A pan-political consensus on farmer issues is a must to revive agriculture and farm fortunes, says Prof MS Swaminathan, the father of India’s Green Revolution, who submitted a report on agrarian reforms nine years ago.
This Padmashri and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner is the authority to turn to when the topic involves agriculture and rural affairs. KV Lakshmana of Hindustan Times met the distinguished agronomist for his views on the current agrarian crisis and farmer suicides.
How do you see the untimely rain, hailstorm and an El Nino forecast affecting the farm sector?
The situation is going from bad to worse. There are two reasons: one is bad weather and the other is the market. In West Bengal, farmer suicides are related to low prices of potato. They had a good harvest but the prices crashed to Rs 1. In other parts, rain ruined crops. Weather and the market are the determinants of a farmer’s well-being. Confounding the problem is political infighting. I gave my report in 2006 and nothing seems to have been done.
Is the Swaminathan panel report still relevant?
That has answers to a large number of problems. But politicians are blaming each other. Without a pan-political commitment to addressing farmers’ issues we would not see much progress.
What can be done to tackle the crisis?
There are three ways. First, improve the economics of farming through pricing, procurement and minimum support price. The input costs are high and output costs low. Secondly, ecological conditions of farming have to be improved. Soil health has to be monitored at the panchayat level. Thirdly, young people have to be attracted to farming. They want fixed jobs because they see their parents struggle for a living … and commit suicide.
Do you see the Centre and the Opposition coming together to help ease the crisis?
No. Political parties praise the National Commission on Farmers’ report but will not implement it. Gains of politicians are the aim rather than gains for farmers.
If you were to resubmit your report, what changes would you make?
It covers most of the points. See, it is not my report but it is the farmers’ voice.
Do you see any realistic improvement in the farm sector?
There is no other way. Rahul Gandhi said the future belongs to nations with grains, not guns. We have had good stocks but in another year these will disappear. We cannot buy so much food. This very reason will force the government to attend to farmer problems. There is lip sympathy … they want to give a palliative, such as a lakh of rupees. But life is not like that. It won’t work.
What will work?
We must devise and implement a deficient monsoon management strategy. Special attention should be paid to livestock since the first sign of distress is the sale of farm animals. If we don’t, there will be more suicides. The country of Green Revolution has become a country of deep agrarian crisis.
What reasons do you ascribe to this crisis?
As a scientist I can show how to produce in a cheaper way and efficiently. But the economics of farming is conditioned by public policy. Unless the economics of farming is corrected, revival plans for this sector will become much difficult.
Where is the answer? Is it new farming technique, organic farming or horticulture?
Answers vary from area to area. We have to see how to produce more as well as increase farm incomes. In Myanmar, we are putting a bio-park where the whole paddy plant is used to make value-added products. In India, there is a mismatch between production technology and post-harvest technology. We need a serious plan to increase non-farm employment and income.
What should the Narendra Modi government do to arrest the crisis?
Immediately, they have to overcome the problems of economy and ecology. In the long term, diversified and high-value agriculture, value-added production from every part of a plant, integrated farm and non-farm income are the keys to ensure farmers don’t depend on one source of income.