If special export zones or special economic zones (SEZs) can be set up for promoting manufacturing and services sectors, why not special agricultural zones (SAZs) for the crisis-ridden farm sector to boost food production, asks renowned scientist MS Swaminathan.
The million dollar question was raised Thursday by the father of the first green revolution in India decades ago, at the ongoing 95th Indian Science Congress (ISC) in this port city.
"Let the centre take the initiative to set up such SAZs in partnership with state governments, especially in the distressed states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala where hundreds of farmers have committed suicide due to debt burden and poor returns from low-yields.
"There is an urgent need for integrated development in the farm sector. The government should make a beginning to develop SAZs in the 33 drought-prone districts identified in these states," Swaminathan told IANS on the sidelines of the five-day event.
Explaining the agrarian crisis gripping the country and the growing income disparity between the rural and urban populace, Swaminathan said he was saddened by the plight of the present-day farmers, particularly small and marginal ones, holding an acre or two of land, mostly in un-irrigated areas.
"Unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, when the first green revolution was ushered in, present generation farmers are a pessimist lot. They are cynical and diffident about the way politicians and governments deal with them. They are no longer enthused to take to farming seriously.
"When the first green revolution was launched, it was carried out like a symphony in unison by scientists, policy makers, state agriculture departments, marketing agencies and farmers.
"Over the years, with the monstrous growth of the administration and multiple ministries handling farm issues at the centre and state levels, the delivery mechanism has collapsed. As a result, implementation of various agricultural policies remained on paper," Swaminathan lamented.
On the prospect of ushering in a second green revolution as advocated by the prime minister in his Science Congress inaugural address Thursday, Swaminathan said more than technology and government support, there was a need to empower panchayats and to give greater importance to women in farming activities.
"The integrated approach towards setting up SAZs should not only include all farm-related schemes, but also panchayats and women members. They must be empowered to decide which crop to grow, what seeds to use, whether they should take to organic farming or use chemicals, whom to sell to and at what price.
"On the government side, its administrative machinery should provide services, techno-infrastructure and access to market, while scientists and agricultural universities should step in with technology and tools," he said.
The National Farmers' Commission chairman feels SAZs will help bring about a revolution in small farm management, with national and state-level land use advisory services based on meteorological, ecological and marketing factors.
"As in the case of exporters and industries, we need to encourage farmers to grow more by offering incentives such as smart cards to those who sell their produce to the government, vital inputs to go in for multiple or diverse crops and direct access to markets without middlemen so as to make them a part of the inclusive growth process," said Swaminathan, a 1971 Ramon Magasaysay award winner.
In the context of climate change and global warming, the Rajya Sabha member favoured organic farming and green agriculture with integrated pest management, nutrient supply and natural resource management to herald an "evergreen revolution" in the Indian farming sector.
"While the contribution of manufacturing and services to the GDP growth is laudable, it is still the farm sector that provides the largest employment in the sub-continent. About 640 million people across the countryside depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
"Jobless growth in the industry and stagnant farm growth will lead to social unrest, as witnessed in many states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh where Maoists are spreading their tentacles.
"What will these rural people do when they are away from their farmlands during the off-season in the absence of jobs or alternative livelihood? Agricultural crisis will force the farmers to sell their lands to industries and migrate to cities, creating slums and severe stress on civic amenities," Swaminathan said.