In what appears to be a desperate move to prop up agriculture growth, Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh has called for reversing the declining trend in investment in
agriculture. But his approach may also end up compounding the already existing crisis, writes
15 November 2006 -
India is faced with its worst agrarian crisis. It isn't the spate of farmer's
suicides, on an upswing and still counting that made the Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh to admit the magnitude of agrarian crisis that prevails. The unforeseen
slump in agriculture growth rate slipping between 1 to 2 per cent in turn
affected the industrial growth rate, which restricted quantum jumps in the
national economy made the government to sit back and take notice.
In what appears to be a desperate move to prop up agriculture growth, the Prime
Minister has called for reversing the declining trend in investment in
agriculture; and among the measures mentioned stepping up credit flow to
farmers; talked of creating a 'single market' for agricultural produce and to
provide the latest technology to farmers.
Strikingly similar to the faulty Vision 2020
that the former Chief Minister of
Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, had unsuccessfully applied, and was therefore
routed out in the last state elections, Prime Minister's approach may also end up
compounding the already existing crisis in farming.
Despite the government's projections the fact remains majority of farmers are
keen to abandon agriculture and move into the urban centres looking for menial
jobs. Agricultural lands have become unproductive. There is therefore a
desperate need to revitalise agriculture, restore the natural resource base and
provide for sustainable livelihoods. Any development alternative to ensure
long-term food security has to be linked to sustainable agriculture.
Let me therefore draw the outline of the sustainable farming systems that the
country needs to focus on. This is the overall framework under which
location-specific alterations and adaptations need to be tried. What is needed
is a fresh approach that takes the ground realities into consideration before
embarking upon any policy imperatives. I am presenting a collection of five of
the important rational decisions, which would certainly initiate the revival of
Indian agriculture faces an unprecedented crisis in
sustainability. Foodgrain productivity in the food bowl, comprising Punjab,
Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, is on the decline. The green revolution
areas are encountering serious bottlenecks to growth and productivity. The
dryland areas (comprising nearly 70 per cent of the cultivable lands) continue
to drown in misery and apathy. Excessive mining of soil nutrients and
groundwater have already brought in soil sickness. Indiscriminate use of
chemical pesticides has done serious harm to environment, human health and
There is therefore a need to immediately:
a) Draw a balance sheet of the collapse of Green Revolution. We need to
know what went wrong with agriculture, so that we don't repeat the same
mistakes. A post mortem of Green Revolution is absolutely necessary.
Investments and increased outlays for agricultural research that is based on
external chemical inputs like fertiliser and pesticides need to be phased out.
Instead, financial allocation should be made for reviving low-input agriculture,
which uses cheap and locally available technology and in turn improves
production, reduces cost of production and protects environment.
Pesticides were promoted blindly on rice. The International Rice Research
Institute in the Philippines now says that pesticides on rice were a waste
of time and effort in Asia.
c) Draw a
map of the soil health of India. In future, all crop introductions should be
based on soil health. If a crop (including cash crops) has the possibility of
destroying the soil fertility and thereby accentuating the sustainability
crisis, that cropping system should not be allowed.
d) Role of technology too
needs to be ascertained. Pesticides were promoted blindly on rice, for instance.
The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines now says that
pesticides on rice were a waste of time and effort in Asia. But meanwhile,
pesticides usage has already taken a huge toll, and pushed farmers in a debt
e) Agricultural research must reorient itself to learn from the
existing sustainable farming models. The focus of genetically modified crops
must immediately stop as it is risky and expensive for the farmer. This has been
amply demonstrated in several parts of the world.
f) Water productivity and
efficiency has to be the hallmark of agricultural research based on the local
Despite former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's emphasis on
dryland farming, agricultural scientists as well as the policy makers have
failed the resource-poor farmers. This is essentially because the entire thrust
of dryland research was to bring in an external model of Green Revolution in
which the dryland farmer, who manages to survive against all odds, would fit in.
No effort was made to improve the existing technology base under numerous
The increased emphasis on water harvesting notwithstanding, the reduced
availability of water is emerging as a major social and economic crisis. In
addition, the cropping pattern has to be evolved keeping in mind the water
availability. At present, more the water requirement for hybrid crop varieties
more is its cultivation in the water-scarce regions. This is scandalous and
unless the cropping pattern is rectified no measures to protect and preserve
water resources will be effective. There is no justification for Rajasthan, for
instance, to grow sugarcane.
a) Investments in rainwater harvesting need to be immediately shifted to
the revival of the traditional forms of water conservation ponds and tanks.
Fodder cultivation, crop planning according to the water needs and availability
and the emphasis on the local breed of cattle (and improving its productivity,
rather than importing exotic breeds) need to be encouraged.
c) Dryland crops
like coarse cereal, pulses and oilseeds require adequate policy measures that
bring shine to these forgotten grains. Imports under bilateral trade agreements
must protect the dryland crops.
d) Farmers in the rainfed areas need to be
insured against drought. This can be ensured by making it mandatory for the
foreign insurance companies to invest at least 40 per cent of their funds for
Pulses are a part of the average diet. Yet, pulse production has remained in the
range of 14 million tonnes. Pulses are also a crop of the marginal lands,
requiring less water and replenishing soil nutrients. Strange that the country
imports pulses and export sugar, whose production needs to brought down. Why
can't we launch a nationwide programme to increase pulse production by
re-launching a Technology Mission on Pulses and by providing farmers with small
processing units to turn it into 'daal'.
