The sons of the soil
Nearly 25 per cent of the world's farmers are in India. Two-thirds of India's population of 1.1 billion depend on crop and animal husbandry, forestry and agro-forestry, fisheries (inland and marine) and agro-processing for their livelihood.
The Department of Agriculture and Cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India and the Academic Foundation have rendered valuable service to Indian farmers and farming through this series of 27 volumes on the state of Indian farmers. Nearly 25 per cent of the world's farmers are in India. Two-thirds of India's population of 1.1 billion depend on crop and animal husbandry, forestry and agro-forestry, fisheries (inland and marine) and agro-processing for their livelihood. Consequently, a majority of consumers are also farm families. Producers constitute less than 5 percent of the population in industrialised countries and in debates like the ones relating to genetically modified crops, the viewpoints of producers and consumers are placed one against the other. Also, farming is getting polarised into opposite trends.
Issues at stake
In the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries with about 10 million farming families in all, farming is mainly agri-business, driven by technology, capital and subsidy. The subsidy comes to nearly $1 billion per day. In contrast, nearly 115 million farming families are struggling in India to produce more from diminishing land and water resources, expanding biotic and abiotic stresses and growing weaknesses in essential farm support systems like irrigation water, technology, credit and market.
Agriculture is also becoming a gamble in the market, in addition to remaining a gamble in the monsoon. Technology, training, techno-infrastructure and trade are all crying for attention.
It is in this background that this series is timely. The coverage is comprehensive, beginning with an insightful overview by Yoginder K. Alagh and ending with an analysis of policy and organisational support by G. Thimmaiah and K. Rajan.
The volumes relating to horticulture development, post-harvest management, agricultural marketing and technology generation and intellectual property rights (IPR) issues are particularly relevant to enhancing our agricultural competitiveness in an era of globalised trade. Although, the WTO Agreement in agriculture was adopted at Marrakesh in 1994, practically little has been done to empower our farmwomen and men with knowledge relating to quality management and codex alimentarius standards of food safety.
For enhancing productivity
The productivity of most of our crops is low and the untapped production reservoir even at currently available levels of technology is consequently high. Factor productivity is low and hence the cost of cultivation becomes high. No export subsidies are given in India and the aggregate measure of support given to farm families is very low. Even in the "pro-farmer" Budget of 2005-06, the share of agriculture in the total budget is less than 2 per cent.
A majority of farms are one hectare or less in size. The smaller the farm, the greater is the need for marketable surplus so that the farm families can have access to cash income. Crop insurance is still very weak. Land use boards remain on paper, but they are not equipped to provide proactive advice to farmers on land and water use, based on anticipated meteorological and marketing scenario. No wonder, some farmers particularly in dry farming areas are forced to take the extreme step of committing suicide.
STATE OF THE INDIAN FARMER A Millennium Study (27 volumes + CD-ROM): Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India and Academic Foundation, 4772/23, Bharat Ram Road (23 Ansari Road), Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 16,500 for the set.
Women in agriculture
This year represents the 10th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women and Development, and the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The first among the MDGs is the reduction in the number of persons suffering from hunger and poverty by half by 2015. Unfortunately, India is lagging behind in achieving the goals of both the Beijing Platform for Action and the U.N. MDGs.
The causes for the persistence of gender inequity even in the midst of increasing feminisation of agriculture have been analysed by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) in its first report titled, "Serving Farmers and Saving Farming" submitted to the Government of India in December 2004. The lack of title to land makes it difficult for women farmers to access institutional credit. For example, hardly 5 per cent of women seem to have been issued with Kisan credit cards, out of the many millions to whom such cards have been issued.
Extension and input supply services also do not reach women at the right time and place. Therefore as stressed by the NCF, there is need for a new deal for women in agriculture. The chapters on women in agriculture written by Maithreyi Krishnaraj and Amita Shah provide the analytical framework for designing a new deal for farmwomen, and women agriculture labour.
To enhance the global competitiveness of Indian farmers, a majority of whom are resource poor, they need to be assisted to improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of their farming systems through appropriate packages of technology, input supply services and public policies in the areas of land reform, irrigation, rural infrastructure development, input and output pricing and marketing.
Employment opportunities are getting reduced in the organised sector. Agriculture and rural professions alone can help us to promote job-led economic growth. This will call for a paradigm shift from unskilled to skilled work among landless agricultural labour. There is also need for conferring the power of scale to small producers both in the production and post-harvest phases of farming through appropriate structures for group work such as cooperatives and self-help groups.
The chapter "Co-operatives in agriculture" by Samar K. Datta provides insights into the reasons for the collapse of the cooperative movement except in a few areas like dairying.
The self-help group movement now being supported by the Central and the State Governments as a method of promoting remunerative self-employment through micro-enterprises supported by micro-credit, will be sustainable in the long term only if it is supported by backward linkages to technology and credit, and forward linkages with management and markets.
We owe a deep debt of gratitude to the various authors of the different volumes and to the Academic Foundation for designing the 27 volumes in a user-friendly manner. A CD-ROM and a comprehensive index add to the value of this important series of books.
It is now widely recognised that the slogan, "Jai Kisan" should not remain an empty one. Our farmwomen and men are in distress. Numerous technology missions are in existence, but they are not structured on the basis of measurable impact indicators.
Freedom from hunger
There is no accountability on the part of those who are implementing such missions in agriculture. They lack, what the Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram called for in his budget speech, a satisfactory relationship between outlay and outcome. This is why the NCF has proposed the formation of a Federation of Farm Technology Missions headed by a farmer-achiever, in order to bring to the farmers in a watershed or the command area of an irrigation project the benefits of all relevant technology missions such as those relating to pulses, oilseeds, milk, horticulture and cotton.
As a single nation, India is the home of the largest number of undernourished children, women and men in the world. The NCF has proposed in its first report an operational strategy for achieving a substantial reduction in endemic, hidden and transient hunger by August 15, 2007, which marks the 60th anniversary of our Independence.
An important component of this strategy is enhancing the productivity of small farms. This can be done easily by addressing problems relating to soil micronutrient deficiencies, water conservation and use, plant protection and post-harvest technology.
I hope the vast knowledge and information contained in this State of the Indian Farmer series will be used to achieve the goal of Mission 2007: a hunger-free India.
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