Strengthening family farming in India
Aug 18 2014
In the area of empowerment of family farmers, equal attention should be paid to the women and men in the farm family. Women play a critical role in all aspects of agriculture, but invariably their intellectual role and managerial skills remain unrecognised. The IYFF affords a unique opportunity to engender all agricultural policies and programmes. To provide a new deal to family farmers, we need to attend to the following four areas of importance to sustainable food security and elimination of hunger.
(a) Conservation: Family farmers have been at the forefront of bio-resources conservation. In crops like rice and wheat, they have conserved large numbers of local varieties and land races for public good at personal cost. For example, there are now over 150,000 varieties of rice in the world. Much of this genetic diversity constitutes the contributions of women and men operating small holdings. The conservation ethos of family farmers is based upon criteria such as cultural diversity, culinary diversity, curative diversity and ecosystem diversity. The FAO Treaty emphasises the need to recognise farmers’ rights in the field of genetic resources conservation and enhancement. The government has also introduced an integrated legislation titled Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA) thereby emphasising the need for concurrent attention to breeders’ and farmers’ rights. The PPVFRA of India also confers the genome saviour award on rural and tribal communities who have conserved important genetic material. Similarly, Biodiversity Authority of India has instituted breed saviour awards to recognise and reward the contributions of those who are conserving local breeds of farm animals. We should do everything possible during the IYFF to recognise the contributions of family farmers to genetic resources conservation and strengthen their tradition in the areas of in-situ on-farm conservation as well as ex-situ measures like sacred groves.
(b) Cultivation: Family farmers are usually eco-sensitive and also take steps to adopt low risk agronomy. It is important for small farm families to adopt the evergreen revolution pathway of agriculture improvement, that is, increase in productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm. The smaller the farm, the greater is the need for marketable surplus. Organic farming can also be promoted wherever efficient methods of soil health and plant health management can be developed and introduced.
(c) Consumption: In the area of consumption, there is great opportunity for introducing agricultural and horticultural remedies for the prevailing nutritional maladies. Naturally occurring biofortified crops can be promoted. Greater attention is needed for designing farming systems based on nutrition sensitive agriculture. Our aim should be to make every family farm a biofortified farm. The UN should also declare one of the remaining years of this decade as the international year of underutilised and biofortified crops. A food-based approach should be adopted for overcoming micronutrient malnutrition.
(d) Commerce: Ultimately, farmers’ interest in farming is based on opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing. India made huge progress in agriculture from what was known as a “ship to mouth” existence to the status of conferring the right to food with homegrown food. This was possible because of public procurement at a remunerative price. Unfortunately, there is a controversy in the World Trade Organisation about the support extended to Indian farmers for ensuring the achievement of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a “hunger free India”. Providing family farmers with adequate financial and scientific support to ensure food security should be the bottom line of all food and agriculture policies of developing countries. Food security should remain non-negotiable, specially in countries where more than 50 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. In countries like India, agriculture is a backbone of the rural livelihood security system. This position should be recognised and respected in WTO negotiations. While trade distorting subsidies and support should be discouraged, life saving support should be encouraged.
The zero hunger vision can be converted into reality, provided family farmers are enabled to sustain their livelihoods based on the principles of ecology, economics, equity and employment. Family farms should be enabled to become both climate smart and nutrition sensitive. With increasing pressure of population on land and water resources and prospect of adverse changes in climate, decentralised family farming based on gender and nutrition sensitive agriculture is the pathway for food for all and forever.
(M S Swaminathan is an agricultural scientist who led India’s green revolution)