By Dhurjati Mukherjee
The farm sector is up in arms and has announced a 10-day crop blockade of the country’s cities from June 1 if the Government fails to raise the minimum support price as demanded and waives all crop loans. A forum of 110 farmers’ bodies also announced a countrywide general strike on June 10, if the demands aren’t met, i.e. 1.5 times the production cost, calculated after including unpaid family labour, land rent and fixed capital assets.
The M. S. Swaminathan Committee report recommended an MSP 50% higher than C2 which includes land rent and fixed capital assets over and above unpaid family labour. In the last Budget, the Centre declared that the MSP “for unannounced kharif crops” would be at least 1.5 times the production cost but did not specify how this cost would be calculated.
Meanwhile, the discontent amongst the community started last year with various leaders demanding loan waivers and implementation of the Swaminathan recommendations. This was followed by a series of waivers in UP, Maharashtra and MP after farmers organised mega rallies and violence erupted in rural areas. The loan waivers temporarily placated the farmers who had been facing distress ever since money got sucked out of the rural economy due to demonetisation. However, their main grouse that farming has become unremunerative and States need to step in to raise prices and create rural infrastructure remained.
Experts and officials in Agriculture Ministry opine that using the A2 plus FL formula to arrive at a price of 1.5 times the cost would not mean any great benefit to the farmer. In wheat, the cost of production in 2017-18 by Jaitley’s A2 plus FL formula worked out to Rs 817 a tonne and Rs 1256 by the Swaminathan formula. The MSP for wheat, which stands at Rs 1735 a tonne represents over 112% increase over the A@FL cost and a 38% increase over the C2 formula.
The Government has to seriously consider the pricing formula as the farming community is very big in the country and they cannot be deprived of remunerative returns. Unless this is done, production would fall and people would start crowding the cities for jobs.
Research, over the years, technology, no doubt, helped in raising production and productivity and this needs to spread across the country. The much talked about Green Revolution was confined to two states in North India. There is talk of the need for a second green revolution, covering the Eastern States where productivity even now is quite poor compared to national and, of course, international standards.
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 is seriously interested in making this a reality. It is understood that from last year, around 20,000 agricultural scientists have been directed to divide their attention between research and extension education to fulfil PM’s dream to revitalize the farm sector.
The new mandate was extended to about 6,000 scientists functioning at the different centres of the ICAR and over 15,000 scientists working with State agricultural universities under the Mere Gaon Mere Gaurav programme. It envisages scientists to “select villages as per their convenience and remain in touch with the villages and provide information on technical and related aspects in a time frame through personal visits or on telephone”.
Groups of four multi-disciplinary scientists each would be constituted at these institutes and universities. Scientists are expected to perform the functions with the help of Krishi Vigyan Kendras and Agriculture Technology Management Agency, both already mandated with extension work. At the national level principal scientists of Agricultural Extension of ICAR would be nodal officers. But in spite of all this, such KVKs are quite insufficient and there is need to set up more such units with a target of covering at least one in two contagious districts.
Harnessing the right technology along with proper pricing is the need of the day and calls for urgent action. This could offer multiple issues in agriculture sector providing most needed relief to distressed farmers, cutting costs, inefficiencies, corruption and costs. The government’s Pradhan Mantru Fasal Bima Yojana is one glaring example crying for such a solution. Another targeted application can be creating data bank for all water bodies village wise with actual volumes etc.
Another aspect of technology is cutting delays in getting payout when their crops are destroyed. By embracing the right combination of technology and human intelligence, farmers can be paid at least 75 to 80% within 24 hours in best case scenario and a week at the latest compared with months or even years of delay.
Experts are of the opinion that diversification of crops is necessary to improve profitability. A study recently concluded that crop diversification in rice fields increases the cropping intensity with additional returns and generates more employment opportunities. It is particularly relevant to Assam as rice is the major crop which occupies 2.5 million hectares of land area.
If farmers’ income has to rise, the dependence only on agriculture has to change and they need to take up animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries, food processing, agri-related to rural industries for augmenting income. Farming by nature is seasonal and hence there is already disguised unemployment even in the best of times.
Integration of horticultural plants with field crops like rice and also pulses become extremely important to achieve inclusive growth so that together it can boost production of agriculture sector. The main objective is to grow rice, pulse, kharif and rabi vegetables on the same field during the same period, contributing towards nutritional security and ensure soil sustainability in the long run.
Agricultural scientists note the main advantage is that vegetable crops grown on the soil columns can make effective use of the resources applied on 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 rise in demand at national and international markets.
Finally, unabated global warming may pose an ‘existential threat’ to some countries in Asia-Pacific region, the ADB warned in a report last year. It stated that drastic changes in weather, crop, fisheries and health patterns may reverse current development gains and degrade the quality of life for tens of millions of people in the region. Examining multiple impacts of global warming, it cited earlier studies that predict crop yield declines, including 5% dip in rice yields in south India by 2030s and an 8% reduction in wheat across India with a one degree Celsius rise in temperature.
Thus, admittedly the farm sector is in dire crisis and urgent action is critical. But it has lot of potential and exports could be increased from just $30 billion presently to $100 billion. If Indian farming becomes smart through proper support, it can easily overtake China whose farm GDP is around $one trillion. For this to become a reality agricultural scientists should be involved in working out a strategy jointly with technical experts and also social scientists.
Undeniably, the farm sector is important to the economy not just for increasing yields but also generating jobs, all of which could lead to rural transformation. With the Government paying attention in improving social and physical infrastructure in the villages, there could be a sustainable and balanced development in future.—INFA