Friday, December 31, 2010

45% of farmers want to quit farming: Swaminathan

Prof M.S. Swaminathan, the father of Green Revolution and Chairman of National Commission on Farmers (NCF) that called for revamp of policies to revitalise agriculture, says agricultural sector in India is entering a state of serious crisis.

Quoting figures from National Sample Survey Organisation, he says half of the farmers in the country want to quit farming. Prof Swaminathan, who was here to deliver the Convocation Address at the Acharya N.G. Ranga Agriculture University here on Thursday, called for the creation of specific mitigation policies for each of the 128 agro-climatic zones. In an interview, he speaks on the current problems Indian agriculture faces and possible solutions to tackle them.

Farmers continue to commit suicide. Hundreds of tenant farmers are reported to have committed suicide in the last few days. Why this crisis continues to haunt farmers?

We are entering a state of agrarian crisis. This crisis has many dimensions. It is not a single or simple cause that is responsible for this. There is the problem of high investments in some crops. There are problems peculiar to rain-fed and irrigated lands. Farming has become unviable. The NCF has recommended cost of production plus 50 per cent. At present, they are giving 15 per cent more as against manifolds more in other industries such as pharmaceuticals.

Probably, the Food Security Act would force the Government now to look at this issue seriously. Unless we revitalise farming and make our farmers enthusiastic it is difficult to feed 100 crore people and 100 crore farm animals. It is going to be a difficult period.

Youth are shying away from agriculture. Why is this happening and how do we make them look at farming as a profession?

If farmers are committing suicide, why should they come to farming? Farming sector is facing a number of problems. Unless we attend to them, the younger generation will not take to farming. I have asked the students to look at different aspects of agriculture in order to bring in technology and value addition into the system. Besides, we need to minimise risks and increase support services such as insurance and credit.

For different reasons more and more farmers are moving out of farming activity. Reports of shift in land use patterns from agriculture to non-agriculture are also causing a serious concern. How do you view this problem?

About 45 per cent of farmers interviewed by National Sample Survey Organisation wanted to quit farming. The pressure on land is increasing and average size of land holdings is dwindling. Farmers are getting indebted and temptation to sell prime farm land for non-farm purpose is growing as land prices go up steeply. We need to improve productivity and profitability of small holdings.

How is climate change going to impact agriculture sector and what could be the strategies to minimise risks?

We need to set up Climate Risk Management Research and Training Centre in each of the 128 agro-climatic zones. We also should evolve policies for each of these zones and develop codes for drought and flood management.

Calamity relief mechanism too needs a change. The traditional way of sending Central teams to assess the damages and bargain with States on relief will not work. This is not a way to deal with calamities. Money never reaches farmers on time to invest in the next cropping season.

Tenant farmers seem to be the worst hit as crisis hits agriculture sector. How do you view this problem and what are your suggestions to overcome this?

It is a very serious problem. Tenancy reforms need to get focus as part of agrarian reforms. The issues of owner cultivation, tenant cultivation, absentee landlords should get immediate focus. They should have a security of tenancy. Also, we are seeing increase in contract cultivation. This also requires changes in regulation. It must be a win-win situation (for owners and producers).

We need to have new systems of management. We need to put all pieces together. We don't have an integrated approach. In the West, they call it farm to fork. So many Ministries and departments are there to take care of water, rainwater, foodgrains and food processing. How are we going to deliver it as one offering to farmers would hold the key.

None of these problems are insurmountable. They are problems created by us and we can find solutions. It is right time to abandon indifference to agrarian problems.

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