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Don’t do politics with agriculture

While making policies, the government should consider agriculture as an economic activity and focus on reforms which will ensure food security, competitiveness and price realization for farmers in India, says Vijay Sardana, Leading Agri-Food Business & Techno-Legal Expert, in a special interview to SMART AGRIPOST.

Q. What are the major challenges Indian agriculture facing today?

Ans. The biggest challenges for agriculture right now is price realization for farmers and knowledge transfer to farmers to enhance productivity. These are the two biggest issues. Know-how is not just use of pesticides, fertilizers or inputs. This is also related to sustainability and marketing. How farmers should manage their natural resources? How farmers should manage their crops based on the market demand? So, today the knowledge transfer should be linked to the market and need of the society.

Unfortunately, farmers are given virtually limited knowledge about agribusiness i.e. use of seed, pesticide and fertilizer. That’s why today we are finding so many side effects. We should give them the proper knowledge to pick up a suitable variety of seed or a particular taste or a particular colour. We have to link agricultural extension with market needs, only then the farmer will get the commercial benefit of agriculture.

The second point is the weak market linkage. Today, the problem is that farmer is going to trader and trader is going to market and the presence of trader in between is becoming a bottleneck for knowledge transfer. Because the farmer is not knowing what is demanded by the consumer. If the farmer is not aware of what is demanded by the consumer, he will continue to do what he has been doing so far, which is his experience, his comfort area. Unless we connect the farmer to consumer, he will not be able to understand consumer requirements. He will always be at the mercy of middleman and trader. So if the government wants farmers’ income to go up, they should find out ways how to connect farmers with consumers. Otherwise, farmers will continue to follow the outdated trends and will never get premium for their efforts and the country and society will continue to suffer.

Q. Government has brought market reforms, started eNAM and amended the APMC Act. Do you think the situation has improved?

Ans. Instead of bringing eNAM or other new and untested things, you have to give direct participation of farmers into APMC. For example, what government should do that all state governments should pass a rule that 50% of shops of APMC should be given to farmer organizations? So that when the consumer or buyer goes to Mandi, he has the option to choose between a trader and a farmer. The farmer will decide how to deal with customer and customer will also tell what he is looking for. Then farmers can plan their agriculture for the coming season accordingly. This will give a level playing field to the farmers and better bargaining power as well.

Creating a separate market like eNAM and other things are like annexures. This will never benefit farmers because neither consumer nor farmer is e-savvy. So it is just a myth that electronic format will benefit farmers without proper infrastructure, financial and policy support.

So my way of looking at it is that, if the government is serious, please give equal participation of farmers into existing established APMC mandis. If the government is not willing to do this, it means the government is not serious about farmers’ role in economy and farmers income. Governments and political parties in power can do the same within existing laws.

 Q. Should the Government repeal the APMC Act? 

Ans. I feel it should be gradual, to start with increase farmers’ participation in APMC mandies. Because if you remove the APMC Act, farmers do not have experience of crop marketing. Existing mandies are important because they will learn fast, they will sit next to the trader and they will learn the tricks of the trade from the traders. After 5 years, remove APMC Act but for that announce road map today itself.

Q. Do you think we should categorize agriculture based on cropping pattern instead of the agro-climatic zone? 

Ans. There is a challenge in that. The challenge is that the crop grows once a year. For example paddy. What will they (farmers) do after the crop is harvested? The cropping pattern depends on agro-climatic conditions. So I differ in that approach, I think the agro-climatic zone is a better option because you have to look at 365 days crop cycle. You cannot plan for just one crop. Then what will farmers’ do with the second crop, then you need a separate Mandi, separate infrastructure? I don’t think it is logical.

Q. In the last budget, Government announced Zero Budget Natural Farming and creation of 10000 FPOs, among other things. Where is your view in this regard?

Ans. Farmers have to look everything from a business point of view. Government looks at everything from politics and policy point of view. Consider agriculture as an economic activity for rural India, but too much political considerations will kill competitiveness of Indian agriculture.

As far as zero budget agriculture is concerned, it may be good for soil but what about food security of the country?

Second, agriculture in India is required for food security. So point is, will zero budget agriculture give you food security? Maybe a farmer is not buying any input. At the same time India is importing a huge quantity of food. What is the logic? So you have to take a holistic view. My only request to the policymakers including politicians is please don’t do politics with agriculture. You will make India food insecure and farmers poor. You may be saving on seeds, pesticide and fertilizer but you will be spending billions of dollars on importing food. Then what will happen, is this good for India? Seriously think why we are importing so much edible oil and on the other side wheat and rice is rotting in godowns. This is the outcome of politics with short-sighted approach.

Q. What about soil health…

Ans. Without good soil health we can’t ensure food security. My point is to find out the fault in the existing system and fix it. After all, around the world, people are growing food and they are growing it sustainably with higher productivity than India. Why can’t we do that? Why can’t we improve our agriculture practices by learning from other countries and their experiences, instead of simply saying that everything with modern technology is bad and discard them.

Q. Government is now focusing more on the income of farmers. What is your view in this regards? 

Ans. I am very positive on it. Agriculture will become a mainstay for providing a lot of raw material to industries. About 5000 types of industries depend on agriculture as a source of raw material. Agriculture is not just-food. You have rubbers, you have chemicals, and you have a whole lot of fibres and so many things. So agriculture gives you lots of raw material for industrial application, for example the whole plywood industry, textile industry, rubber industry, food industry, paper industry, livestock industry, now even health and wellness industry, tourism industry, etc.

If you do not focus on enhancing productivity with rising demand, then what will happen? If you are not increasing the productivity of, for example, wheat or rice or maze or oilseeds, but demand in-country is going up, then we will have financial crisis.Today we are importing, for example, oil, tomorrow you will import plywood, then rubber, then spices, then tea, coffee, wheat, rice, maize, chicken, meat..etc. If we start importing everything to meet our food security because we are not producing for our requirement. What will happen to our foreign policy and industrial policy? Please keep in mind, history says food security crisis leads to fragmentation of nations.

I will be very happy to do zero budget agriculture in Australia or Canada or America or Latin America or in Africa where population density is very low, but in countries like India and China or Japan, I don’t think zero budget agriculture can ensure food security for India. This is a serious policy issue.

Q. Then, how will farmers get a better price?

Ans. The point to consider is whether the consumer is paying less than MSP or higher than MSP? The fact is consumer is always paying higher than MSP. Farmers are not getting even MSP, they are getting much less than MSP. Problem is how to solve this inefficiency? If our system is inefficient, we have to improve the system. What we are doing is instead of improving our way of working, we are protecting a bad system. Reason is, in India agriculture is a political activity, we have not looked at agriculture as an economic activity. That is why all policies are based on political considerations, not based on market and economic considerations. This is sad for India. India will have serious food security problems down the line 10 years. Early signs are visible.

Q. What are your expectations from budget 2020? What are your suggestions?

Ans. First, whatever you do there must have economic justification. Second, focus should be on improving food security in India. Third, how to make India cost-competitive when it comes to the production of raw materials for industry. Otherwise, we will not be able to export. So, focus should be given on cost competitiveness, food security and reforms based on economic consideration, not political consideration.

In the end, I will say agriculture and livestock are the most crucial strategic sectors for India, for its food security, economic growth, investment, trade, employment,sovereignty and national security. Don’t do politics when it comes to agriculture. Plan for it seriously and properly.

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