Cure the Agricultural Migraine – Part 2

A fresh approach to solve the Agricultural Migraine that afflicts India

Will Scientific farming rid India of its Agricultural Migraine?
Will Scientific farming rid India of its Agricultural Migraine?

Long-Term Solutions

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.

Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Arvind Lavakare has been a freelance writer since 1957. He has written and spoken on sports on radio and TV. He currently writes on political issues regularly. His writings include a book on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

His freelancing career began in "The Times of India" with a sports article published when he was a month shy of 20 years of age. He was also a regular political affairs columnist first for rediff.com for five years or so and then shifted to sify.com. He also wrote extensively for niticentral.com "till it stopped publication."

2 COMMENTS

  1. Ha Ha Ha…trust a large corporation with my food supply…no thank you. i already eat large tasteless tomatoes and bananas with quarter inch thick skins. Comparison to plantation crops is not relevant. I can testify (as a heavy coffee drinker) that I wont die without coffee, but will die without my dal rice. I already buy chemicals to clean the chemicals sprayed on produce to keep them looking nice and shiny on supermarket shelves. Handing over to corporates is Not socio-economic – it is commercial – economic. Socio economic changes will come when we change the plight and attitude of farmers …read on. [nice joke – “trusted and respected corporate firms]
    If we are concerned about the reducing size of farms, we can always legislate that agricultural land may not be divided below one hectare or something like that. A joint holder may have the option to continue as such or sell his share for x years of net revenue from his portion.
    Community farming has been tried in other parts of the world, with mixed success. As always, it depends on how well the support systems function rather than the concept itself. In that sense a joint family that tends to a farm is indeed community farming albeit with family as the key support structure.
    If farmers are clever in the wrong ways, is it because they are bad, or is it because they are at the receiving end of problems? I live in a metro, and find it difficult to get things done with the administration. Maybe I am just unlucky, but I shudder to think of what a farmer in a remote village has to go through. Is it high time the administration realised that they don’t work for the colonial masters and against the people but for the people and the nation? . Has 1947 not sunk in yet?
    Agitations are the same. Political parties that are usually behind this need to realise that agitations against a foreign ruler were acceptable, but in current times only serve to damage the political fabric and the coming together of people to resolve problems and disputes. An agitation has at its core the belief that the problem is insoluble, and force is necessary. The wrong starting position for a negotiation in an independent country.

    Scientific farming yes – but inclusive of traditional practices that worked for centuries. And who exactly is helping these farmer blokes undertake scientific farming? It doesn’t happen by firman you know. Telling them to go and install drip irrigation is akin to idle gossip. Even if a farmer ‘bought into’ the concept, at every turn he will be harassed and made to run from pillar to post. And then he gives up. When this happens a few times, he treats every new idea as if it were his mother in law. Heard and forgotten. You should try implementing a new process / technology in a “respectable corporate” just by issuing a firman. Am sure it will work as well as it does with the farmers. [like the joke “go for your scientific farming under government pressure”]. And by the way, there is nothing wrong with being tradition bound. It is the traditions that have kept the farming techniques alive, and led to discovery of new breeds. Time scales in farming are long, and also have to deal with seasonality and the vagaries of the weather. Having met farmers eager to learn new techniques, we have to see what is wrong in our ways of educating them rather than blaming them for not picking up every “idea that comes from the city”.
    Not all farmers are drunks you know. I don’t drink, but will not begrudge my fellow man an occasional glass of “hooch”. There are drunks the in the city as well, who are secure in the feeling that the farmers are growing enough barley and malt to let them enjoy their “scotch”.
    How easy it is to blame them for their disinclination to send daughters to school. Maybe they need a hand at home. Lets find out the root cause rather than blame them. Farming is back breaking work. It takes many hands.
    No traditional farmer actually dislikes farming. They grow up bonded to the land. If many do want to give up, it is probably due to the difficulties they face. And issues like declining water table and soil quality are (in relative terms) new, and probably the result of intensive pumping, extensive use of chemicals, and the loss of “traditional methods” like use of organic fertilisers and water conservation / management.

    If farmers are dispirited and wont even keep their places clean, I would look for root causes (and look at them as a class as opposed to individually) – rather than impose, or hand the problem wholesale to corporates creating a different kind of problem. I would approach the problem with a tad more sensitivity.

    Corporates have distinguished themselves by doing very little or no reaserch which speaks to the state of industry today – for ever dependent on “importing technology” even in the most basic areas. And those of you who think corporates fulfil their social responsibility out of the goodness of their hearts – WAKE UP !

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