be facilitated by the right compensation package for land acquisition along with assured employment for a certain number of jobs for the farmer family parting with its land. If the monetary compensation is paid, fully or partially, in bank fixed deposits for assured monthly income to the farmer household, the attraction to give up fragmented land holdings will be so much more. Wages payable to labor on the farms will, of course, need to be strictly as per current laws of the land.
With several packages food crops being already available to the consumer in the market from trusted and respected corporate firms, the potential to convert these marketers into producers as well seems large, if not huge, at this stage.
The corporates can also be expected to create storage godowns and food processing plants in the vicinity of their farms. The prospects of agricultural prosperity seem huge. All it requires is for the government to act on the basic idea of roping in corporates and farmers.
Does the Narendra Modi government have the courage to do that and thereby create another humongous socio-economic reform in our country? He can if he finds another Sardar Patel and another Morarjibhai.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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