Give more freedoms to farmers!
That is the way to increase investments and agri production!

Indian agriculture is now orphaned!  For lack of patronage and awareness!

Satyendranath Tagore

Satyendranath Tagore

Corporate support is almost nil and the government is no less negligent. Why we say this at this juncture?

For the obvious reason that even otherwise, there is a traditional bias against agriculture and the issues associated with the sector.

You become better informed about the issues in the current state of agriculture. The sector is almost burning with frustration, helplessness and by the apathy of the government.

We, Indians, rate ourselves very high when it comes to government jobs. We, the educated sections, consider still government jobs are heaven-born and heaven-given! Any government job is so. From the village level revenue collectors, up in the hierarchy to the district collector. Yes, during the British days, the revenue clerk was highly rated. The district collector was beyond the reach of even the high-born Indian families.

Do you know that the first Indian ICS, one Satyendranath Tagore, from the Tagore family became the ICS officer but was never elevated beyond the district and he ended up as the Satara(or Kolhapur?) collector only? Only the white man was good enough for the job! Now, do you realise that there is a sort of disquiet among the IAS officers, in some states, there is disquiet even among the IPS officers?

The reasons are many. First probity in public life is a scarce thing and so too other factors that discourages, rather than encourages the youngsters once considered the heaven-born occupations.

Why this preliminary?
For the simple reason things are much more worse today. It is easier to become an MLA or an MP or much better even a minister! Once you get political power the temptations to misuse are irresistable. So, the corruption issue crops up and no one seems to realise whether you are worth your salt and worth listening to.

In such an environment and when you want to draw attention to the agriculture sector the thought or doubt comes whether you are qualified to talk on a subject like agriculture.

Even after 70 years of Independence, you don’t seem to have got a grip over the vital sector like agriculture. Dr.M.S.Swaminathan says that 50% of our working population are farmers. As he rightly says the Seventh Pay Commission pay is given to the government servants and insulated from inflation while the poor farmers are subjected to the wild swings in prices and punished!

Dr.M.S.Swaminathan

Dr.M.S.Swaminathan

But then at the same time, we see agriculture issues and topics are still debated in highly artificial jargon which most of the farmers might not understand. Issues like Ever Green Revolution, even MSP and the procurement and other policies that are routinely dished out. It looks even this is the current buzz of the government, as repeated by the PM on the Independence Day, of doubling the farmers ‘income in five years! Is it well-thought out policy, or just one more slogan?

How the government hopes to do this, no one bothers to ask or bother to explain.We also don’t seem to know even who the agriculture minister is today, for he never speaks or appears in public or tours the states!
Anyway, here we are in the journal labouring for years and years. No one bigwig, not speak of others, in the public life or corporate world comes forward to call us or express any opinion, let alone any appreciation, to give advertisements from the corporate funds.

Yes, we did ask one or two, one from a person who sat on Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council (!)Who flatly said no!

Where are our high profile corporate heavyweights? The ones who also speak a lot on public platforms and yet who seem only interested to seeking instant publicity!

Where are the corporate social responsibil9, CSR, funds going to?
Education or medical education? Or, public health covers?

See the hospitals in Gorakhpur or in the advanced state of TN, in Ambur where two persons died for there were no government doctors present! The much more damaging sight was to see a small girl’s body was lifted on a two wheeler for lack of ambulance service!

There are so many, much more serious issues for farmers! Dr.Swaminathan doesn’t say so but we say: every average Indian farmer today is either a debtor or a litigant!

Farmers commit suicide out of shame to live a honest life! Shame for being unable to pay back loans kills them. So, too other harassment is the daily living struggles. How many know that the farmers are tied to many antiquated laws, land reform laws passed in the initial years of zamindari abolition and other laws like land ceiling ad tenancy protection and other rural-related laws were passed long time ago.

Today there is labour shortage, ironically in agri sector, do you know?
There is a fast urban migration, many had abandoned farming. So too the younger generation has been migrating. What impact this trend would have on agriculture? Anyone with an answer?

