Besieged Farmers

Diversify, income raise critical

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Farmers continue to agitate across the country for enhanced facilities for a better livelihood. There is definitely a cause for these protests due to sluggishness in the farm sector, resulting not just in declining incomes of farmers but also suicides due to the inability to repay debts. Even the recently published second quarter GDP growth results have shown that this sector grew by just 1.7%, slower than the previous quarter’s 2.3% and below 4.1% in the second quarter of 2016-17.
At the same time, though production has increased over the years, it is a fact that Indian agriculture still suffers from low productivity. The need for greater focus on agriculture is borne by the recent UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) prediction that by 2030, most developing countries would be dependent on imports from developed countries for their food requirements.
The government has done little to rectify the escalating crisis except commission a report from Agro-Economic Research Centre, which submitted a report in July 2017. Protesting farmers are rightly demanding market driven price for their produce in line with the Swaminathan Committee recommendations, of minimum support price plus 50% profits. Though the BJP promised this in its election manifesto of 2014, it has betrayed the farmers.
Meanwhile, over the years technology no doubt, helped in raising production and productivity but it is time that serious consideration is given to what agricultural experts have been stressing i.e. on the need for a second green revolution, covering the Eastern States where productivity even now is poor compared to national not to speak of international standards. Similarly, diversification of agriculture is needed for higher returns to farmers and increasing their income.
The ‘lab to land’ approach has been in the air for more than two decades, or even longer, but now it appears that the government has shown some interest in making this a reality. It is understood that from October last year, around 20,000 agricultural scientists will be required to divide their attention between research and extension education to fulfil the Modi’s dream to revitalise the farm sector.
The mandate has been extended to about 6000 scientists functioning at the different centres of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and over 15,000 scientists working with State agricultural universities under the programme Mere Gaon Mere Gaurav (MGMG). The scheme envisages scientists to “select villages as per their convenience, remain in touch with the villages and provide information to farmers on technical and other related aspects in a time frame through personal visits or on telephone”.
It is understood that groups of four multi-disciplinary scientists would perform the functions with the help of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA), both already mandated with extension work. At the national level, the Assistant DG (extension) and principal scientists of Agricultural Extension of ICAR would be nodal officers. The decision to set up mini labs in all the KVKs is indeed quite encouraging though scientists as predicted are yet to be involved in a big way.
Apart from research, there is a necessity to curb imports. Take the case of pulses, considered the poor man’s meat due to high protein value, wherein in 2017 amount of $4.2 billion were imported whereas edible oil was around $10.9 billion. Obviously, agricultural scientists should evolve a plan of action at the earliest whereby these imports could be brought down in the coming future. Meanwhile, pulses production is expected to reach 20 million tonnes in the current financial year from 16.47 million tonnes in previous year, which is a remarkable achievement. But even then it must be kept in mind that the demand for pulses and edible oil would increase over the years and must be noted.
There is also a need for integration of horticultural plants with field crops like rice and also pulses are extremely important to achieve inclusive growth so that together it can boost agriculture sector production. The main objective for this combination is to grow rice, pulse, kharif and rabi vegetables on the same field during the same period of time, contributing towards nutritional security and ensure soil sustainability in the long run.
Agricultural scientists rightly pointed out that the main advantage is that vegetable crops grown on the soil columns can make effective use of the resources applied on the rice fields with reduced requirement of irrigation which makes it cost effective. Thus, horticulture sector being an important component of high value agriculture, its economic importance is increasing due to the ever increasing demand both at national and international markets.
There is also need to gear up agri mechanisation that has recently emerged as a strong driver of this sector. The sale of tractors has increased significantly in past few years while power tillers are widely used since these are effective in smaller areas and reduce field levelling time considerably. The demand for rice transplanters and laser land levellers are also expected to increase in future.
Thus diversification of agri sector with value addition in horticulture, floriculture and spices and on-farm processing for production of various types of oil, both for domestic and export markets, is the need of the day to ensure higher incomes on a sustained basis. However, oil seeds production is way below world average and needs to be boosted with proper usage of micronutrients and mechanisation apart from increasing processing centres with latest technology.
Besides, production of fruits with an eye on the export market should also be given special attention. Agricultural institutes should help small and medium farmers to increase all-round production and productivity, specially of value added crops. Demonstration farms would bring in more efficacies in helping increase output.
Reforming rural economy is the key for bringing much-needed transformation that India needs today. Primarily, the agricultural sector must be made viable through diversification and induction of technological inputs. In addition, agro-based industries that have high potential both in the country and abroad, if marketed properly, would help. The government has demonstrated its ‘Make in India’ approach by putting thrust on khadi and handloom industry to make it cater to latest fashions and young generation, both for domestic and export markets. Likewise, the focus of attention has to shift to modernisation and development of the agricultural sector.
The villages are our lifeline and thus the initiatives taken by the government to transform farming and also the rural sector as a whole should yield results, if there is sincerity in implementing the schemes that have been taken up.
The coming years are expected to be crucial for revival and rejuvenation of the farm sector as making it viable would have a multiplier effect on incomes of small and marginal farmers. The pro-GDP linked growth must be balanced with a thrust on the agri sector, where there is need for expansion and simultaneously rural rejuvenation and employment generation. —INFA