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What Our Farmers Want By P V S Suryakumar, Chief General Manager, NABARD

Democracy is one among the many reasons, World observes India. The recent New Delhi state election results declared on 10 February 2015 as well as the Parliaments election results in 2014 were keenly observed in India and abroad.

We all might have remembered a much heightened media focus on 26 May 2014 when the new Indian Government took charge on the Raisina Hill. It was indeed watershed event on many counts. I closely followed its TV coverage hearing the wise debates. I then followed commentaries in various newspapers. I want to share a few observations.

During the swearing in ceremony in 2014, when expert guesses were being made about the probable Ministers, no one said a word about agriculture. Print media was better - with a few opinions. Agriculture is not glamorous enough apparently. But agriculture requires renewed focus as about 60% of our population directly or indirectly is dependent on this sector and with the effects of Climate Change gradually manifesting.

I would like to highlight a few basic wishes of our farmers, especially small farmers from the vast rain-fed region which is about 60% of our 142 million hectares of arable area.

Rain-fed regions contribute about 45% of our food grains and virtually all our oil seeds. These farmers have to live with the erratic monsoon. It will be false to promise if we say that these regions will become irrigated at some point in time. At present about 40% of our arable area is irrigated and as per realizable potential, a sizeable area will always remain rain-fed. So, can we drought proof agriculture? Yes we can. Efficient rain water harvesting, through watershed approach, helped in many places in the country. But unfortunately this approach works only when the village communities work together building social capital and also taking charge of their villages & destinies. Ralegaon Sindhi, the village transformed by Anna Hazare is an example. But most government led watershed programs are top down and did not yield robust results. The recent landslide victories in New Delhi Assembly and the Parliament were made possible as voters aspired for a ‘movement’ for development. It is time we transform rain water harvesting into a ‘Jan Andolan’Sarkari scheme. from the existing.

Farmers require genuine seeds so that the yields are as per genetic potential. Most of the crops grown in rain-fed area are self-pollinated. No private seed company is interested in self-pollinated crops as farmers multiply their own seeds. Farmers exchange their seeds with their friends. But over a period of 3-4 years seeds need replacement as they lose their vigour. Many farmers do not know the science behind this. Seed replacement thus is a necessity. This could be addressed through transforming some farmers into agri-preneurs to produce seeds for the local requirements. A little training & handholding by research stations will quickly yield results.

After the advent of commercial farming single crops became the norm. We all see single crops of wheat, rice, maize etc as we travel in the country side. Don’t we? Single crops are essentially for the markets and would work fine with intensive inputs. But the rain-fed agriculture is subsistence oriented and single cropped agriculture is risky as it is a gamble with monsoon. There was a tradition of growing multiple crops [as many as 15-20] together as they act as a hedge against the monsoon and also draw nutrients from different soil strata. This tradition is alive in small pockets here and there in the country but our scientific establishments do not consider this approach right! But agro-ecologists swear by these sustainable methods. The core of this argument is that these farmers do not produce enough marketable surpluses and farming must at least assure food security to individuals and their local ecosystems. We need to convince farmers adapt appropriate farming systems in rain-fed agriculture.

Another issue is the appropriateness of usage of chemical fertilizers vis-à-vis compost as soil moisture is a constraint in rain-fed areas. These soils are fragile and compost improves moisture retention & fertility. Can we think afresh for incentivizing farmers to make compost and enrich their soils as opposed to subsidizing fertilizers, the benefit of which is mostly taken by the irrigated farmers? This is a mindset & systems issue as we never considered this.

Research done by national & international agencies clearly demonstrate that small farmers in India do not get and cannot access agricultural advisories. Our existing agricultural insurance programs need a relook and also popularization. Out-of-the-box solutions are called for again.

Another constraint is the marketing & price discovery of agricultural produce. Typically most farmers get about 12% of what consumer pays. Can we double this in two-three years? This then will be the proof that we really care for the farmers’ who feed the Nation.

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