We have to strengthen agri trade and agri exports! Time has come to integrate with the WTO decisions for the developing countries. Now, we have had economic reforms but not in agri sector! Why? Because no one has an answer!

Now, market forces are in full play and yet agri sector is tied up with some of the antiquated laws that constrains and controls farmers from continuing with farming as a business proposition.

In the private sector environment who would invest in agriculture, for crops or for new generation agro industries, if you don’t allow the farmers to own some viable farm size?

Yes, agri sector is more complicated than what the government servants sitting in the government offices or engaged using public funds!
The point is that farmers don’t live in a liberal rural society.
Our justice administration is as antiquated as any other. No civil cases end any day soon. The life span of the average farmer is not even better than the life span of the court cases!

So, you have a mouthful of issues to talk about. That is for another day, it looks like!

To take advantage of the size of our farming industry and also the new opportunities opening in international trade!

Seems we are very sluggish country when it comes to farm sector reforms!
Let the government invite advice from experts!
From here and also from abroad!

Chairman2A new India -China study, reported in the mainstream media shows that the rich nations-US, the EU and Canada have consistently giving trade distorting high subsidies to their farmers and thereby distorting the ceilings applied to the developing countries.

The joint study asserts, thereby the developed countries has cornered 90 percent of the total entitlements amounting to a mind-boggling 160 billion dollars annually.

Imagine what even a slight change in this huge among going to the farmers in the developing countries!  We don’t know whether this subject has caught the attention of experts in the government of India, at the NITI Ayog or at the PMO’s office.

If not it is time they respond or they at least now take note that others in the county, the farmers’ lobbies or in the mainstream media or in some other  specialised bodies and interests like the FICCI or Assocham or others come out with some serious response.

Who doesn’t know that farmers in the country are the most neglected lot? Yes, we hear now and then, the latest was the other day in the Rajya Sabha there was much noise, yet we have to be somewhat realistic that what we heard or what was reported in the mainstream press was some superficial coverage. What we remember was some MPs’ names only. What they spoke was not reported clearly or in an extensive manner deserving the seriousness of the situation down at the grassroots.

As we write the agri minister was yet to give his reply in the Rajya Sabha.
What we have seen so far, the minister’s reply is unlikely to inspire the people, more so, the farmers’ groups.

We need a strong farmers’ lobby or lobbies and also some radical new thinking and new initiatives. There are lots of new thoughts lately.

Anyway now the first is the said joint study. As per the paper there are some agri commodities for which subsidies given by the developed world are over 50 per cent of the production value, while developing countries are forced to contain it within 10 per cent or face penalties.

“Developed countries have more than 90 per cent of global Aggregate  measurement of Support(trade distorting subsidies) entitlements amounting to nearly 160 billion dollars which is beyond their deminim. In contrast most developing member countries have access only yo de minimis resulting in a major asymmetry in the rules on agricultural trade”, the paper says. The paper was recently submitted to the WTO Commission on Agriculture.

Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS), this measures the support prices and subsidies directly linked to production.

Of course, we have to say that on the face of these technical details, the measure seems fair enough, as developing countries our contribution to the total trade volumes, the developing nation’s contribution to the kitty, so to say, is meagre but there is no absolute monopoly that had been enjoyed by more developed countries or their bargaining powers. But we have to come to the present times.

There are many other points of view. India and China are now big markets for the developed countries’ production volumes. So, we have some bargaining powers too.

Anyway, we too have to adopt some other strategies, we have to set up new lobbies to go into the world markets and try to push our goods and services, our own low-cost advantages to enter these markets and sell our products and services.

There are, literally, hundreds of ways to enter into the international markets.

The time has come to awake our farmers lethargy and also our politicians propensity to exploit the ignorance and weaknesses of the farmers insanity to unite and support lobbies for their own products.

Now, there prices of some of the usual products, the tomatoes prices had risen and the onion prices had fallen! The usual culprits!

