Sharad Pawar may be a competent administrator and an agri expert. But is days in the agri ministry hasn’t shown any dramatic initiatives Our agri sector is deprived of latest information and innovations There is simply no public-private sector interaction in new investments. We have been writing often about what is missing in our agriculture policy making. There has recently been a meet of the Krishi Vignan Kendras (farm extension service centres) meeting in Delhi. The Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister had participated. The PM made a nice speech. The theme song is the same we have heard from him for quite sometime.8 per cent growth needs 4 per cent growth in agriculture.
Said the PM: “Unfortunately, this has not been so in the recent past with average agricultural growth rates of just 1.5 per cent in the first three years of the Tenth Five-Year Plan” Then the Pm goes on to narrate how agriculture plays a” vital role” in the economy, how the agriculture contribution to our GDP is coming down to 22 per cent today and yet the people depending upon agriculture remain as high as 65 per cent and so on and so forth.

One important point the PM made newly at the meet, in our view is him emphasis on timely information and latest information about agriculture as a business. Policy initiatives and market intelligence.

On the same day this news appeared in the newspapers there were reports on the farmers’ suicides in Vidharba. P.Sainath of The Hindu had written on the same day: “Vidharba sits on a volcano. And agrarian one. Official data given to the National Commission on Farmers shows that yavatmal district alone has seen over 300 farmers’ suicides since 2001″ Not just that tragedy alone. The very day on which the Commission headed by M.S.Swaminathan toured the area the one farmer’s family that had a tragedy was paid the compensation just 72 hours before the visit of the Commission! Not only the definition of farmer changes when such a tragedy occurs in a family and compensation denied and even the actual compensation is to be paid it is not paid quickly.

We in this magazine know well the Vidharba region for we had spent a week in Nagpur and had toured the area well. The Commission now had actually seen and confessed that “without a huge infusion of credit, there is no hope” It is here we come back to the basic missing links in our agriculture policy making.

The agri minister is not doing enough to energies the Krishi Bhavan. There are no real innovations keeping in view the latest developments in Internet. Doest the Krishi Bhavan website (if it is there) searches for latest information in agriculture, markets, practices, new crops etc? We wonder. Does the agri minister personally browse the Internet? If not, it is time he learns this craft and search the Google search engine to post himself with latest agriculture information.

Vadamalai prides itself with India’s most active and widely used Internet and our website is visited by nearly one lakh visitors a month. Yes, this is no big deal in the website visitors but what we find from our experience is that even our government depts. or even the ICAR website is not as active as we expect. As for our vast network of agricultural universities and research stations network seem to be blissfully unaware of the use of the Internet for searching for posting the latest developments.

There is practically no interaction between the agri universities network and the private Internet sites. The agri minister might not care to know what is going on in the private sector initiatives, be it in agriculture websites or the sort of new agribusiness models based on contract farming where small and marginal farmers are taking to new practices. He talks rather casually about private initiatives in contract farming. These are by ITC and Pepsi. This is a cruel joke. The few big corporate like ITC is no role model for contract farming projects where small and marginal farmers can participate. We need more grass roots level contract farming models. There is not even a proper legislation.
If the agri minister is really serious then he has to personally look into some of the latest development, he should almost everyday talk to Vice Chancellors of the agri universities and engage them in a face to face discussion through video conferencing. The agriculture scientist community is a demoralised lot these days. There is so much political interference in the appointments and jobs and the VC’s post itself is not made openly. The domination of senior scientists, outside and also inside the hierarchy is a near scandal. One scientist almost silences the rest of the scientist establishment. The ICAR is again a highly rigid and hierarchical body where no new initiative can be taken by anyone other than by strictly official channels.

Unless the agri minister takes personal interest nothing is going to change. There are so many other Centrally-funded bodies, as in Hyderabad and they are all living on expired mandates. New mandates, new condition to work the Public-Private concept has to be imposed on them. We speak with much personal experience. Most State agri dept are hostile to new information! As for the Krishi Vignan Kendras for which the PM and the agri minister spoke at such length might be much useful service. But we know none of them either know our agricultural publication or our Internet Portal. Unless then use the website how they can pass on latest information. Today no individual, not to speak of organisations can live without daily using the Google. Then, let them go to Google. Let them type something on agriculture. Then they will find out Vadamalai’s Internet site! Yes, these days we have to be Internet savvy, otherwise you will be simply cut off from the global agriculture information network Can the government hope to know everything by official channels? It can’t. There is no need. ICAR, agri universities need to be brought into the dynamic private sector driven market choices. What farmers want? What crops farmers think will pay them? What market information they want to know?

Farm extension services themselves need to be privatised or partially privatised. There are any numbers of agri graduates without jobs. The agro entrepreneurship scheme floated by Nabard. What is its current status? There are so many dead horses in the ICAR stable. So, let us wipe out the useless schemes that are now a drain on our budgets. Revamp the mandate of most of the current centrally funded centralised agencies. They must come out with, as the Prime Minister desired “crop specific, region specific, resource specific and farm specific solutions”

It is time we hear agri minister openly speaking about and lamenting about the Vidharba farmers suicides and also about the need for online-driven quick time-bound solutions to the multiple problems that bedevil our agri sector.

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