Having seen my uncle hard at work in a farm and his decision to quit school to till land, I have often felt that popular imagination tends to see farming as an esoteric profession and food production as something that will somehow magically take care of itself.
A young man/woman (who has had secondary education) seems to consider agriculture as far too back-breaking and tedious to be taken up as a career.The Punjab Progressive Agricultural Summit (PPAS) that begins today is welcome and should help change that. At last, a Punjab chief minister has thought it fit to bring farming to the negotiation table.
The summit is an opportunity to address concerns on labour shortage, encourage greater mechanisation and review the state’s diversification attempt. Another policy that needs to be on the agenda is, including agriculture in our school and college curriculum, and not only in theory. Gardening must be a subject in our schools on an equal footing with languages and science, just as environment studies has caught on.
More than 90% of the landed class does not work on the fields it owns. The cost of deploying other landless people to roll in the mud is pretty low still, here, in our country. It’s worrying that we have been dependent on migrant labour for ages. Increasingly, labour costs are going north and may turn prohibitive within 20 years.
Another issue that puzzles me, or maybe I am ignorant, is that the fact that when we can have state-run banks; why can’t we have state-run agriculture? Ownership of the major production resource, land, is a thorny issue that plagues farming the most.
The state already runs farming with its power to mandate prices and therefore limiting the choice of crop. Most of the market price increase is also gulped by the commission agents.
A major issue is productivity and the Prime Minister’s recent statement calling for informed debate on the feasibility of wider adoption of genetically-modified (GM) crops. The debate seems a bit misplaced as concerns on seed shelf life and cost have not yet been explained properly.
For agriculture, perhaps this analogy can work. Land is like the hardware and the inputs -seeds, labour and power-that go into farming it is the software. The farmer is the key operator and has to get results for optimal production and sustainability.
Punjab has high-quality hardware (land) in most cases, except some of our water-logged saline Kandi areas. However, the software (policies, inputs etc) etc have stagnated.
Most of the state’s farmers have literally still been dabbling in DOS, while the world has moved on to increasingly sophisticated way of doing things.
A software upgrade is in order. Cash crops could be the new future. Awareness needs to be created that agriculture is a far more glamorous activity than any of our urban jobs. Marketing is key. Any B-school, that includes a farmer’s life as a case study, will do great service to the nation.