Double the money
Both the National Policy for Farmers’ and the reports of the National Commission on Farmers have placed great emphasis on the income of farmers. In fact, the National Farmers’ Policy states that we should hereafter measure progress in agriculture by estimating the rise in the net income of farmers and not merely on production advance. Currently, our farming is characterised by the preponderance of small and marginal farmers with very low resource mobilising capacity and with high proneness to the vagaries of the monsoon and the market.
What should we do to improve both income and stability of income? The following roadmap indicates the steps needed to doubling the income.
Assessment of the untapped production reservoir in the five major ecosystems of our country, namely coastal zone, hill zone, arid zone, semi-arid zone and wet zone. These are mega zones which should be divided into precise micro climatic zones as has already been by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and IMD. In each of these zones, the following areas require attention for appropriate technological and public policy interventions.
Soil conservation and enhancement of soil health — soil has been described by Aristotle as “the stomach of the plant”. A healthy soil will have to be studied from the point of view of soil physics, chemistry, microbiology and erodability. A good soil will have abundance of earthworms and soil microorganisms which provide opportunities for vermicompast. Government has already decided to provide farmers with soil health cards. Subsidies also will be hereafter based on nutrients than on the commercial products. If the soil health card programme gains momentum on scientific lines, soil health cannot only be maintained, but improved. The erodability of the soil and hydraulic conductivity need attention. In the area of soil health maintenance and improvement, co-operation with the International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC) will be useful. IFDC has developed slow release fertilisers and other techniques which can prevent ammonia volatalisation and, thereby, avoid contribution to climate change. Neem coated urea will have double advantage namely to supply nutrition and to control soil pests.
In the area of soil health it is important to conserve good soil for agricultural purposes. For this purpose, fertile areas with multiple cropping opportunities should be declared as Special Agricultural Zones. Examples are: Rajasthan Canal Area, Kuttanad Below Sea Level Farming Area and the green revolution granaries of Punjab, Haryana, UP and other States. If good soils are not preserved for agriculture, food security will be endangered.
Combating the unholy triple alliance of pests, pathogens and weed: These take a heavy toll on crop yield. Integrated pest management method with particular emphasis on biological control agents and botanical pesticides should be promoted. Chemical pesticides, particularly with long residual toxicity should be avoided.
Climate change will have to be managed in the context of adverse changes in temperature, precipitation and sea level. Climate change will be a mega calamity if anticipatory action is not taken, both for adaptation and mitigation. Research programmes for climate change mitigation should take the form of anticipatory and participatory research. Steps will also have to be taken to convert scientific know how into field level do how through transilational research. Scientific checkmating of the problems arising from climate change should receive high priority.
Water is becoming the most scarce and, therefore, the most precious input, not only for agriculture, but for domestic needs. Water famines and water wars are predicted. Under these conditions, the national, state and panchayat level water security system should include action on the following lines:
1) The major sources of water are, rain water, river, tanks, reservoirs and wells, sea water. Sea water constitutes 97 per cent of the world’s water resource, hence sea water farming should get high priority in coastal areas. Recycled waste water and other sources such as dew and snow all need to be harnessed and utilised in an integrated manner. Both the enhancement of water availability and demand management through economic water use deserve concurrent attention. In the area of supply management, techniques like drip and sprinkler irrigation should become the most widely adopted method of economic water use. The Jain Irrigation Company could be involved in the development of water use strategies. Crop choices should be based on the likely availability of water including rain fall. Land use planning decisions are also water use decisions and hence land and water use should be looked at
2) Inter basin transfer of water provides an opportunity to maximise benefit from the available water resource. The linking of rivers has been a matter of debate and discussion for decades. It is, however, not easy to transfer waters across international boundaries, as for example the Indus and the Ganga. Therefore, our initial action should be confined to the areas where the water is under our political control. A good beginning point will be the rivers of South India like Krishna, Godhavari, Mahanadhi, Cauvery etc. These rivers are under our national, political control. What is needed is political agreement based upon a win-win situation for all the States participating in the interbasin transfer. Unfortunately, such a political consensus is yet to emerge although political interest in linking rivers is strong.
Agricultural implements and machinery: Our agriculture has suffered due to lack of suitable farm equipment and the needed energy. There is a growing shortage of farm labour at critical time due to alternative opportunities like MGNEREGA. Also women farmers require gender friendly implements. Agricultural mechanisation should not be for labour displacement, but for value addition to labour. Horticulture in particular needs suitable implements and planting machinery. A major thrust will have to be given for farm mechanisation in the design and use of suitable farm implements. The implements must be ecospecific based on soil conditions and cropping cycles. Suitable post harvest machinery and storage structures will also be needed. There is much spoilage of food at the post harvest stage and this should be addressed. Farm mechanisation will also need facilities for repair and maintenance. Hence in the overall strategy for doubling farmers’ income, farm implements and machinery and post-harvest technology should receive a prominent place.
Pricing and procurement: In the matter of pricing and procurement, the recommendation of NCF namely to provide a purchase price of C2 + 50 per cent (that is, total cost of production + 50 per cent) is very important. This will provide small farmers additional income, so very essential in times of drought, floods, heat and other natural calamities.
Doubling the income of farmers is not an unattainable goal. It can be achieved by paying concurrent attention to the maximisation of income from land, water, biodiversity, biomass and supply augmentation and demand management in the case of water. Agriculture will then become not only an instrument of food security, but a major pathway of income and employment generation as well as environment protection.
M S Swaminathan