Can next gen­er­a­tion of In­dian farm­ers en­sure food se­cu­rity?

Prof. Chan­der Sab­har­wal writes on the per­sist­ing chal­lenges in front of India’s food se­cu­rity and the new schemes and pro­gramme which can give a turnaround to the agri­cul­ture sec­tor

Rural & Marketing - - CONTENT - Prof CK Sab­har­wal MD, Crop Health Prod­ucts

Dur­ing a re­cent jour­ney break in the Terai re­gion of west­ern Ut­tar Pradesh, I had an op­por­tu­nity to talk to a group of farm­ers, all aged and wise men, perched on char­poys, out­side a vil­lage ham­let. Talk­ing in Hindi, the farm­ers were rue­ful of the fact that they were a lonely lot. "We worked hard to ed­u­cate our sons, and they do not want to en­ter our fields, much less carry on farm­ing for them­selves and their fam­i­lies ". There was a cho­rus of agree­ment all round. "Yes, my son would like to open a shop in Ka­shipur nearby and wants money", stated one old farmer, smok­ing a bidi." Kis­han, my son has started to work in Bi­laspur in a Trac­tor work shop". In­ter­jected one Sar­darji", my son too has gone to Delhi look­ing for work. He wants to set­tle there. I am think­ing se­ri­ously of sell­ing my land, now that the new High­way com­ing up, is mak­ing land prices go up".

An­other mid­dle-aged dhoti clad farmer in­ter­rupted " my bhahu be­longs to a city fam­ily and is af­ter my son to mi­grate. Who will then, look af­ter the fasal (crop), the an­i­mals and our land? He is ask­ing me to sell off a por­tion of our land, not that we have more than few bighas!". "Babu, he said to me," kheti to khatam hi samjho ab " na to kuch bachta hain, na hi hamere ba­choan mein dam hai kheti karne ka. Unko chaiyiye paisa jaldi se ...." There was nod­ding of heads - Sabko bat­wara karna hai za­meen ka" (Agri­cul­ture is not a prof­itable and is dis­ap­pear­ing and ev­ery son wants par­ti­tion of the land to ob­tain his share of fam­ily prop­erty"! MS Swami­nathan Farm­ers Com­mis­sion re­port says 2000 farm­ers are mov­ing away from cul­ti­va­tion ev­ery day, while ru­ral youth con­sti­tutes only about 19 per­cent of the farm­ing com­mu­nity!

The plight

Where have all the farm­ers gone? Where are the farm­ers of to­mor­row? Who will be called our Sons of the Soil? Gone to towns

every­one - is the writ­ing on the wall! Gone to ex­plore their own destiny and find their iden­tity? Even the girls and women are fol­low­ing the suit. A na­tion­wide farm sur­vey by CSIS re­ported that, 62 per­cent of the youth in ru­ral ar­eas, did not want to take up farm­ing since it was un­prof­itable and, that, there were bet­ter op­tions that would give higher earn­ings and im­proved qual­ity of life. The 83 per­cent of farm­ers own less than 2 hectare of arable land. Even with best prac­tices, given the va­garies of na­ture and mon­soon, these farm­ers can­not sub­sist on crop in­come alone. Statis­tics state that small farm­ers earn Rs 6240.00 per month from agri­cul­ture. This is a non- sus­tain­able busi­ness model, one of di­min­ish­ing re­turns, with in­put costs go­ing up and mar­ket prices eroded by mid­dle­men. No won­der non-farm in­come is in­creas­ing, be­ing 55 per­cent of to­tal ru­ral in­come, at this time. Farm­ers in the hilly States are even worse off. De­mo­graphic change is ev­i­dent, but is there any div­i­dend at the bot­tom of the Pyra­mid? Or are we fac­ing a back lash? The an­swers, dear read­ers, are blow­ing’ in the wind.!

In Hald­wani, Ut­taran­chal, farm­ers were sell­ing pota­toes for Rs 1/kg, when in re­tail the con­sumer price is well over Rs 30/kg. Toma­toes in Ma­ha­rash­tra man­dis, were fac­ing a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. The ‘Aar­tias’ and com­mis­sion agents, Shroffs, whole­sellers, and Mandi agents have the thick slice of the food chain, well in their grasp and con­trol. Cold stor­ages are full and ex­pen­sive to rent, post-har­vest losses are huge; mar­ginal farm­ers have no stay­ing power, ru­ral in­debt­ed­ness be­ing a his­tor­i­cal curse. Seeds, pes­ti­cides, fer­tilis­ers and ma­chin­ery- all cost a pile. Wa­ter ta­ble is dwin­dling and tanks run dry! Drip fer­ti­ga­tion is a far cry. What are the farm­ers to do? They are open to ex­ploita­tion by mid­dle­men, fur­ther bur­dened by be­ing left alone to man­age agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tions. And they have to re­pay loans, bor­rowed at in­ter­est rates as high as 3-4 per­cent per month. If they do not get sur­plus in­come, they must re­pay the com­mis­sion agents, with their crop produce or fam­ily as­sets. And so, in de­spair, they set­tle in the evening af­ter a hard days work, to drink a glass of coun­try liquor and play cards, with vil­lage folk, re­signed to their fate, and woe the re­oc­cur­ring se­quence of events, year, af­ter year!

It is an un­der­stand­ing of the above sit­u­a­tion, that has made Prime Min­is­ter raise the pol­icy ob­jec­tive of "Dou­bling farm­ers in­come by 2022" ac­com­pa­nied by seven en­ablers, for stake­hold­ers to en­gage with. A lofty tar­get in­deed!

