Agriculture is in the news today mainly because of the economic problems faced by farmers and also the occurrence of suicides among farmers. Generally the monsoon and the market influence the economic wellbeing of farmers. The monsoon has been erratic may be due to events associated with climate change. The market is also erratic and the recent global negotiations have not provided an answer for the problems faced by farmers in developing countries. It is clear that farmers would like to be assured of remunerative marketing opportunities, if the younger generation is to take to farming as their profession.
WTO and food security
Minister Suresh Prabhu deserves our gratitude for indicating at the ongoing Buenos Aires meeting of WTO that there can be no compromise on food security. WTO exists for promoting free and fair trade. The term “fair” should include the protection of the livelihood and food security of a majority of our people who depend on farming for their livelihood. This is why even in 1992, I suggested that there should be a livelihood and food security box which takes into cognizance the fact that agriculture in many developing countries including India is not just a commercial enterprise but it is the backbone of the livelihood security system of a large proportion of the population. This difference between a purely commercial activity and serving as a livelihood security profession should be kept in view while dealing with issues like food security reserves, and food security act. In other words, WTO should recognise the support needed for achieving Goal 2 (“End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”) of the sustainable development decade. This should be the basis of the negotiation in agriculture.
The Buenos Aries WTO negotiation have broken down largely because of the attitude of industrialised countries in relation to the policies of India in the field of building up grain reserves and ensuring remunerative support price. The status quo will therefore continue. Just to achieve a compromise solution, we should not agree to conditions which will affect our farming and food security in an adverse manner.
National nutrition mission
Government has approved a National Nutrition Mission with a three year budget of Rs. 9,000 crore. This is government’s response to the widespread malnutrition resulting in children with impaired cognitive abilities. The Nutrition Mission to be successful should be designed on a mission mode with symbiotic interaction among components and with a Mission Director who has the requisite authority coupled with accountability. Earlier Missions were not successful because the concept of the Mission was not fully operationalised. For example the Nutrition Mission should have the following interactive components to make it a success:
Overcoming undernutrition through the effective use of the provisions of the Food Security Act and also taking advantage of the enlarged food basket which includes millets in addition to rice and wheat.
Assuring enough protein intake through increased pulses production and increased consumption of milk and poultry products.
Overcoming the hidden hunger caused by micronutrient malnutrition through the establishment of genetic gardens of biofortified plants.
Ensuring food quality and safety through steps for the adoption of improved post-harvest management.
In addition to the above, there is need within the mission for provision of clean drinking water, sanitation, primary health care and nutrition literacy. Further we must ensure that community hunger fighters well versed in the methods of applying agricultural remedies to nutritional maladies are trained with the help of agriculture universities. The nutrition mission should have proper monitoring tools so that the efficacy of the intervention can be judged. Thus the term mission should not only be in terms of a project title but more importantly in the procedure of implementation through synergy and symbiosis among different components of balanced nutrition.
Drawing lessons from outstanding farm women and men, our prime minster had called for doubling the income of farmers in the next five years. Numerous suggestions are being given on how to achieve this goal. The best way of understanding how to improve income is to learn from very successful and knowledgeable farm men and women. For example, the winners of the Karshakashree award of Malayala Manorama have been able to increase their income several fold. They adopt three dimensional farming involving maximising the benefits of cubic volumes of air and water.
The most recent Karshakashree awardee is Swapna James from Palakkad. She has shown how to adopt successful three dimensional cropping as well as sustainable farming system involving crop-livestock integration. Farmer to farmer learning is the most effective way of disseminating information. Therefore, we should establish farm schools in outstanding farmer’s fields, so that the objective of doubling income is based on achievable and already attained methods of farming. The essential component of the three dimension farming is to get the maximum income from sunlight and soil, without cause to the long term productivity and profitability of the farm.
There is considerable debate going on at present among states, political parties and professionals about the methods of avoiding the burning of rice straw. It is also attracting attention at the legal level. In order to help farmers move away from this practice which is caused by the need to prepare the rice field for sowing wheat on time, it is necessary to create an economic state in not burning the straw.
Market driven alternatives should be demonstrated. There is no policy so far for bio-mass utilisation. The rice bio-park established by MSSRF on behalf of the government of India in Myanmar is a good example of how farmers can have options in our ecologically safe use of the straw, the bran, husk and other parts of the plant. Money spent to prevent farmers from burning straw can be utilised better to demonstrate the value of community owned and managed bio-parks. This will also help to achieve a doubling of farmers’ income during the next five years.
(The writer is an agricultural scientist who led India’s Green Revolution )