Have we done enough as a nation for agriculture? The answer is ‘no’. Flagging off the discussions at a seminar on ‘Union Budget 2012-13: What is in it for Indian agriculture’, hosted by Farmers’ Forum, India’s leading publication on issues and ideas for agriculture, Sachin Pilot, Union Minister for State for Information, Technology and Communications, made a candid assessment of the plight of the Indian agriculture, saying he was yet to meet a farmer who wanted his son to become a farmer.
Pilot remarked: “Every sector of the economy has a certain stature and farming activities must cater to the section of the population dependent on it… Farming must be given the status of industry… What has been achieved is some credit accessibility… there are farmers who have access to resources and those who work on less than half a hectare of land, who find it difficult feeding the family and have a surplus. Farmers committing suicide get no more than a few (column) inches of space in newspapers.”
He added: “We cannot as a nation expect to be a front-ranking country in the world without a vibrant farming community… We are the third largest producer of foodgrains in the world… still, edible oil and pulses have to be imported”.
“How do we increase facilities that the farmer must have?” he asked, acknowledging that small and marginal farmers who do 80 per cent of the farming do not receive the benefits meant for them. “Food security is far more important than energy security or even internal security… A nation not fully fed is unsustainable … over 40 per cent of our children are malnourished”.
Pilot said the decade ahead is “crucial” and India will have to “leverage technology and resources to create a robust and growing agriculture sector… and make India a food bowl for the region.”
Others who spoke on the occasion included Dr. Abhijit Sen, Member, Planning Commission, Satya Pal Malik, head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kisan Morcha, Basudeb Acharia, CPI-M MP and chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, Y.C. Nanda, former chairman of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Dr. Suman Sahai, convenor, Gene Campaign, Mohan Guruswamy, author of a book on the crisis in Indian agriculture and Peter Kenmore, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in India.
The speakers were welcomed by Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj, a non-political, non-sectarian association of farmers, which publishes Farmers’ Forum.
Satya Pal Malik pointed out that model plots in agricultural research institutions have far higher productivity than the levels of productivity in farms, clearly indicating that the benefits of research were not reaching farmers. He said one could get a loan to purchase a car overnight but one would have to wait for a month to get a loan to buy a tractor. Mr. Malik said there were illegal, informal restrictions on farmers selling their produce in mandis in different states of northern India. “The farmer’s child wants to become a chaprasi,” he remarked.
Dr. Abhijit Sen added that the best in the country do not want to remain in agriculture. “Social tensions result… and competitive social tensions depend on whether someone is working outside farming to shore up the family income. In the south, young men do not want to be in farming because young women do not want farmers as husbands.”
He said that the period between 1990 and 2005 was probably the worst for Indian agriculture, with low growth and the terms of trade moving against agriculture. Dr. Sen added that a “certain callousness had built up because of the success of Green Revolution”. Having recognized this, we need to look forward and think of multiple solutions for the complex problems that afflict Indian agriculture.
Basudeb Acharia reiterated the fact that agriculture in India was becoming non-remunerative. “Now that the government is planning to cap subsidies as a proportion of GDP and not place a cap on revenue foregone to benefit the corporate sector, I feel this will dampen agriculture production,” he said.
Y.C. Nanda, former chairman, NABARD, said credit meant for farming was being diverted for non-agricultural purposes to earn interest income through illegal arbitrage. He said a very small percentage of the farmers gets loans and that data on this subject is inadequate and inaccurate. “I have never met a marginal farmer who got a loan from a commercial bank,” he said, adding that even a senior bureaucrat would not be able to get a kisan credit card for a marginal farmer. He also remarked that the banking correspondent model currently being used by the government would have little or no success.
Mohan Guruswamy pointed out that allocations for agriculture as a proportion of India’s GDP had been falling even as the countryside was being colonized by the wealthy. Subsidies on food, fertilizers, diesel and irrigation were helping only medium and large farmers, that too in a few states, bypassing 80 per cent of agriculturists.
Suman Sahai said that India did not need to spend more on research on seeds but on improving farming systems. She highlighted the “feminization of Indian agriculture on a massive scale” and argued that climate change would have a huge impact on agriculture in south Asia in particular.
Paul Kenmore of the FAO pointed to examples in Brazil of government policies aimed specifically at small farmers. He said in Andhra Pradesh, small farmers, especially women, had been able to evolve systems of monitoring ground water levels accurately and changing cropping patterns accordingly.