Prof. Muhammad Yunus

Microcredit gets  the  Nobel Prize! Will micro enterprises in agriculture gets recognition?  If the leadership motivates the people at the grass roots, there would be tremendous response.

The Nobel Prize for Peace had justifiably  been given to the Bangladeshi economist and  innovative entrepreneur Prof.Mohammed Yunus for his  justly famous micro credit innovative business model and his Grameen Bank. This is a badly needed recognition in a field like micro credit which by any stretch of imagination no one in India would have thought to deserve such a high recognition.

In India, we need to replicate the micro credit model for agriculture sector so that that the much talk about failure of the agri sector to perform can be partially reversed. The 11th Plan draft talks of agriculture as the most critical sector. But the PM’s remarks are lacklusture. He doesn’t seem to recognize the gravity of the situation. Agriculture sector would undo his government’s otherwise more credible achievements.

As one enterprise engaged in agriculture consultancy, we face so many hurdles, from Income Tax department to other agencies, no one seem to realize and recognize that this is an area that needs 100% exemptions from tax and in fact more incentives to come out with such agriculture innovation projects. We are not pleading for any one particular company but there is in India this mindset. Agriculture sector deserves subsidies and grants. Not other incentives to come out with commercially viable agri projects, wealth creation in agri sector through private entrepreneurial efforts need recognition. Micro credit of Prof,Yunus itself is one such shining example. Like Kurien, Prof.Yunus is lucky enough, too succeeded and now won the Nobel Prize. But there are hundreds of such efforts, all in the ground level, micro levels. I would applaud the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister if they only identify such brave efforts at the grass roots level and mention in their speeches and bring to attention to the national level.

There are many fresh and at the same time sad thoughts when we think of micro credit innovation. In India, we have had many such micro institutional innovations, Amul and Ela Bhatt’s Sewa are the two examples. While Kurien went on to create a mighty enterprise, the man himself is left to languish without the country bothering to take note of his unbeatable world model of creating wealth at the micro level. We have written before in this column that the Government of India should bestow Kurien and also Ela Bhatt with Bharat Ratna awards. Rural India faces a host of issues. Health and sanitation seems to be in a mess in large parts of India. So too the major infrastructure projects like roads and communications.

For instance in Tamil Nadia supposedly  well developed State, Nokia, the MNC, says that its employees spend upto six hours a day on a to and fro travel to its office at Sriperumbudur. Cargo handling at the airport takes seven days, as against two days as it should be. Investments in India would come down if the Airport Authority did not improve facilities.

There is no central core to the current coalition dispensation. Sonia Gandhi might think of reviving the gareeb hatao. It won’t work. What would work is an honest self-introspection on the part of the leaders in Delhi whether the next General Election can be won by the current crop of allies. There is no  clear thinking. No grand theme is emerging from any ministry, unless we say the Commerce Minister had come out with the controversial SEZs concept. It is a fairly sound concept if the interests of farmers are taken care of, sufficently seriously by making the farmers stakeholders in the enterprises, in the future value of the companies, the farmers must get a certain percentage of benefits.

As for governance on the part of the Central Government, we need more attention to implementation of the infrastructure projects. Of course, there is no lack of ideas. The PPP, Public-Private Partnership is a wonderful concept. All that needs is a found nod and push from the PM’s part. We need attention and a sympathetic hearing from the ministers in Delhi. The very same Nokia man himself  had mentioned his problems like taxation, taxation rules are complex. In our case we find that small enterprises in agriculture have clear definition, the governments in the states and at the Centre seem to have the same rules to be applied to the small agri sector enterprises. Antiquated labour laws everyone talks about. What about the land ceiling laws and the tenancy laws?

How can you expect educated and enterprising young men to engage themselves in agro enterprises when you have so many restrictive laws? There must be liberalization of the agri sector so that new investments would be forthcoming. There must be incentives to take risks in such enterprises!  The PM must specify.

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