Indian agriculture at cross roads: MS Swaminathan
Chennai: Indian agriculture is at the cross roads, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, father of India's first Green Revolution, has warned.
Lamenting on the state of Indian farmers, especially farmers with small land-holdings, Dr. Swaminathan said, "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."
The recent unseasonal rains and hailstorm left extensive crop damages across the country in an estimated area of 189.81 lakh hecatres, according to Union Agriculture Ministry.
Dr. Swaminathan said the National Commission on Farmers headed by him had recommended way back in 2006 detailed and precise recommendations to save farmers from such calamities, but no action has been taken on it.
"Nearly 60 percent 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," Dr. Swaminathan was quoted by the Indian Science Journal, as saying in a recent interaction.
"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," he added.
Dr. Swaminathan, whose pioneering efforts in the field of agriculture 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," he added.
In a veiled criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's slogan of "Make in India", Dr. Swaminathan said it was nothing but a repeat of the 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.
He termed 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 percent of the population, this Act is yet to be implemented in most parts of India," he said.
"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.
He further stated, "At the same time, areas relating to the biological absorption of food like drinking water, sanitation and primary healthcare need attention."
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.
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 the Himalayas. No other country has this advantage. Thus, rice is our most important food security crop," he said.
Kuttanad in Kerala is recognized as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site.
The NCF report suggested that to achieve secure and adequate livelihood for all farmers, they must be assured of access to and some control over the basic resource base for livelihood. These are both natural and societal.
Agriculture and allied sectors account for 17.2 percent of the country's GDP and 14 percent 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.
"India, therefore, has to keep the momentum of growth of agriculture to achieve targeted growth of its economy and meeting the increasing and diverse demand of food," claimed Federal Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, in a recent address at G20.
Business Standard, 11 May, 2015, http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/indian-agriculture-at-cross-roads-m-s-swaminathan-115051100278_1.html