Indian agriculture at cross roads, says MS Swaminathan

Indian agriculture at cross roads, says MS Swaminathan

FarmDistressIndia is a nation characterized by Grain Mountains and hungry millions

N.B. Nair | Indian Science Journal

Chennai (ISJ) – Indian agriculture is at the cross roads, warns Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, father of India’s first Green Revolution. Lamenting on the state of Indian farmers, especially farmers with small land-holdings, Dr. Swaminathan said, “The farmer is at the mercy of the monsoon and the market. Climate change is introducing extreme weather events like what we have witnessed during recent months.”

The recent unseasonal rains and hailstorm left extensive crop damages across the country. The loss of stand crops in the country is estimated to be 189.81 lakh hecatres, according to Union Agriculture Ministry, with several northern states bearing the burnt.

In an exclusive interview to Indian Science Journal, Dr. Swaminathan said, the National Commission on Farmers (NCF), which was headed by him had recommended way back in 2006 detailed and precise recommendations to save farmers from such calamities, but no action was taken on it.

“Nearly 60% of our cultivated area is rain-fed and therefore highly monsoon dependent. We have to develop and popularize what is currently known as climate smart agriculture. This will involve maximizing the benefits of good monsoon and minimizing the adverse impact of an unfavourable monsoon. I coined the concept of a drought code, flood code and good weather code to indicate what needs to be done under different monsoon conditions,” said Dr. Swaminathan.

The NCF had recommended that emphasis should be placed on the cultivation of high value and low water requiring crops, such as pulses and oilseeds in water scarce areas. In paddy and sugarcane, water-saving methods of cultivation like those inherent in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methodology should be popularised. Seawater farming should be promoted in coastal areas through the crops that thrive in salt water. Investment in research to promote water-efficient crops is essential. “More crops per drop of water” should not remain just a slogan.

MS Swaminathan

“The market economy certainly is not friendly to small farmers. WTO regulations are also hindrance. Even in the United States which is the heartland of the free market economy, farmers are insulated from market shocks through heavy subsidies under the Green Box Provisions of WTO,” he said.

Dr. Swaminathan, whose pioneering efforts in the farm sector is recognized across countries, said farming has becoming non-remunerative with input costs going up and output return becoming unfavourable.

“The cost, risk and return structure of farming is becoming unfavourable to farm families. As a result, the younger generation do not want to take farming as a profession. Even elders will like to quit if there is an opportunity to do so,” he said. “The fact that youth do not wish to take to agriculture is indicative of the economic unattractiveness of this profession.”

In a veiled criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan of “Make in India”, Dr. Swaminathan said it is nothing but Swadeshi movement of Mahatma Gandhi.

“Agriculture is the largest private sector enterprise in our country. Farm products are all made in India. We should therefore give content and meaning to Lal Bahadur Sastri’s slogan “Jai kisan”. The input – output pricing and export–import policies should all be made farmer centric,” said the octogenarian farm scientist.

Hailstorm Grafix 0905Terming India as a nation characterized by Grain Mountains and hungry millions. The major problem is inadequate purchasing power. As a result, under-nourishment and malnutrition are wide spread. Though the National Food Security Act conferred the Right to Food to nearly 70% of the population, this Act is yet to be implemented in most parts of India.

“Therefore the problem is not one of availability of food in the market, but is one of economic access to food. This problem can be overcome only by improving the net income of farmers through high productivity, better post-harvest technology and value addition to the primary products,” said Dr. Swaminathan. “At the same time, areas relating to the biological absorption of food like drinking water, sanitation and primary healthcare need attention.”

Today China is the largest producer of rice and India the second largest, though it is number one in terms of acreage. He said, we can produce more rice, but the problem will be pricing and market. India has become the largest exporter of rice, particularly dwarf basmati rice. Rice is the custodian of our food security system in an era of climate change, since it grows under a variety of latitudes and altitudes.

“We can grow rice from below sea level in Kuttanad in Kerala to the high altitude of Himalaya. No other country has this advantage. Thus, rice is our most important food security crop.”

Kuttanad in Kerala is recognized as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site.

In the era of farm economics, according to NCF, resource flow to the agriculture sector is declining, and indebtedness of small and marginal farm families is rising. Input costs are increasing, while factor productivity is declining. The cost-risk-return structure of farming is becoming adverse, to over 80 million farming families operating small holdings, since the resource-poor families cultivating 1 to 2 hectares or less are unable to benefit from the power of scale at either the production or post-harvest phases of farming. Both meteorological and marketing factors influence the well-being of small farm families, who lack the capacity to withstand the shock of either crop failures or uneconomic market prices for their produce.

Institutions which are supposed to help farmers, such as research, extension, credit and input supply agencies, are by and large not pro-poor and pro-women.

“To our shame, the suicide hotspots include Wardha district, where Mahatma Gandhi spent a significant part of his life fighting for freedom from colonial rule, so that the country could be rid of hunger, poverty and gender injustice,” said the report, which is gathering dust in Krishi Bhavan.

“The distress of the framers is a result of long-term structural neglect of the sector, especially of subsistence farmers, wrote Meghnad Desai in an article in The Indian Express (May 03, 2015). “As far as farmers’ distress is concerned, nothing seems to have changed over the past 60 years – subsistence farmers with such uneconomic plots, lack of rural credit, harsh revenue officials, large landlords receiving extra help from the same officials and their political masters.”

Agriculture and allied sectors account for 17.2% of the country’s GDP and 14% of overall exports. Almost half of the population of the country is dependent on agriculture as the prime source of income and it is also a principal source of raw material for a large number of industries.

Image courtesy (MS Swaminathan) – MS Swaminathan Research Foundation

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