Sow some optimism
In recent years, the agrarian crisis has been largely discussed and described in terms of farmer’s suicides. Obviously, this is a serious issue and merits very careful consideration and appropriate remedial action, considering the fact that agriculture is the main life giving profession of humankind. Although this matter rightly attracts attention, we need to go into greater depth on the problems being faced by farming communities in our country. I suggest a 10-point action plan to reverse with trend of decline in the productivity of major crops.

* Government should implement without further delay the recommendations of the National Commission on farmers on procurement and pricing. As is well known NCF has suggested a purchase price of C2 plus 50 per cent. This will give farmers not only reasonable income, but also rescue them from the poverty trap in which they are caught.
* Support prices are announced for crops like pulses and oilseeds where we are currently surviving on imports. However, the support price does not reach the small farmers since there is no proper arrangement for procurement. Last year we celebrated the International Year of Pulses but we hardly took action on enhancing the productivity and profitability of pulses. This deficiency should be overcome.
* As a result of MGNREGA, there is acute labour shortage at critical times in farm operations. This, therefore, provides an opportunity for introducing relevant mechanisation. Our policy towards mechanisation should not be the labour displacement but on enhancing the efficiency of labour.
* Although women constitute more than 50 per cent of the work force, there is inadequate support to them particularly with reference to access to credit. This is because they lack land rights. Ownership of land between men and women should be on a joint patta basis so that both are able to get credit. There is also need for technological empowerment of women in farming.
* There are many departments of government serving agriculture but there is need for coordination and concurrent action in areas like soil health care, irrigation, post-harvest operation, storage and pricing and marketing.
* Import-export policies should be pro-small farmers. At the moment, imports have been made in various commodities including natural rubber. Depressing local prices and dissuading procurement agencies from purchasing the produce at a remunerative price.
* There is need for group action by farmers in areas like pest and water management either through cooperatives or through self help groups. This will give them the power of scale.
* Enhancement of the income of farmers through crop — livestock integration and mixed farming. Also there is lot of opportunity for value addition to biomass. For this purpose, bioparks can be set up which will help to add value to every part of the biomass.
* The infrastructure and the input needs of animal enterprises like fodder and feed are crying for attention. The ownership of farm animals is much more egalitarian than the ownership of land. Therefore, attention to animal husbandry and fisheries will help the economically disadvantage sections of the rural society.
* R&D work in relation to adaptation to climate change is fragmented and inadequate. While we pay attention to problems like drought, floods and extreme temperatures, the possibility of a rise in sea level is not attended to. Sea water constitutes 97 per cent of the total water availability in our planet. There is need for more attention to sea water farming as well as below sea level farming. Local level climate risk managers should be trained for the purpose of anticipatory action to overcome the challenges of droughts and floods as well as high temperature. High temperature will reduce the duration of the crop. In particular the wheat crop will suffer if the mean temperature goes up by 1 to 2 degree centigrade.
While the above are areas which need urgent and integrated attention, the monsoon and the market are priority areas with reference to both research and extension action. Sea level rise will cause major problem to cities like Mumbai where large numbers live near the coast. We should avoid a situation where as a result of sea level rise, climate refugees will have to be found alternative accommodation. Sea level rise arising from global warming is no longer a possibility. Between 1948 and 2003, sea level rose by 11.3 cm. From 2003, the rate of increase has gone up. It is anticipated that sea level around Mumbai may go up by 40 cm by 2100.
Finally, we should take greater interest in eliminating hunger and malnutrition in our country. For example, even districts like Thane, which is very near Mumbai, suffers from the occurrence of unacceptable levels of malnutrition particularly among the large number of tribal families living in this district.
One way of overcoming the prevailing malnutrition is to marry agriculture, nutrition and health. There are large numbers of naturally occurring plants like sweet potato, moringa, amla etc which are rich in micronutrients. Hidden hunger arising from micronutrient deficiencies is one of the serious problems of Thane district. I, therefore, suggest that we should develop a programme for establishing genetic gardens of biofortified plants which can help to mainstream nutrition in the prevailing farming system. Most nutrition maladies can be overcome through agricultural remedies.
(The writer is an agricultural scientist who led India’s Green Revolution)
Columnist: 
M S Swaminathan
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