The country’s most famous agriculture scientist Dr MS Swaminathan is no stranger to Punjab. Known as the ‘Father of Green Revolution’, he was the driving force behind the transformation of Punjab and Haryana into the food bowl of the country. He is also credited with the shift in focus from farm to farmers.
The octogenarian Padma Vibhushan awardee is in Chandigarh to attend the 64th convocation of Panjab University, which is honouring him with an honorary doctorate degree. HT special correspondent Gurpreet Singh Nibber caught up with Dr Swaminathan at a media interaction at the botany department in the varsity. Excerpts
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Indian agriculture today?
A: It is important to ensure people stay on in agriculture as only when people adopt it as profitable venture, will we be able fulfill the needs of country’s population, turning 150 crore very soon. I submitted a report, the Swaminathan Commission report, on this in 2007, suggesting the idea of a fixed profit.
Q: What is the essence of the Swaminathan Commission report?
A: In 2004, for the first-time, a national commission for farmers was set up. Before that we had just been talking about agriculture. The report was tabled in Parliament in 2007 and got the government to shift attention from farm yield to farmers’ profit. The report gave suggestions on procurement, pricing, storage, low interest credit, crop insurance free movement of farm produce across the country and farming technology.
Q: Is it practical for the government to give 50% profit to farmers on input cost?
A: Where there is a will, there’s a way.
Q: Why is the Centre reluctant to implement the recommendations?
A: The government feels that giving 50% profit to farmers would increase food cost. In our country, 60% of the population is dependent on agriculture. By giving them profit, the major chunk of population can be made prosperous. In a democracy, we should look at the interest of the majority population. For inclusive growth, we have to address the issue of inequality towards farmers. When all other businesses have the motive of profit, why not in agriculture?
Q: Agriculture productivity in Punjab has reached a plateau. Can we break this logjam?
A: We can have an evergreen revolution, but there is a need to integrate the principles of ecology with agriculture. We need to save soil and subsoil water. Genetically modified crops also need to be adopted for higher yields.
Q: Can Punjab get out of wheat-paddy cycle?
A: Punjab should not give up growing wheat and paddy because it is the country’s requirement.
Q: What needs to be done to rejuvenate agriculture in the green revolution states?
A: By following three-year crop rotation in Rabi and Kharif seasons. In rabi - two years of wheat must be followed by growing green fodder in the third to help rejuvenate soils. Similarly, in the Kharif season, farmers must grow paddy for two seasons and leguminous crop in the third season.
Q: Your views on free power to the farmers in Punjab. What kind of subsidy should be given to farmers?
A: Farmers in Punjab want good and dependable power and not free power. Farmers should get nutrient based subsidy so as to help rejuvenate soil.
Q: Your take on agriculture research in India.
A: There is a need for close cooperation between scientists and farmers. Research needs to anticipate what’s coming, to an extent. In future, climate change is going to be major issue. I feel that the research in the field on agriculture is not satisfactory and budgetary provisions for research need to be increased. Agriculture will shape country’s future.
Q: Your views on the Shanta Kumar committee report on unbundling of the Food Corporation of India, which has suggested minimising the role of food grain procurement.
A: The recommendations need to be debated.
Q: What is your take on the Centre’s land acquisition amendment bill.
A: The country’s food security will be in danger, if fertile land is acquired. Land acquisition for some purposes such as defence is inevitable. However, the acquisition has to be with farmers’ consultation and they should know that it is for a good cause.