There was this recent debate on constrains on agri growth.
India’s well-known experts participated. Prof.C.H.Hanumantha Rao is a senior agri economist/expert. R.S.Deshpande heads the Bangalore-based Institute for Social and Economic Change. Sharad Joshi is a farmer’s leader and an MP. With them comes M.S.Swaminathan with his Commission on agriculture.
In short, all agree on the basic economic statistics. There has been a fall in agri sector growth. There is a fall in cereals production: wheat and rice. There is a shortage of oilseeds. Farmers are in distress. In large rural areas farmers are in debts. Deshpande notes more than half, in some states as high as 82 % farmers are in debt. Rao gives full of statistics. What are his priorities? Private investment in agri sector rose by 50% in 10 years. Public investment stagnant. rural infrastructure/contract farming could save farming. Desphande says there is no real agri policy. So, have one, he urges. Involve state agri depts. and farmer’s leaders, he says. One sensible remark he makes is that we have too many commissions and committees, now Swaminathan is also having one more! Sharad Joshi is true to his convictions. These”government salaried.. fellows.. holding forth on agriculture..” he seems to be dismissively saying these experts! Swaminathan, less said the more wiser!
We have before us the World Bank document. It looks the WB has some practical proposals drawn from its worldwide experience. The document also puts things in perspective .For the benefit of the government in Delhi too!
Farming households, 54 per cent, are poor and in some states as high as 70 per cent. So, any policy that attacks rural poverty attacks farmer’s poverty too. So, we have to have some priorities in our current policy focus. Wisely the Prime Minister had called for an urgent review in the light of what we read about farmers’ suicides, malnutrition in Maharashtra. Our very senior experts take a lesson from corporate houses; please you become mentors, and don’t try to be always in the driver’s seats!
Now, the WB document has some sensible suggestions that could be the government’s current priorities.Let there be a business model for every new initiative we take. Contract farming is one such new model. No farmer, however small or big he is should undertake any individual farming of any crop, except through some contract farming model. This ensures some assured price at the end of the day!
Second, use the Maharashtra model for horticulture-linked Employment Guarantee Scheme. Third, identify and accelerate the “enterprise zone” model that gives a focused infrastructure and also helps to bring in a group so that there is scope for mutual confidence and much else. “Free zones, industrial parks, food parks” etc. are the models. Third, create “business incubator” model inside the agri universities and other colleges in the rural sector. Our experts don’t mention the agri universities; their low priority is evident from their absence from the expert’s minds.
The WB mentions the Sri Lanka Agro-Enterprise Development Project as a model. Yes, this is worth pursuing in India. Likewise, there is the Bangladesh well-known grameen bank model. All our experts seem to belong to the pre-IT age! They have no interest or knowledge as to what the Internet revolution can do for farmer’s lives and also for rural infrastructure. In fact, there is no agri development model that can succeed or operate in isolation. There are great interlinks and so we have to see the total picture.
There will be villages in India forever, right? What this means? Make living in the countryside a relief, a pleasure and a joy. Make villagers as equal citizens. Give them all the rights under the Constitution. Create more instituions, institutional mechanisms so that the freedoms of citizens, more so the rights of the poor and farmers are well respected and the government servants become more sensitive to the rights and demands of the poor and the disadvantaged. Start with the Lok Pal and end with Lok Ayukta at the state levels. Free the farmers, villagers from debt, fine! Free them also from the corruption network that is making life impossible.