This government doesn’t have a vision or a plan for agriculture

Yes, it is nice to hear the Prime Minister speaking at the 10th Plan mid-term appraisal about missing our economic growth target! It is none other than agriculture! It doesn’t take such a long time and so much of labour and so many brains to reach this fantastic conclusion! PM’s emphasis on agriculture reads like a school teacher’s pep talk to children!
We are sorry to say this and yet how else we can articulate our concerns and disappointments? More than this ‘discovery’ of the truth it is search for policies for agriculture also sounds quite routine and bureaucratic. He says more investment from the private sector is the only way. More private sector investment in agriculture? There is no way that this can also happen? Why?

It is as simple as having a look at the countryside and what is happening. Farming is no more a viable economic and business activity. Yes, our agriculture ,as the PM points out, is growing only by 1.5 per cent in recent decades. It has to be raised to at least 4 per cent. How to do this? Neither the PM nor his deputy Mr.Ahluwalia, the Planning chief, has a clue, in our considered opinion. Their very language betrays their lack of touch with the ground level reality and hence their language lacks any fire or involvement. It is always very comforting to speak on macro-economic issues and much more comfortable to talk some theoretical aspects of economic development. The two gentlemen are experts in economics. It is here we like to draw the words of Pandit Nehru uttered just 50 years ago on farmers’ issues. He said, perhaps, looking at the officials and agri scientists: “Don’t teach the farmers. They have intelligence. Learn from the farmers and know their problems before giving advice to farmers”! Such words can come only from wisdom, not from any expertise or from holding offices, however high they are!

Now, we at Vadamalai like to share with our countrymen what are the critical issues in agriculture as on date. The Central and state governments had neglected agriculture, as farmers cant organise like organised labour, government servants or PSU employees. Hence, progressively farmers are driven to suicide levels whenever they lost their crops or their incomes. Hence the spate of suicides. So, we need first a firm commitment and a public commitment that farm sector will get, say, a higher percent of budget allocations. Second, we need to intensify our price support schemes for all crops, all major crops. We have to accordingly raise the agri subsidies. Agri subsidies in comparison with what prevails in the advanced countries where we find our agri exports face stiff competition.

We find the agri subsidies in EU and USA are such that for instance our sugar exports cant fetch us the high prices that are paid to EU mandated prices to, say, sugar from Mauritius. Mauritius produces 5.5 lakh tonnes. India this year is expected to produce 125-127 lakh tonnes. We import raw sugar (for exports) at 260 dollars a tonne.

Mauritius, as a preferred trading partner with EU (Mauritius was a colony of France), its farmers get 675 dollars per tonne! Three times the ruling price in the international market. Of course, India doesn’t get such a favoured price nor of course Indian cost of production is not as high as in Mauritius (400 dollar a tonne). However, what the WTO had done for countries like India is that thanks to fighting at the WTO forum, as done by Brazil, number one sugar producer, along with Australia was to make WTO rule against such preferential trade in sugar!

So, now the EU price will come down, so too, one hopes the high agri subsidies. But this is not so easy. We should know trade is what leads to wars, at least in the past. Even now, it is said oil had led to the current war in Iraq! However, it is important to know that Indian agriculture has to be given the assurance that farmers interests are well protected under the WTO regime. No one clearly speaks. Not even Mr.Kamalnath, the Commerce Minister. Everyone simply asks farmers to produce more, be it food or processed food. Produce and perish!

This sheer injustice, this inequity facing farmers in availing of resources, from institutional sources like banks and Nabard must be clearly committted. Now there is some vagueness, even neglect.

Farmers must be given many freedoms, from many restrictive laws that inhibit to put money in the land. Farmers must be given insurance cover, for crops as for their own health!

Last but not the least is the rural infrastructure. Start talking from the bottom up !From the grassroots changes. That would be refreshing! For a change!

Simply to say as the press release says “it was unanimously agreed at the meeting that a lot of investments and resources would be required for the farm-related sectors” Yes, who would really express a different opinion? Is there room for the expression of a dissenting opinion? All are government servants or nominated persons and what else would you expect at such a gathering?


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