Agriculture is an economic and political power!
There is now a new sense of urgency to do something in the agricultural sector. That is a welcome development. But do the public also know why this sense of urgency?
The most obvious explanation is the current mood of despondency of the ruling UPA, more so the Congress party that the future of its electoral chances in the next general elections due in 2009 are dim!
There is what is now called, to use a current favourite phrase, a disconnect of the ruling party with the rural voters, more so the farmers.
Farmers suicides still continue, more in Vidarbha and now in Karnataka. This must have caused a heartburn at the PMO or at Krishi Bhavan or at least in 10,Janpath.But they all went unreported and unnoticed.
The point is that there is a strong political dimension to the agricultural sector. It was so in all major countries. The USA built its economic power by concentrating on its agricultural sector, it has been much written about, how this was achieved since the Civil War and the land-grant colleges, that later blossomed into Universities of California, Cornell and Minnesota have developed a strong research and extension capability. This capability we can notice even now, where American agriculture always goes aggressively into capacity building.
Such a strong agricultural research and extension capability is lacking in India, though our Green Revolution effort has given us a new high in agricultural productivity.
Also, agriculture and food production and food stocks give a country very strong strategic capability. If we can put it so blatantly, there is a strong link with our defense and food self-sufficiency capabilities.
To invest in agriculture, to invest in strong human resources building in the agri sector are critical elements in today’s India where there are radical changes are taking place in the economy.
The coming of the retail revolution directly is going to impact on the agri productivity gains and also in raising the agricultural prices, whether the government comes in or not.
There is unfortunately there is a lack of realisation and even some indifference to the sensitive issues involved in drawing up policies for agri sector. Irrigation is one thing. Yes, it is very, very important. Linking of the rivers seems more easier than solving the inter-state river disputes.
There is something like a 60 per cent rainfed land area and this has to be reduced as much as possible and water resources at any time are a high priority.
The new agricultural insurance linked rainfed agriculture is welcome. But all our seven year old agriculture insurance schemes have failed. That is the sad truth! So, let us at least succeed this time!
Also, as studies have shown that India’s critical achievements in dairy and milk products directly places it above other dairy and milk and milk exporting countries like Denmark, New Zealand. India’s grain area, if developed properly puts it on par with Argentina and Brazil, as major grain exporter. Already what we have achieved as a dependable rice exporter must be further pursued. Mr.Kamal Nath has a task cut out for him. The Minister must look at his task, at negotiations at WTO, as one of taking the country in the long run towards one of the developed agricultural economies.
Our agri export strategy is still to take off.
Our agri universities need a revamp. There is a great disconnect here again. What degrees students get and what is needed in the open market are different. The pure academic degrees must be replaced with a degree that combines field level expertise for the students.
In the USA, there is a scheme to encourage youngmen to enter agriculture as a profession.
We urgently need a new scheme. The old agri clinic scheme needs further refinement and a new thrust.
Yes, we have so many schemes but some narrow political considerations come in the way.
The agricultural reform laws need a new liberalisation. As people leave the farms, villages and as migration accelerates, we have to make the reform laws liberal enough for the genuine farmers, investors in agribusinesses to move in and invest in a big way in new technologies and new products and services.
The populist talk of doing much for small and marginal farmers is an illusion. Already, there is a new private market for the surplus land in the rural areas. There is much buying and selling in the rural land area without the government much bothering about. This is a tacit admission that the unviable farms wont stay on. There will be informal consolidation of holdings and it is better to regulate it.
This is happening in the Communist states of Kerala and W.Bengal. In fact some new and clever new leasing of lands for tenancy. This has to be encouraged.
Landless labour is a reality. So, please does something like housing subsidies for landless labour so that they can live near the farms. There is a need to regulate the tenancy. Tenants are a necessity. So, please don’t stick to the current “do-nothing” policy that makes existing tenants not paying the rent, no new genuine tenant entering the farm enterprises.
For various reasons, there is a distinction to own land and also to do farming. Every land owner needn’t be an actual farmer. There is an absentee landlordism if you so describe it. Better we recognise the rural realities and allow big farmers, traditional farmers to invest and lease out their lands to enterprising tenants, on long leases, if that requires.
The point is that we have to encourage private enterprise in farming. New agro entrepreneurs are the new thrust area.
As it is, in all our policy making these realities are suppressed and we go on talking round and round and not coming the central question of motivation for farmers to undertake risky investments and live for farming as a profession, as a traditional family profession.
Farming is as much an emotional bonding with the land, with the village, with the rural way of life.
This every other new entrant cant bring forth.
The National Development Council deliberations on new strategies are fine and welcome. We would wholeheartedly support them. We are glad at last wisdom dawned on the current crop of men and women at the helm of affairs.
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