Insights into Editorials: ‘Why can’t the government provide a higher income for farmers?
The introduction of high-yielding varieties of seeds after 1965 and the increased use of fertilizers and irrigation are known collectively as the Green Revolution, which provided the increase in production needed to make India self-sufficient in food grains, thus improving agriculture in India. Famines in India, once accepted as inevitable, have not returned since the introduction of Green Revolution crops.
The term “Green Revolution” is a general one that is applied to successful agricultural experiments in many Third World countries. It is not specific to India. But it was most successful in India.
Punjab was selected by the Indian government to be the first site to try the new crops of Wheat from International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Mexico because of its reliable water supply and a history of agricultural success. India soon adopted IR8 – a semi-dwarf rice variety developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines that could produce more grains of rice per plant when grown with certain fertilizers and irrigation.
As India marks 50 years of the Green Revolution this year, the architect of the movement, M.S.Swaminathan, says sustainability is the greatest challenge facing Indian agriculture.
What is the greatest challenge of Indian Agriculture Today?
There are two major challenges before Indian agriculture today:
- The conservation of our basic agricultural assets such as land, water, and biodiversity is a major challenge.
- How to make agriculture sustainable is the challenge.
- Increasing productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm is the need of the hour.
- In Punjab, and in other Green Revolution States, the water table has gone down and become saline.
- The growing population pressure
- Need to devise ways to lower the cost of production and reduce the risks involved in agriculture such as pests, pathogens, and weeds.
- The expected return in agriculture is adverse to farmers. That’s why they are unable to repay loans.
- Addressing the ecological challenge requires more technology while the economics requires more public policy interventions.
- Raise the current MSP
What are the ways to improve the incomes of farmers?
All kinds of excuses have been given by governments for not implementing these recommendations like food price inflation.Farm loan waivers are posing a bigger burden on the government exchequer compared to what higher pay for farm produce will incur. At the same time Government has a goal of doubling the farmers income by 2022.
Implementation of Swaminathan Commission Report is important to achieve to improve farmers income.
Recommendation of M.S Swaminathan’s Report:
- enable farmers to have sustained and equitable access to water
- Increase water supply through rainwater harvesting and recharge of the aquifer. (“Million Wells Recharge” programme)
- Agricultural Productivity
- Substantial increase in public investment in agriculture related infrastructure particularly in irrigation, drainage, land development, water conservation, research development and road connectivity.
- A national network of advanced soil testing laboratories with facilities for detection of micronutrient deficiencies.
- Credit and Insurance
- Expand the outreach of the formal credit system to reach the really poor and needy.
- Issue Kisan Credit Cards to women farmers, with joint pattas as collateral
- Expand crop insurance cover to cover the entire country and all crops, with reduced premiums
- Competitiveness of Farmers:
- Improvement in implementation of Minimum Support Price (MSP). Arrangements for MSP need to be put in place for crops other than paddy and wheat. Also, millets and other nutritious cereals should be permanently included in the PDS.
- MSP should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production.
What needs to be done to address the crisis of farmer’s suicides?
In the last few years, a large number of farmers have committed suicide. Cases of suicides have been reported from states such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. The National Commission on Farmers has underlined the need to address the farmer suicide problem on a priority basis.
Some of measures suggested include:
- Provide affordable health insurance and revitalize primary healthcare centres. The National Rural Health Mission should be extended to suicide hotspot locations on priority basis.
- Set up State level Farmers’ Commission with representation of farmers for ensuring dynamic government response to farmers’ problems.
- Restructure microfinance policies to serve as Livelihood Finance, i.e. credit coupled with support services in the areas of technology, management and markets.
- Cover all crops by crop insurance with the village and not block as the unit for assessment.
- Provide for a Social Security net with provision for old age support and health insurance.
- Promote aquifer recharge and rain water conservation. Decentralise water use planning and every village should aim at Jal Swaraj with Gram Sabhas serving as Pani Panchayats.
- Ensure availability of quality seed and other inputs at affordable costs and at the right time and place.
- Recommend low risk and low cost technologies which can help to provide maximum income to
- Need for focused Market Intervention Schemes (MIS) in the case of life-saving crops such as cumin in arid areas. Have a Price Stabilisation Fund in place to protect the farmers from price fluctuations.
- Need swift action on import duties to protect farmers from international price.
- Set up Village Knowledge Centres (VKCs) or Gyan Chaupals in the farmers’ distress hotspots. These can provide dynamic and demand driven information on all aspects of agricultural and non-farm livelihoods and also serve as guidance centres.
- Public awareness campaigns to make people identify early signs of suicidal behavior.
How do we cope with these adverse effects of environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity?
Evergreen Revolution to increase in farm productivity but without ecological harm.
This will also include,
- integrated pest management
- integrated nutrient supply
- Scientific water management to avoid the kind of environmental damage witnessed during the Green Revolution
- mandatory rainwater harvesting
- Introduction of fodder and grain legumes as rotation crops to be adopted by wheat farmers in States like Punjab to ensure sustainability of farming.
- Government may declare fertile zones capable of sustaining two to three crops as Special Agricultural Zones
- Provide unique facilities to farmers here to ensure food security
- Soil health managers should be appointed to monitor and ameliorate the soil conditions in degraded zones and rectify defects like salinity, alkalinity, water logging.
- The idea of more crops per drop has been implemented well in Israel. We should adopt those practices here.
- Post-harvest technologies like threshing, storage, etc. will have to be given greater attention
Can GM technology help address food security challenges?
There are many methods of plant breeding, of which molecular breeding is one. Genetic modification has both advantages and disadvantages. One has to measure the risks and benefits before arriving at a conclusion.
- First, we need an efficient regulatory mechanism for GM in India.
- We need an all-India coordinated research project on GMOs with a bio-safety coordinator.
- We need to devise a way to get the technology’s benefit without its associated risks.
Barring the U.S., most countries have reservations about adopting GM technology. Europe has banned it on grounds of health and environmental safety. Normal Mendelian breeding itself is sufficient in most cases. Parliament has already suggested a law based on the Norwegian model where there are considerable restrictions on GMOs.
What is the scope for organic farming when it comes to addressing food security?
Organic farming can have a good scope only under following conditions.
- Farmers must possess animals for organic manure.
- Farmers must have the capacity to control pests and diseases.
- Farmers should adopt agronomical methods of sowing such as rotation of crops. Even genetic resistance to pests and diseases can help organic farmers.
Adoption of the requisite crop-livestock integration by Sri Arobindo Ashram in Puducherry is a good model to follow.
How do we address the challenges of Climate Change on Indian agriculture?
Both less rainfall and a higher mean temperature affect farming adversely. Currently we are witnessing drought, excess rainfall, sea-level rise.
There are both adaptation and mitigation measures to follow in this regard. Some of the recommendations include
- Setting up a multi-disciplinary monsoon management centre in each drought-affected district, to provide timely information to rural families on the methods of mitigating the effects of drought, and maximising the benefits of good growing conditions whenever the season is normal.
- Animal husbandry camps could be set up to make arrangements for saving cattle and other farm animals because usually animals tend to be neglected during such crises.
- Special provisions could also be made to enable women to manage household food security under conditions of agrarian distress.
- Should start breeding varieties characterised by high per day productivity than just per crop productivity. These will be able to provide higher yields in a shorter duration.
India has done well in production, but not in consumption. What we are witnessing today is Grain Mountains on the one side and hungry millions on the other. The Food Security Act must be implemented properly to address the situation. We should also enlarge the food basket to include nutri-millets.