Punjab agriculture: fresh concerns, forgotten remedies
A "progressive Punjab agriculture summit", scheduled in SAS Nagar from February 16 to 19 is a welcome step.
The event comes close on the heels of an earlier summit on industry. Together, agriculture and industry form a strong fulcrum for Punjab's economic growth and prosperity. However, at present, both are in a grip of crisis; and perhaps unable to face the future challenges/opportunities on their own. It calls for public/private sector intervention for their sustenance. Agriculture and industry have a symbiotic relationship; just as agriculture and rural development do.
From the media reports, it appears that the establishment is keen to find a "way forward" in agriculture from the summit deliberations, which are expected to be wide-ranging but focusing on "diversification" and "saving" the vulnerable farming community/rural people and making "judicious use" of available sources/resources; both being under stress. The summit recommendations, organisers hope, will help draw strategies to jack-up production and productivity, and rejuvenate agriculture, which is showing signs of stagnation and becoming un-remunerative.
Seemingly, the stakeholders fear that if the farm scenario is left unattended, it may result in socio-economic tensions, impinging on law and order with a cascading impact on Punjab's peace and harmony. Given the widening rural-urban gap, any slip up in agriculture could even cause an upheaval among the rural youth, who are unemployed and unemployable and fast falling prey to drug addiction. The urban youth are not any differently placed.
Lest we reinvent the wheel
Over the years, several institutions, administrators, policy-makers, experts, farm economists, and scientists concerned about the future of Punjab, its farmers and farming have churned out numerous reports, suggesting appropriate course correction to put the activity on a sustainable, profitable pedestal.
Waiting for the outcome, as to what "new and different" remedies will emerge from the summit, it is advised to rewind on that litany of reports and recommendations.
At a two-day seminar on, "Future problems and prospects of Punjab agriculture", organised by the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh, in January 2001, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had blamed the "faulty" policies of the Centre and "neglect" of agriculture in five-year plans since Independence for the "sufferings of progressive states such as Punjab". His warning was simple: "revamp" agriculture to avoid farmer's growing frustration. His suggestion to the participants was:
"Recommend practical way outs, especially for the rural youth, whose future is bleak; suggest diversification and value addition; dairying and food processing; and developing cost-effective technologies."
That seminar later came up with "practical" advice, now recorded in the book "Future of Agriculture in Punjab" edited by SS Johl, chancellor of the Central University of Punjab in Bathinda, and SK Ray, former chairman, NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development). What happened thereafter, no one knows.
What about these valuable ideas?
The Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh; Punjab Farmers' Commission; and Punjab Agricultural University have held scores of workshops and published valuable reports for pulling out farmers from the vortex of man-made crisis but the treasure trove remains consigned to the obscure corners of the corridors of administration.
One of the key documents ignored is "Farmers and Farming in Punjab", a 36-page report from the brainstorming session at the PAU in October 1998. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was among the 31 eminent scholars who had participated. It lists 11 specific recommendations. It's been 16 years, and nothing has been heard on the report.
The PAU's Vision-2040 document brought out on its golden jubilee shows the way forward that the Mohali summit organisers are looking for. Besides, the university's "A Saga of Progress: 50 Years of Achievements" again stresses on "course correction and future action".
Economists saw worth in it
"Reviewing Agricultural growth in Punjab" (November 2010) is a report that MS Bajwa, former director of research at PAU, has compiled painstakingly and eminent experts such as MS Swaminathan and RB Singh (then president of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences) have seen value in.
In January 1993, the PAU brought out a booklet, "Future of Agriculture: Challenges and Opportunities", based on MS Randhawa memorial lecture. It discusses many points that Badal had raised at the CRRID seminar in 2001. The concerns that the CM expresses often find a loud echo in the majority of the reports that are in circulation already, and still these remain ignored.
And where is that?
In May 1986, the state government constituted an experts committee led by SS Johl, who came out with the report "Diversification of Agriculture in Punjab". Does anyone know where it is and where is the action taken report, if any? Punjab Farmers' Commission has been tasked yet again with reporting on diversification but how was its conclusion of 2005 ("Agrarian Crisis in Punjab and the Road Ahead") dealt with?
It is not to undermine the mega agriculture summit. The show must go on. However, for the government, there is already enough cud to chew and regurgitate.
The writer is a former state information commissioner of Punjab. Views expressed are personal