Ashok Kumar/OneWorld South Asia
Policy Analyst Devinder Sharma in an interview to OneWorld South Asia has urged the NDA government for providing assured monthly income to the Indian farmers.
Q: How can better incomes be ensured for Indian farmers?
Devinder Sharma: The time for price policy is now over. It is therefore an appropriate time to move to Income Policy. The income that a farmer earns should be de-linked from the price that his crops fetch in the market. The burden of providing cheap food to 1.25 billion people should not be only on the shoulders of farmers. The society too must share the burden.
There is an immediate need to strengthen the network of mandis across the country where farmers are provided with a platform to sell their produce. Leaving it to markets will result in distress sale.
To illustrate, let me take the example of rice farmers in Punjab and Bihar. In Punjab, which has a huge network of mandis linked with roads, farmers bring the produce to these mandis. Last harvest, Punjab farmers got an MSP of Rs 1310 per quintal for paddy. In Bihar, where APMC Act does not operate, farmers resorted to distress sale with prices not exceeding Rs 900 per quintal.
The Commission for Costs and Prices (CACP) is now pressurising Punjab Govt to dismantle the mandis and let markets operate, which means, Punjab farmers will soon go the Bihar way.
Q: Madhya Pradesh is moving from being a state of medium rainfall to being a semi arid state. What impact would it would have on the country’s food security since the state is the second largest producer of wheat?
Sharma: I see no reason why Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh should be cultivating mentha crops, which requires 1.25 lakh litres of water to produce 1 kg of mentha oil. Similarly, I see no reason why Rajasthan, a semi-arid region, should be cultivating water guzzling sugarcane, cotton and rice crops.
Why can't the cropping pattern in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan shift to pulses, oilseeds like mustard and millets? Why can't the government provide special incentives by way of a higher price for these crops so that farmers can willingly shift to more sustainable cropping patterns?
Q: What kind of practices need to be improved so that agriculture’s impact on climate change is reduced?
Sharma: Climate change is certainly going to affect agriculture. But instead of looking at only strategies to lessen the impact on farmers, the focus should also be on limiting the greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices.
Considering that agriculture share in greenhouse gas emissions is about 25 per cent, the thrust must shift to reducing the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in farming. Following the Andhra Pradesh model of non-pesticides management, the cropping pattern, too, needs a revision.
In the dryland regions of the country, for instance, hybrid crops which require almost twice the amount of water than normal crop varieties, are grown.
Common sense tells us that in rainfed regions, which occupy 65 per cent of the cultivable area, crops requiring less water should be grown. But it is just the opposite in reality thereby accentuating the water crisis.
Q: What should be the NDA government’s agenda on agriculture?
Sharma: Indian agriculture is faced with a crisis of sustainability and economic viability. The spate of farmer suicides and the willingness of farmers to quit agriculture if given a choice is a stark reminder of the grave crisis.
The present government should focus on providing a guaranteed assured monthly income to farmers. According to the Arjun Sengupta Committee report, the average monthly income of a farm family is just Rs 2,115. This includes Rs 900 from non-farm activities. About 60 per cent farmers are dependent on MNREGA activities to survive, and an estimated 60 per cent farmers go to bed hungry.
The government should also set up a National Farmers Income Commission which should have the mandate to compute the monthly income of a farm family depending upon his production and the geographical location of the farm.
Moreover, the lack of storage facilities for food grain is appalling. It was in 1979 that under the Save Food Campaign, the government had promised to set up grain silos at 50 places in the country. This should become an agenda with top priority for the government.
The NDA Government should launch a nation-wide campaign to shift farming to non-pesticides management techniques. In Andhra Pradesh, no chemical pesticides are used in 35 lakh acres. Farmers have even stopped using chemical fertilisers in some 20 lakh hectares. These practices led to reduced health expenses resulting in a surge in farm incomes by 45%.