No way to help farmer? Yes, we are back in the same plight. So too the new eNAM mechanism inaugurated by the Prime Minister.

But this is not enough to make a slogan of doubling farmers’ incomes in the next few years. No, this is not possible!

Indian agriculture, its products and services must now enter into international agri trade and curve out a niche for some of the Indian agri skills, as we have curved out our skills in IT sector.

What we need in agriculture is some daring innovative policies. Please write your responses!

Jai Hind!

What can be done, both in the short and the long-term?

seed2Short-run solutions are obvious. Give farm loans waiver! Easy to say, difficult to implement! This demand and also conceding the demand is now  more a political decision and it is for the Prime Minister, more than for anyone to take a final decision. Farmers stir in Madhya Pradesh

As we are based in the  South, it is rather unclear how the  farmers stir in Madhya Pradesh, widely seen as a model BJP-ruled state in which 12% growth  is “touted” as the model for the obviously BJP-ruled other states, has taken this sudden violent turns. The police firing in Mandsaur left five farmers died and  the issues seemed to have got out of control.  From 2010 onwards, it seems, there had been farmer’s agitations in one form or other.

A BJP sarpanch was killed by police firing and the compensation rose from Rs.5 lakh to Rs.one crore! The RSS seems to have led the stir and to this extent the farmers struggles could taken on more complex forms. Suicides by farmers of more than 7,5000 make one suspect that this can’t be only owing to the Congress misrule in the past. Between  Nov.2016 and Feb.2017 alone that 287 farmers and farm labour had committed suicide. So the farmers stir in such a supposed BJP strong hold must raise issues for more decision makers at various levels. Half the death occurred in the Nimar-Malwa region, a hotbed of the RSS movement.

There is more politics to the farmer’s struggles in MP than outsiders can suspect. This signals more ill-will for the ruling party and one doesn’t know at this point of time how the farmers agitations in other states, from UP, Maharashtra to Gujarat and other states and the rising crescendo of demand for farm loans waiver will play out.

Anyway, political apart, there are agriculture issues per agriculture sector related issues alone.

As the agriculture crisis developed more owing to drought and the failure of timely rains, it is not man-made but nature induced. However, the present crisis is like one of a seasonal and even historic  crisis. India  had seen many crises of this time, more famines and more human miseries.

So, the Prime Minister as the top political authority must take a pragmatic stand and also a more humane and more democratic  stand. Some states are prone to more crisis than others. So a uniform demand for crop loan waiver is not a sensible  policy decision. In some surplus states which like MP and other states, we need to ensure price assurance and also some one or two more immediate decisions to maintain the farm prices stability.

Price stabilisation funds wherever feasible have to be created and adequate government procurement and storage facilities have to be created on war-footing. It is for the more mature and more experienced administrators, both officials and experts as well as for political leadership to play their responsible role and responsible behaviour.  The PM must ensure such an environment of confidence and manageability to prevail.

As for other ,more of a political and all -India level decisions, yes, we need to offer some immediate relief in debt waivers. This again is a decision that the PM and the FM and the banking sector has to  decide things.

As things stand there seems to be indecisiveness and a certain air of unreality that marks  the functioning of the  government machinery.
Regarding the basic approach to agriculture and the rural economic  stability and growth, we need a great deal of realism.

Agriculture as of now is really becoming an unviable activity. We are more comfortable to say what the ground level reality is ,rather than what needs to be done at the macro level.

At the grass-roots, the average holdings of the small farmers is becoming unviable every day. Also, if you look at the realities deeply, there is a great deal of burden for the average Indian farmers  to merely survive. There is the obvious debt burden. Bank loan, co-operative loans  and loans from private money lenders.

Another form of misery for the Indian farmers, we mean here both the tenants and the land owners, there is the existing complex web of land owner-tenant law tangles.

Each farmer is a litigant, you know?

If you enquire a little more deeply you will find such court cases are pending and prolonging for more than 30 or even more years!
In some states, the situation has reached to an impossible level that for every acre in legal dispute the revenue courts, another name for petty officials, to fix bribe terms of the acres of land involved!

