Sunday, August 31, 2008


Green revolution of sixties seems to have lulled countries like India into a false sense of security and inadequate efforts to achieve incremental production through sustained inputs have led to a situation of food shortages to day. In spite of reams of reports produced by so called experts and specialists, India is sliding into a deeper and deeper abyss especially with regard to oil seeds and pulses. Passing the buck for this tragedy is a national past time and cannot retrieve the situation. Many reasons, some logical and some only excuses, have been attributed to this sorry state of agriculture in the first decade of 21st century. Fragmented land holdings, archaic agri practices, unpredictable rain patterns, interstate water disputes, improper and 'not in time' inputs to the farmers, eternal rural debt burden all play a role in not allowing the country to reap the full potential for food production. Even the massive debt redemption policies
announced in the 2008-09 budget might not improve the situation.

India is a rural country with about 70% of its population concentrated in 5,00,000 and odd villages with very rudimentary infrastructure and low literacy. Though the agricultural production has increased considerably, the net per capita availability of all foods except milk and sugar has been declining due to faster population growth than that in agriculture. Cooperative movement which was successful in the milk sector but failed in other areas could have consolidated fragmented land holdings into viable entities capable of applying modern input intensive technologies but over attachment to land, both sentimentally and for financial security, makes it difficult for the owner-farmers to take up collective farming. The excellent example of the Tibetan refugee settlement in Karnataka in setting up a collective farming system for maize with 5000 acres of land alloted to them is worth following by the indigenous farmers through out the country. If India has a place amongst the top maize productivity countries in the world, it is due to the poineering efforts of these farmers. On the other hand contract farming has taken a root in the country, especially in certain commercial crops, thanks to the processing and export industry. This has established beyond doubt that market pull, ready resource availability at critical time and remunerative prices can still make the farmer produce at levels higher than that presently achieved.

The urban-rural divide is pronounced when it comes to wealth which is concentrated in the towns and cities that make up the urban landscape. Excess wealth in urban areas is invariably invested in many forms expecting highest possible returns. Why not such wealth be directed to the agricultural sector? Why not think of a scenario where viable alliances are forged between urban households and rural folks in agriculture or horticulture by evolving workable models to ensure mutual confidence? There was a time not long ago when private enterprises were soliciting urban customers to support production of rice which is the staple in exchange for regular supply of rice to them at prices significantly less than that prevailing in the market. Insufficient confidence on the private players and operations by some unscrupulous elements did not allow this experiment to succeed. However involvement of big companies backed by government, similar to the banking industry, can revive this concept.

ITC Ltd has shown that organizationally mobilization of farmers can be easily achieved as they have done with wheat and soybean. If this logic is further extended ITC could be allowed to launch schemes that will attract urban funds in exchange of assured delivery of the staples at reasonable prices. For this necessary infrastructure for procurement, processing, storage and distribution will have to be put in place. There can be many companies who may be willing to invest on this model and their investment into active agriculture can be beneficial to the farmers as well as the urban consumers. There are models else where in the world involving urban dwellers even investing their spare time, besides capital for production of vegetables and fruits in the suburban areas nearby in return for a share of the crops for their self consumption. The concept will have to be worked out further to evolve a model that can have most chances of success under Indian conditions.


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