India is rapidly tansforming itself into a liberal, more efficient and progressive economy. However, this transition in rural India has been painfully slow for majority of farmers, especially, marginal and small ones. They are still unable to escape from the powerful clutches and dependence on middlemen, informal, lenders and other intermediaries.
Agricultural growth ranges between three to four per cent. On the other hand, our farmers have to produce an additional 50 million tonnes of foodgrain to meet the domestic demand over the next 10 years. Sanjeev Chopra, Joint Secretary, Agriculture Ministry & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, in an interview tells how the agricultural growth in India can be a proven route to faster eradication of hunger and poverty and new concept in the area can help farmers move up the economic chain. Excerpts from the interview.
OneWorld South Asia: There have been several attempts by the Central and state governments to improve the lot of farmers through loans and grants schemes, but the results have been disappointing. Is there any solution for converting small and marginal farmers into an engine of economic growth?
Sanjeev Chopra: It is a tragedy that despite 52 per cent Indian population engaged in agriculture, its share in the national income is less than 14 per cent, the land holdings are getting smaller, and the number of small farmers is rising in the Indian agricultural scenario. We need an integrated approach and institutional support in plant nutrition, soil health correction, debt and water management.
Secondly, support from private sector, originating from successful parties can prove a meaningful tool for empowerment of this segment. There is no reason why a farmer should remain poor if private-public partnership is structured in a way that provides a mutually beneficial relationship. The new approach for advancement of small and marginal farmers is now being tested in India and abroad. The concept is an attempt to find a critical entry point for rural development by forging agro-business partnership in which farmers themselves gradually gain ownership, supported by both NGOs and experienced private entrepreneurs.
OWSA: You just said `institutional support’’! What do you mean by this kind of support?
Chopra: There is need to create a concept of value chain in agriculture sector here in India. For this, we need to develop institutional mechanism for strengthening of coordination among various extension agencies and agricultural advisory services at Panchayat level, Department of Agriculture etc.
Secondly, there should be easy credit flows by upgrading the Kisan Credit Card Limit, it will automatically solve 70 to 80 per cent problems but there must be full-proof system. They should also be given soil health card to maintain the soil health and decide on the pattern of crop. Large quantities of food grains, fruits, and vegetables are wasted every year due to lack of post harvest management such as storage, processing and lack of cold storage. Cold chain system will plug the loop holes.
OWSA: What is Government doing for the upliftment of agriculture sector?
Chopra: The government during budget for 2013-14 has proposed a number of measures for sustainable agriculture, a mix of organic farming methods by combining modern technology with traditional farming practices.
This include 22 per cent increase in allocation and same percentage increase for agricultural credit, provision for crop diversification, additional allocations for Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna and food security mission. The provision will empower the small and marginal farmers to adopt new technologies and agriculture more remunerative. Similarly, the incentives have been provided on short term crop loans to farmers who repay their crop loan on time.
OWSA: Has the co-operative movement failed to bring about the desired benefits to farmers? Do you think we have reached a stage where cooperatives have to be tweaked and reworked?
Chopra: We cannot say so. In the cooperative movement, Government should have equity in the cooperative movement and there must be lesser restrictions from the government. Indian Farmers Fertilsiers Cooperatives, Kribhco and Amul are some of the successful examples.
Sanjeev Chopra - IAS (WB:1985) has taken over as Mission Director & Joint Secretary (NHM & NMMI), Department of Agriculture & Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. He has written various articles on agriculture and cold chain India. He has also been the Secretary of the Rural Development, Horticulture, Industry and Co-operation in the Government of Uttarakhand.
Indian agriculture needs an integrated approach