So, there is more a negotiation than a legal fight is going on, all unnoticed and uncared for by the political class.

In some states, we all know who/what these states are  and where the politicians themselves have grabbed lands of vast extents and such litigations are unlikely to see the light of the day very soon.  The point here is that we have to think afresh about the possibility of the rejuvenation of farming as an economic activity. It is now no longer an economic activity.

We have to free the land owners from so many clutches. Otherwise, we have to resort to Marxian phraseology, pauperisation of the rural peasantry if perhaps an inevitability!

What are our solutions? Based on our own long-time observations?
There are many but we can’t put them all in black and white!  But certain basic issues need to be attended. One, we have to reduce all-pervasive corruption, as we find in states like TN.

This requires some drastic steps. We have to bring to an end the existing corruption cases, both the political, criminal ones and also the administrative ones. How can you reinstate a Chief Secretary whose offices were aided and he was arrested and kept in custody. Now, released on bail and he is again re-instated!

This cause demoralisation in the whole administrative chain and also the current incumbent Chief Secretary is divested of her portfolio of Anti-Corruption Wing! And the whole country is watching and the state has still only a part-time Governor!

What is the logic of these decisions or half-hearted decisions, if they are to be called decisions at all!

It is for the central government to take a call on the very deteriorating administrative scenario. May be in other states too such administrative failures prevail. We are not sure.

It is here some other related developments also need to be looked into. The judicial delays is another aspect of the accumulating of more pending cases.

How a normal citizen would have to conduct himself or herself?
Also, in states like Karnataka, there is the present of the Lok Ayukta. That gives some confidence for the average citizen.

In other states, again TN is an example, certain issues like the former CM’s niece walks into the Poes Garden residence and wants to  occupy it. The police, the private security stand watching helplessly.

There was a debate on the TV channels as to whether one can file an FIR and with whom? Who can file that and who can’t!

These sorts of public affairs reflect how on the central government image?
Now, regarding one or two issues pertaining to agriculture,  we are told that Indian can explore and export more of our agri products, food products etc.

As of now we are the 7th largest  agro-products exporter. Our agri exports stand at 33.38 billion dollar in 2016-17.Why not set a target for ,say,100 billion agri/horti  exports!

Let us aim for an ambitious goal! Draw new strategies and activate  the related sectors. A new strategy at the high level to intensify our agro products  exports  might give more stability and coherence to our agri sector.

There are of course other related issues as for the future of our rural development strategy. These are all waiting for some urgent attention.

Is it just a mirage and election-eve slogan?
Indian agriculture won’t change easily

216-1Government budget is still subsidy-driven and populist only. You see, there are many experts who are specialists in agri sector. Also, there are rural experts, many highly devoted and committed to rural India and also others who can give a summary of the basic statistics, be it food subsidy or fertiliser subsidy etc.

At Vadamalai, we remain a differently-oriented point of view. We live in the city and yet we are retaining much of our farm activities in the village. We do farming, although at the moment we are also devastated as other farmers are, by the continuing drought, we are in the South, in Tamil Nadu interior village where there has been no drop of rain for the past many years. Our coconut trees are withering and we resisted resorting to desperate measures like borewells.
We travel extensively and we saw just yesterday some farms in the drought-affected Mysuru, Mandya and Najangud and also the forest area of Bandhipur Tiger Reserve. All these part s are so devastated, the tender coconut prices have shot up in the cities and what we read as news in the city newspapers is all about consumers’ distress not a word about the distress in the villages. How can we now resort to dry statistics and growth rates and the disputes by city columnists and others?

So, we have to restrain somewhat and stop quoting experts. Prof.Ashok Gulati and his associates have given us graphic and clear accounts about the budget and what it says for the agriculture and the rural sector. So, in a low growth phase of agri GDP at 1.7 per cent growth of this sector, when Mr.Arun Jaitley wants to please his boss, Narendra Modi and quotes all the names in Hindi phrases, he quotes many names how to take him seriously? Sorry we can’t for we recall and recollect those faces we see on the roads we drive through. There is a sense of dejection in the lives of the villages.

