NDTV/CNN-IBN channels flash the agri crisis news!

So agri crisis is now urban news! The urban media, more so the TV media catches up with the farmers suicides! Yes, something like so many thousands of farmers continuing to think of desperate steps only can create the needed sensationalism and TV viewing audience! Not bad in a country with a Prime Minister and his close advisers all indulging in a cozy inner circle where the harsh realities of the countryside are too much for their own sense of existence. After all, they have all spent their best years only in cozy government depts, so what if this one briefly in the political hot seat, just proves an irritant!

With farmers’ suicides continuing, what is the point of this government talking of vague programmes and plain non-action at grass roots?

Yes, the current dispensation in Delhi creates lots of illusion for the Indian people living in the villages. Yes, the urban media, the much favored high profile and high decibel TV media, the NDTV and the CNN-IBN and what have you might create the great illusion of reality! The reality you are imagining is just about your own narrow existence. The great Indian population is not just the urban well-ff middle class government servants, the political class and the mixed bag of the professionals who go for all the media attention. Yes, the English language press, more so the glossies don’t make the Indian reality felt by all. The English language newspapers are no better.

Agriculture makes news only when there are farmers suicides! But what do you do when there are series of farmers’ suicides. As we write there have been six farmers’ suicides in a row!

The Maharashtra deputy chief minister R.R.Patel had stated in the state Assembly that a CID investigation would be made to find out the truth. The distressing story is long and disgusting. The Shiv Sena MLA who raised the issue in the Assembly explained the failed efforts by him as far back as 2005 to curb the money lenders’ menace. There have been as many as 2,950 complaints about the money lenders and it is this menace that drives farmers to suicides, says the MLA, Gulabrao Gawande. How many MLAs are there in the country like him to raise an issue that lies at the very heart of the Indian agriculture crisis?

Agriculture sector cries for attention. In Hyderabad the Union Agri Minister Sharad Pawar, among his other busy activities as cricket board chief and also as an ally with the Opposition parties in W.Bengal and Kerala he had to find time to rush to Hyderabad to thrash out a relief package for the farmers growing suicide rate. Will this package be any better than the so many other packages, with the Prime Minister or his Finance Minister clearly not interested in devoting any more time for what is plainly not an urban middle class concern!

So, what chance the talk of a relief package for farmers working this time? See the pattern of the crisis. Since 2001 the agri crisis took the lives of as many as 9,000 farmers! Karnataka surprisingly tops the list with 5,910.AP comes next with 1,835, Maharashtra 981 and Kerala 201. It doesn’t mean other states are any better. There is enough statistics with Mr.Pawar about the indebtedness and we published last month the same. Actually in farm indebtedness, Punjab tops and next comes Tamil Nadu.

If the farmers didn’t commit suicides in other states it is not for wanting of pressure on the unfortunate farmers. It is because of many other socio-economic reasons. In Punjab too there have been distress and farmers suicides and in TN which is considered a progressive state there is the dubious distinction of the state having one of the highest bonded labor population and the TN landless labor is only too mobile and you find the construction labor from TN in as far off places as Delhi, Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram. As Bihar labor traveling to far off states, the TN labor too is becoming so mobile these days, even traveling to Singapore and Malaysia for unskilled jobs.

What the agri minister has announced is a package no doubt and it is worth trying. We don’t want to score any points or find fault with what the Central Government has come out with. But then why keep the package details secret? It is reported that the farmers in the four states have to wait till end of May to know the details? Elections? May be this may be an excuse; one can’t also take the promises of the minister at the face value.

Agriculture sector is performing so poorly that there is no chance just this package confined to some 30 affected districts would reverse the trend in agri production fall. Minister’s promises cover” farm credit, crop, farmers, cattle insurance schemes, irrigation and improving productivity.

The minister also promised a debt relief fund. Debt relief fund? So instantly? Not possible and the minister’s such instant big proposals don’t carry any credibility. The money lenders, as pointed out by the MLA, have started buying up agricultural land which is illegal, each of the money lender (savkar) had bought up as much as 150 to 200 acres of such lands each! Government announced earlier a package during the Nagpur Assembly session, Rs.1,075 crores and yet it is found that after this package too there had been as many as 35o farmers’ suicides. Even God cannot abolish the money lenders who are all part of any rural setup. So the promise of the Maharashtra deputy CM’s promise of taking action against the 2,950 such poor fellows is a cruel joke.

Nor the present Sharad Pawar’s patch-up operation is going to have any impact except it might still be a welcome step when you don’t have a government interested in any fundamental agri reform measures.

We have to see agriculture a sector as part of the larger economy.So, when you talk so much about economic reforms, please ponder whether your talk covers the largest number of people engaged in one crucial sector like agriculture. So, what follows? You have to liberalize the agri sector too.Relax the so many controls that inhibit the new generation entrepreneurial forays into this sector.

You control land ownership to just 60  acre of dry land  ownership, have controls over tenancy terms, also given relief from paying rent to land owners who are all diverting their energy and money out of the traditional land activities.

We would urge the Central Government to see agriculture as part of any integrated rural/agri/food processing and related non-farming industrial development.

Today, the countryside is dotted with education institutions; there is a surplus of educated human resources in the rural areas, the IT/Communication revolution. There are so many practical experiences we have gained by working through organizing farmers into several new initiatives. What we find is that the government depts. and government promotional agencies function in a totally old mindset. They all operate in a way that is driving many youngsters to move away from living in the villages or starting any new ventures.

Yes, the government can do so many things. But also the government should realize it is the many new ideas and concepts like the Public-Private Partnership we can motivate individuals to invest in agro enterprises. Our agri universities are producing so many graduates but not many are found taking up entrepreneurial activities or they are skilled enough to take up jobs in the private sector.

There is a need for redesign the agri education curricula so that agri graduates go on to do MBAs in agri projects management. There are a range of issues on which we need radical thinking. How to make people live in the villages? Unless you give generous rural housing loans no one would come forward to build in the villages. You can arrest the urban migration; reduce the pressure on the urban infrastructure by suitably redrawing the priorities in urban-rural township laying.

Also new services like agri-consultancy services, agro projects with new technology, enterprises with an element of risk because the projects may be untried, the government must give income tax exemptions to risk funds for new investors in agro enterprises.

Some time-tested agencies like CFTRI and Nabard have to have a radical mandate. As it is, the CFTRI, for instance, doesn’t take up projects through outside consultancies. They want the would-be entrepreneurs go to them directly. We have some experience with the bureaucratic hurdles we faced. With such iron-rod like bureaucracy at the CFTRI and the Nabard, no new agri enterprises would emerge.

Why do these agencies (there are other culprits too!), don’t change their mindset? Does the Agri Minister know such hurdles? He himself is a promoter of so many agro ventures in his constituency. So, why he does not think of liberalizing the ways in which new entrepreneurs would be made feel comfortable with private consultants?

The key to agriculture revival is innovative thinking and innovative approaches to promoting a diverse range new agro ventures. The very value-additions, food processing and the many interlinked services like markets, transport, export etc can enliven the agri sector. Only a vigorous agro entrepreneurship, we can draw the investments in the agri sector. Only private investments could make the difference.

Even venture capital funds are exploring the new investment packages. For the VCs to come in a big way, the concerned states, the agri ministers, the CMs, the Union Ministers like agriculture, finance and commerce and others must be given specific assignments.Mr.Jairam Ramesh, Mani Shankar Ayyar, Kamalnath are all very competent. Somehow it looks the ministers are not given enough jobs!

A totally new approach, a new radical paradigm shift in agriculture policy making is what is badly needed.

Image Source : libarynth.org

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