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Indian farmers are a diversified lot, a lot more than the immense diversity of our vast country. There are rich farmers, with varied interests, and large land holdings 50 acres +, medium level farmers with 10-15 acres land holdings, small farmers between 5 – 10 acres of land, and marginal farmers between 1-5 acres of holdings – suitable for cultivation. These farmer households, own animals, such as cattle, sheep & goats, buffaloes; some own poultry farms; still others run small dairy units; their family may be running a trading or commission agency business; surely most medium to large farmers will own tractors, and other farm machineries; others will rent the machinery to others. So, income to farmers can come from agriculture (Farm income 45 percent), or from other sources, (Non-Farm income 55 percent).
The Backdrop: The Problem
Large number of Indian farmers are principally involved in cultivation of paddy, cotton, sugarcane, fruits and vegetables, pulses, etc. during Kharif and with wheat, potatoes, onions, fruits and vegetables, oilseeds, etc. during Rabi seasons. The cash crops are sold in agricultural markets/mandis, and to government agencies on minimum reserve prices.
Middlemen buy crop produce, store in cold storages, or sell to buyers, and are the linkage between wholesalers, and retailers in urban, semi urban and rural markets. The prices for agricultural produce, are fixed based on quality of crop and the quantity available for sale. Commission agents (Aartiyas), barter inputs with farmers against crop production, to set off debts and interest. Banks and Agri-input companies may also do this on occasions.
Agri-inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, are expensive, agricultural labour hard to come by, and costly to engage, irrigation facilities, a once in a while comfort. How does one foresee drought, or floods, or crop damages, or various other threats that loom around our farmer’s fields. The net impact is on farmer’s income. He receives after all deductions, paltry rewards for his herculean efforts, to feed 125 million mouths in India.
Yet, relentlessly he carries on toiling and sweating, year-on-year. Some respite, that vegetables, milk, ghee, and butter etc., can be managed in house, but this too, not by every farmer household. The ideal to, Double Farmers’ Income in Five years, thus becomes, not only relevant, but an essential policy focus and thrust, if India is to maintain its economic growth momentum in a balanced way, envisaged by the Government.
Indian Agriculture is an integrated system, where animal rearing and crop management co exist. The three pillars that address the vision of Doubling Farmers' income are: Crop Farming: Agro Forestry and Animal Husbandry. These may be supported through non-farm activities, agribusiness and other sources of income not directly related to agriculture. 57 percent of India’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, 14 percent GDP share, and employs 64 percent of rural workforce. Growing infrastructural projects, reverse migration, mushrooming supply chain spoke and retail hubs in small towns, availability of internet connectivity, the emergence of regional brands, financial inclusion, e-education, village level healthcare, redefined distribution models etc. have combined to make an environment, where products and services, relevant to the geography can evolve, develop and thrive, to become profitable business propositions for farmers and rural folk.
Fragmented landholdings, absence of land reforms, poor quality of agri-inputs, lack of mechanization, obsolete crop management practices, sparse irrigation facilities (5.6 lakh hectares is under micro irrigation), low water table, uncertain monsoons lead to low crop yields and poor quality of crop produce as compared to global standards. Post-harvest losses are huge. Adoption and availability of technology is weak and not cost effective. There are host of other factors as well. Result: Low farmer income.
The Way Forward
So what direction do we take that gives us a glimpse and opens windows to possible solutions? One direction is evolving a clear cut future farm policy. Second thrust is to align Technology with partner Institutions and improved & innovative farm management practices. Third, suggestion is to redefine agricultural business models to make agriculture and animal husbandry profitable. Fourth step may be to mine Big Data Analytics in Agri space to be able to leverage this research with public-private-partnerships in areas of contract farming, GM crops, hybrid seeds, poultry and dairy, agribusiness and farm to retail supply chain solutions, through pruning and surgically addressing the nexus of middlemen. Fifth initiative, is to explore the emerging science and art of precision farming. Seventh possibility is to partner with global players in the areas of Storage and Delivery Logistics of crop produce, using technology and low cost solutions. Eighth, reforms in subsidy dispensation, fair and direct to home, payment to farmers for sugarcane, cotton, wheat, paddy and other crops, should be done speedily. Ninth, crop insurance, linked to financial inclusion, and Aadhaar, should be made user friendly and a real story on ground. Tenth, select model developed, developing and under developed districts to work out and implement agricultural business transformation schemes, through a Centre-State coordinated and integrated all stakeholder approach with an e-monitoring platform, using Technology Partners.
What are the deliverables? (a) Better and improved Agriculture Infrastructure. (b) Improved macro and micro irrigation (c) Use of hybrid seeds and GM Crops (d) Appropriate mechanization and land reforms (e) Strict control on nutrient and pesticide quality and usage, extension etc. (f) Implementing National Agriculture Market all across with transparent purchase and payment systems (g) much higher crop yields with improved quality (h) Higher MRP for key crops (i) streamlining of middlemen system, to ensure fair price to growers (j) Boosting agribusiness, exports and marketing opportunities.(k) Coordinating with rural development programmes.
The simple formula for agricultural profitability is: Fertile soil + Hybrid seeds + Regular water supply + Crop Management & Protection + Higher yields and better quality + Post Harvest Protection + Logistic supply chains + Fair Pricing & Payment + Marketing = High Profits through the value chain.
Regulation plays an important role in managing agriculture productivity. Robust and firm implementation of Seeds Act, Fertiliser Control Order, and Insecticides Act – will assist in monitoring mal practices and spread of spurious products.
Ever heard of ‘Seamless Agriculture’? Digital and Precision farming? Track and Trace Tools? Biological controls for crop issues? Vertical Farming? Aeroponics and Aquaponics? Globally the changing crop management technologies are undergoing a transformation, through R&D efforts. Solar and renewable energy solutions are making life much easier for growers. The research institutions in India that cater to agriculture have their task cut out. They must contribute to making agriculture profitable for growers. Target Crop: Targeted yield: Target Price: Target Profit. Of course, droughts and floods need to be managed in the best way possible – through an integrated approach, that seamlessly links the Agri Value Chain Ecosystem.
Making Agriculture profitable is the challenge. Doubling Farmers Income is the objective. What is needed, is for a few agencies, ministries and institutions, to get their act together, pursuant to the building, crafting and acceptance of a revisited agriculture and farmer welfare policy document, that defines the roadmap for the future. Such steps will enable the election slogans to start turning into policy initiatives, even action, and become a reality of dreams that farmers have forgotten to dream!
(Prof. Chander Sabharwal is the Managing Director of Crop Health Products Ltd and Senior Marketing Professor)