Tech­no­log­i­cal Ad­vance­ments

Thus, a change in think­ing at all lev­els, is needed for the re­defin­ing of agri­cul­tural prac­tice. Fu­ture ru­ral plans must cre­ate new em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, and PPP should im­ple­ment new Agribusi­ness mod­els, that fos­ter and en­able in­clu­sive growth with farm­ing and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Un­der­stand­ing and adopt­ing mod­ern new tech­nolo­gies for farm­ing is the fu­ture driver of ru­ral growth. These in­clude ver­ti­cal farms, aero­pon­ics, aquapon­ics, sen­sors, use of satel­lites and drones for in­for­ma­tion and crop map­ping and fu­tur­is­tic mech­a­ni­sa­tion in farm­ing, an­i­mal hus­bandry, poul­try, fish­eries, aqua­cul­ture, and dairy farm­ing. Wa­ter man­age­ment con­tin­ues to be the pri­or­ity, as does drip ir­ri­ga­tion, fer­ti­ga­tion, use of hy­brid seeds, and GM non­food

crops. Mar­ket link­ages with e-NAM and e-Mandi plat­forms based on fast in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity en­sured by ef­fi­cient ser­vice providers, is the fu­ture cen­tral hub of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and sup­ply chain. Gov­ern­ment would need to re­visit the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing sub­si­dies and min­i­mum sup­port pric­ing poli­cies, for crops. The re­vamp­ing of ware­hous­ing and cold stor­age in­fra­struc­ture, us­ing new tech­nolo­gies, is al­ready a na­tional ob­jec­tive. The sup­port of agribusi­ness clus­ters would pro­vide nec­es­sary boost to in­vest­ment, em­ploy­ment and de­vel­op­ment of small towns. These ac­tiv­i­ties would re­sult in in­te­grated and con­nected Agri­cul­ture - the fu­ture de­liv­er­able for ru­ral India.

A care­ful read­ing of the fore­go­ing will re­veal that agribusi­ness en­trepreneur­ship can be the ini­tia­tive, that can at­tract the next gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers, who are tech­nol­ogy driven, and can be trained to make agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tions prof­itable. Many pilot projects and schemes to pro­mote en­trepreneur­ship are al­ready im­ple­mented by the gov­ern­ment.

Agri en­trepreneur­ship

Na­tional Agri­cul­ture In­no­va­tion Fund (NAIF), Agri-clinic and Agri Busi­ness Cen­ter Scheme (ACABC), are GOI, ini­tia­tives to build en­trepreneur­ship. 22 Agri-tech in­cu­ba­tors were set up un­der the scheme. This scheme needs a shot in the arm through con­tin­ued World Bank sup­port. NAIP scheme sup­ports projects picked up by the en­trepreneurs for com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion. NASSCOM Cen­ter-of-Ex­cel­lence – is a Kar­nataka Gov­ern­ment’s foray lever­ag­ing In­ter­net of Things. TheT Cen­ter can in­cu­bate about 505 start ups in Agri­cul­ture per year.y Many univer­sity led private in­cu­ba­tors un­der IIMs and IITs are func­tion­ingf as well. NABARD is play­ingp a piv­otal role by pro­vid­ing fund­ingf and mar­ket­ing sup­port. Min­istryM of MSME and Min­istry ofo Labour have var­i­ous schemes tot fos­ter Agri en­trepreneur­ship. A new breed of farm­ers must, there­fore,t emerge and evolve into Agri en­trepreneurs. Na­tional SkillS Build­ing pro­grammes should aima to align their pro­grammes too de­liver re­quired in­puts. Smart cities and towns need to in­te­grate with dig­i­tal and pre­ci­sion farm­ing busi­ness mod­els.

To over­come the drag of frag­mented land hold­ings, Farmer Pro­duc­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tions in­fra­struc­ture, now about 868 in num­bers, may be ex­panded to be the ful­crum of farm ser­vices, such as soil health, in­sur­ance and ru­ral credit, through e-gov­er­nance chan­nels. Mem­ber farm­ers re­main own­ers of their land, but may avail ben­e­fits of mod­ern Agri ser­vices through the FPO. The new gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers, need to be con­vinced to join FPO, un­dergo train­ing in skill build­ing and adopt new tech­nol­ogy based on Agribusi­ness man­age­ment. e-Mar­kets must pitch in to bridge gaps in food sup­ply chain, so that by re­duc­tion of mid­dle­men, the mar­gins thus saved, can ac­crue to the farm­ing busi­ness,

We must change the way we look at fu­ture agri­cul­ture. We must work to make this sec­tor prof­itable and al­lur­ing to the emerg­ing ru­ral youth. We must through public and private part­ner­ships, cre­ate a crit­i­cal min­i­mum mass of change through tech­nol­ogy adop­tion, such that a mul­ti­plier ef­fect re­sults. Our Prime Min­is­ter has tried to “Bell the Cat!”. But com­pli­ance mode of ac­tions will not make any sub­stan­tial impact. The so­lu­tion lies in craft­ing in­no­va­tive ways to make Agri­cul­ture prof­itable through im­ple­men­ta­tion of New Busi­ness Mod­els, well sup­ported at var­i­ous lev­els, by In­sti­tu­tions, Banks and Re­search bod­ies. Ru­ral youth must look at Agribusi­ness as a favoured choice and en­trepreneur­ship as the pre­ferred roadmap!

(The au­thor is the direc­tor of Crop Health Prod­ucts Ltd, and se­nior pro­fes­sor of Ru­ral Mar­ket­ing. The views are au­thor’s own)

Govt. would need to re­visit the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing sub­si­dies & min­i­mum sup­port price for crops. The re­vamp­ing of ware­hous­ing and cold stor­age in­fra­struc­ture, us­ing new tech­nolo­gies, is al­ready a na­tional ob­jec­tive

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