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Cover Story
 

Ignored then, ignored now!
Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, father of the green revolution, writes on how for decades, Indian farmers have suffered from lack of reforms in the agricultural sector
Issue Date - 16/02/2012
 
Since 1992, many restrictions which were called control Raj, permit Raj and many more have been removed due to liberalisation. This was a big change as compared to the days of 1982. But sadly, even liberalisation didn’t impact much our agricultural sector or the lives of our poor farmers.

We have over 110 million farming families in India, which means that 25% of the world’s farm families live in our country. The problem is that even today, we have the largest number of family farms – which is not a modern model. China on the other hand, has a much improved model which is, farms there are socially owned.

Most of the poor Indian farmers only have access to local markets. Except for plantation crops like coffee, tea, pepper and rubber, which are grown in the states of Kerela, Assam and a few others, what you’d generally notice is that farmers in our country, despite the initiatives that the government has announced since the early 1980s, do not have access to markets beyond their local borders. There is lack of education too [and you can blame the government for this]. For example, our farmers are not interested in future trading. They are interested only in OTC trading. The problem is that they are so cash-strapped that they need money on the very day they sell their crops. So, despite globalisation and liberalisation, agriculture is one sector, where I still don’t see a very excited participation from foreign companies and MNCs. Getting them to invest in our agriculture sector will not only improve problems at the grassroots but will also encourage huge investments in agricultural research (something which companies like Mosanto and Cargill are doing).

The question is – what’s the most visible sign that matters in the agriculture sector has not improved in the past three decades? Farmers suicides are there to be seen and heard by one and all. Why haven’t the count of farmer suicides fallen in all these years?

Really, nothing much has happened since the early-80s. So what must the government do? There are three factors to be taken care of – and something which I hope the government does in the very next budget. These three factors are – cost, risk and return. Until even the past decade, Indian farmers used to buy their seeds from their own meager savings. These were stored in their own houses. But with the advent of hybrid seeds, the farmers simply lost out. Their poor lot had to depend on the companies which would charge them exorbitant sums for seeds of corn, jowar, cotton et al. [Experts suggest that farmers using GM seeds promoted by Cargill and Monsanto have led to rising debts and forced some into the equivalent of indentured servitude to the moneylenders.] Even today, Indian farmers have to rush to moneylenders to borrow funds to buy crops. Then there is another problem. These farmers’ crops are not insured. If rains fail, it is the farmer who suffers. [Even eight years back, I had recommended that companies selling seeds should provide insurance to the farmers.] In short, what has happened right from the early 1980s, to the 1990s and till this very date is that with inflation, the cost has been on a rise in the agricultural sector, the risks of the farmers are not being covered adequately and finally, returns are not guaranteed, because the farmers are not ready for the commodity market still.

 
Yes, some state governments do a bit for farmers by buying rice and wheat at minimum support prices (and not at fair prices) – but note that we are only talking about two crops and only a few states like Punjab, Haryana, Andhra and a few other.

You ask me on what I feel about the chances of matters in agriculture improving over the next decade? I say, first look at the tonnes of grains that go waste and rot due to the lack of proper infrastructure. As for the farmers, they hope that Union budgets in future give them a reason to smile, and support their cause. It hasn’t happened still though.
K. S. Narayanan           

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