So too the statistics, all dry and mouthful, so much for food subsidy, something like Rs.1, 45,339 crores for food subsidy. Fine, fine! Next for MGNREA. Then subsidy for fertilisers. And so on. Prof.Gulati asks, whether this agri budget is for development or dole?

We can simply say we are all, including the government servants in towns as well as the politicians in the exclusive P Lutyen’s bungalow zone where too we were driving around just a few days back; there are a vicious circle of living for all those who are not directly engaged in agriculture or living in the villages!

When we come to the basic realities life in the Indian villages, first, we have to realise that compared with China where too we have been there a year ago, there is tremendous progress in the area of development, their public investments in infrastructure is unbelievable. China is simply far ahead, at least by some 25 years ahead of India. We in India are far slow and fall behind China. I want to sound a bit rather blunt and a bit hurting too. In the last three years Mr.Modi has no doubt brought about a great deal of mental change, in our mental outlook, the Prime Minister had effected an outlook change, if I can so put it.

Yes, the political environment is now changed. At least we can look for some fundamental change in the economy as well in over outlook.

We can surely believe that India after Modi took over is very likely to become a more and more aspirational nation. The youth have reposed their confidence in Modi’s leadership, the latest Assembly elections show this.

As a democracy we have to acknowledge this reality. The Congress had simply sunk in its own ignorance and resort to sycophancy as an alternative to sound principles. Our view and even we can claim our own thesis for regeneration in the future of agriculture is this:
You see villages, in modern view, is a denoc all inquities, and inequalities as we remained a feudal society for ages.

Even today, we hold landed properties and what is the village reality today too?
There can be only a few households, may be in many villages only one households that holds the largest piece of land, right?

The dominant caste might be the only caste to hold land, right too?
So, as sociological reality, we have to recognise this reality, right?

So, allow the traditional land owners to retain some economical size landholding.
Also, give incentives to large landholders so that they invest, they have the energy to hold on to agriculture. Encourage the big land owners to invest, private and also subsidised so that new technologies come to the agriculture operations.

We at Vadamalai also run the online agri information service, ww.agricultureinfromation.com.
We get thousands of enquiries but they don’t come back for the simple reasons we are not able to give them any sense of security that their investments are safe.

Simply because there are no other support services.

They budget talks about agriculture insurance, right? But do you know that the public sector agri insurance company has not CEO for quite sometime?

How do you believe when the government makes promises on crop insurance? And on and on… The average Indian farmers, as we say often, are first debtors! And then court birds! They are caught in so many legal tangles! So, the Tahsildar courts are filled with pending court cases, on tenancy, records and what have you. In what is often called (of course wrongly!) in the advanced state like TN(with our own personal experiences) people, the public throng the Monday grievances day, in two instances, the District Revenue Officer(DRO),the second senior district officials, next to the District Collector) the seat remained vacant! No grievances hearing happened!

Who can imagine the plight of the poor and the weaker sections that only throng such places on this particular day!

Imagine other states like UP, with such far flung geography and the sort of administration we often read about! So, please don’t talk about public (or even the private) investment no one, not the least the poor farmers who cling on to their two or three acre plots would invest money! Their progeny, may be a graduate, might be employed in some other city. The boy or the girls too won’t part with their precious earnings to invest in lands.

So, you can remain confident all this election-related or election-type slogans would only remain slogans only. Agriculture would remain a loss-making sector.

Then, you might ask or wonder, what is the next best alternative. First, there doesn’t seem any easy alternative. The urbanisation boom would drive more people from the villages towards the cities. May be this trend would be the dominant narrative of rural-urban India. Urban migration might help. Help to make agriculture an area for some big new investments, might be MNC investments that could draw more rural people into productive employment and thereby for higher incomes or earnings in the rural India.