Growing indebtedness in agriculture is forcing an increasing
numbers of farmers to end their lives. This unsavoury phenomenon is a
manifestation of the declining farm incomes and rising cost of production. No
wonder, the average monthly income per family stagnates at Rs 2,100, almost
hovering around the poverty line.
a) Farm incomes must be raised. There is a need to immediately provide
farmers with a 'minimum take home' income based on the land holding size.
Farmers should therefore be included in the 6th pay commission.
that encourage banks to provide easy credit facilities to farmers need to be
spelled out. Rural women end up paying 24 to 46 per cent percent by way of
interest even in the much-hyped self-help groups. This is four times the rate of
interest charged in the urban areas. Farm credit for small farmers should be
made available for at 4 per cent interest. Cooperative credit must get priority
c) Banks should be directed not to confiscate the movable
and immovable property of defaulting farmers. Nor should they be put in prison.
d) On top of it, agriculture credit has to be extended to sustainable
farming systems. So far the banks are only providing credit for
technology-oriented farming systems, which is responsible for the destruction of
the natural resource base. Farm credit needs to be extended to organic
agriculture, for which an Organic Bank need to be created by NABARD (like the
technology credit that goes through the private Robo Bank).
Emphasis on commodities approach during the green revolution
has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged food trade in some
commodities, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient
availability in soil, plant, animals and for humans. Thrust on farm commodities
has also pushed in trade activities, encouraged food miles, adding to greenhouse
emissions, water mining, and destruction of farm incomes. The need is to revert
back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its
integration with farm animals, thereby meeting the household and community
nutrition needs from the available farm holdings.
a) Contract farming can compound the agrarian crisis. Contract farming
provides the companies to go in for still intensive farming systems thereby
destroying the soil productivity.
b) It has been observed that contract
farming on average is based on 20 per cent more application of chemical inputs
and ten per cent more mining of ground water.
c) It is therefore
important that all contract-farming approvals be based on farm sustainability
parameters. Contract must specify that the company will return back the land to
the farmer (which it takes on lease) in the same fertility conditions that
existing at the time of the contract.
d) Corporate agriculture must be
discouraged. All over the world, agribusiness companies have displaced farmers.
This cannot be allowed in India, which supports 65-crore people on the farm.
Exotic as well as hybrid seeds should be discouraged. These have been primarily
responsible for turning the lands sick. The thrust should be on traditional
Providing an assured and remunerative market for agricultural
producers cannot be left to the market forces. The food policy imperatives of
public distribution system and announcing the procurement prices before the crop
season have to be further strengthened. Agri-processing too needs to be
strengthened, but not at the cost of the domestic producers. Food-processing
sector should be directed to use the abundant raw material available within the
The 'rainbow' revolution that everyone talks about is actually aimed at helping
the industry to exploit the farm sector. Already a number of manufacturing
units, for instance, have begun to source the agricultural raw material,
including oranges, grapes, popcorn, peas etc, from America and Europe. Domestic
production in these crops is going waste. Future trading in farm commodities
must stop. Export-oriented agriculture is dependent upon highly intensive
farming and should be discouraged. India can create a strong niche in
international organic market, which is sustainable and economically viable.
Public Distribution System needs to be strengthened and extended to upcoming
agricultural areas in Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and the northeast. In addition,
procurement needs to be extended to coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds to
provide farmers an incentive to produce more. The question of rising food
subsidy bill is misplaced since it is far less than the subsidy doled out to a
few hundred exporters. Strengthening PDS should also be aimed in such a way that
it becomes an effective instrument at tackling hunger.
Food procurement operations, linked to the announcement of assured prices for
agricultural commodities, are the two planks of the 'famine-avoidance' strategy
that India had adopted and should not be dismantled. Once the government
withdraws from announcing procurement prices for agricultural commodities, it is
under no obligation to purchase the surplus that flows into the mandis. Farmers
would thus be left at the mercy of the trade and the market forces, and if the
past experience is any indication it simply means rendering the farming
community vulnerable to exploitation thereby threatening the country's food
self-sufficiency, so assiduously built over the past three decades.
The biggest crisis afflicting the marketing of farm produce is the inability to
manage the agricultural surpluses. It is here that the policy planning effort
has to be redirected with an effort to ensure that the surplus does not become a
national liability. Farmers have repeatedly and in different parts of the
country been dumping tomatoes, potatoes and other fruits onto the streets to
express their frustration at the lack of adequate marketing infrastructure. The
marketing approach has to be different for the rural and urban areas.
In essence, it is not the growth in agriculture that is of paramount importance.
What is crucial for the nation is to ensure that every tear in the eyes of the
food producer annadata is wiped away. Only then can the country make the
process of growth really 'inclusive'. But is anybody listening?