As we see, may be politics too might change. May be, the current corrupt politics might change too. The voters might find out more and more the corrupt practices of politicians and the people might go for some believable leaders.

So, in conclusion, we say politics too has to change so that the economy, more so the rural economy too might become attractive to new and big investments.

May be food industry, food processing industry and such related agriculture investments might find new attractive areas. There is no quick-fix solutions to agricultural regeneration. So, everyone has a duty to think of agriculture: government, officials, bankers, corporates (who are now are also the culprits, only interested in sucking the opportunities for their quick profits. See the corporate social responsibility activities.

Only visionaries like the Bangladesh grameen bank founder, Mohammad Yunus, perhaps can change the mindset for new investments and entrepreneurial developments. For such people Padmasri and Padma Bushans won’t come by, you must be sure!

One silver lining seems to be the private philanthropy is rising thanks to our rise in GDP. Let us then wait and watch!

SBI and other banks seem to oppose the move! SBI chairperson, Arundhati Bhattacharya has come out to openly express her reservations. This she had said so to a CII, the private industry body.

Arundhati Bhattacharya

Arundhati Bhattacharya

Prime Minister Modi won an unprecedented election victory, UP victory is something really unusual and such an absolute majority has done many unprecedented things, demolished the Samajwadi Party whose chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was long seen as a potential Prime Minister himself! Also, Mayawati, another heavyweight in the Dalit caste groups, also, no less are the two young faces, Akilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi who have a long future in politics before them. So, Modi’s achievement is not something one can take it as a routine election victory.

But how-to promise so many things as Modi did and won this victory!
If now, can the election promises be fulfilled?

Also, this promise comes from the biggest state, the loan waiver comprises a huge chunk of farmers, which is a huge lot of people and a huge lot of public sector bank funds!
Also, there is some other big issues.

The big bad ‘boys’, the corporate defaulters ,with their own NPAs, that are again a huge lot of funds. There is now public expression of a view that even the big corporate defaulters led by such heavy weights like Vijay Mallya, can they expect some relief through the government writing off such huge debts?

Anyway, now in the immediate glow of a huge election victory Mr.Modi may seem to be a man out of the blue. The Economic Times has gone on to write a lead editorial comparing Modi with Donald Trump and called them mould-breakers! Modi and Trumph are leaders who proved that politics, as they have practised and shown to have won out of the traditional mood of politics, is mere media hyperbole? Or any deeper reflection on the current and emerging style of politics?

In our view these are all superficial media writings, just to score some points over their rivals, in the very same, rather tamed media. Indian media, both print and the online and TV channels are all very obliging to the present leadership. The BJP is an unusual party with some very obscure economics and social issues.

Indian society is very complex and multi-dimensional. The social issues are caste based and also communal based issues.

Suddenly one fine morning, one person can come along and promise many things and change India? Impossible? So too in the USA!

You can’t reverse the flow of migrants, as they have done over very long period. The very issues if illegal migrants in the USA is also a long-standing issue. Trumph hasn’t done anything, so far, in a satisfactory manner. The travel ban itself is a work in progress. So too the deportation of illegal migrants that is a huge number as well.

So Modi too has promised many things and captured the imagination of the Indian people. In the last three years what are the promises fulfilled.

Economic growth targets? Jobs generation? Fighting corruption? Black money?

Everyone knows, the common man more and more knows how the inequality and inequity are growing. Per cent of the rich own something like55 % of the wealth in India. India is still the home for the largest poor people, right?

So, also people know who are the wealthy backers of Mr.Modi, the names are too familiar to mention here. So, too many other aspects of India. Poverty. The very agri sector, the very rural sector cry for attention. So, big decisions await the Prime minister.

Our suggestions.

Please have a big picture. Make your ideology that is the one word on which we have to deliberate. Pundits are needed to give the government some philosophical base to draw the largest number of people to trust and follow the leader of a big democracy. Then the Cabinet can decide what to do as a matter of priority. You can give big relief to big debtors in the corporate world. You too can give some big relief to large number of dispersed farmers. This is the direction to go!