Indian Agriculture — What is ailing and failing Indian Kisan and his Kheti ?

This subject will have as many views as there are number of kisans or farmers themselves in the country. Such is the emotional intensity around this subject that it is difficult to even have a meanigful dialogue– leave alone the urgent need to find longer term,sustainable solutions. That itself is one of the root causes of distress in Indian agriculture and its ailing & failing. Farmers are no less to blame themselves for this — not for asking short term waivers and concessions , mind you — but for not forcing this thinking among policy makers and governments. They don’t even care as to who is representing them and who has their genuine interests in mind and heart. Unorganized and weak as they are, the only recourse to them is to be at the mercy of Govts, pseudo representatives, environmentalists- whose interests do not necessarily match theirs — and remain happy with short term doles. They are also not endearing themselves to their other countrymen( and their real customers) who are increasingly seeing often held farmer agitations as a pressure tactic to force govt to give them concessions all the time. General public for sure believes that not all farmers need the kind of support that is doled out to them and that in the process the genuine, poor and small and marginal farmers hardly benefit. The violence in recent agitations also earned farmers a bad name, especially among younger Indians who see this as pure lawlessness and farmers as law breakers.

Farming is indeed a tough job with earnings hardly commensurate to hard work and toil.What an average 3 acre farmer earns in a year could be much lower than a new entrant into telecom or IT or other corporate jobs in urban India. For most small and medium farmers It is survival at stake — from season to season and crop to crop. This has been the story ever since independence and may just continue to be so for many decades into the future. Unless of course some govt picks up courage,gathers experts and true farmer representatives around the table and starts some serious thinking — without falling prey to short term difficulties and emotional outbursts. Indian kisan and his kheti requires some quality attention and not rhetorical promises and slogans.If farmers can feed 1.3 B people adequately & consistently, support the very existence of innumerable agri based industries, food processors , traders, corporates that use their produce to run their businesses and when they indirectly support millions of jobs in these industries …………. they deserve to be paid much better share of the value that gets generated along the food chain, to earn their rightful good living. There lies the real challenge — how can they get much better share of the value that is generated at the end consumer level — and that should be the single most transformative reform area for policy makers,thinkers and strategists to worry about and burn midnight oil to find longer term sustainable solution. Doubling farmers income then will be an easily achievable target.

But what ails Indian agriculture really.

At a macro level it could be looked at in following ways .

1. Producer — Consumer Linkages : The Indian Farmer does not get to produce what is demanded by the consumer. That means he is not linked to the final consumer in more direct ways. He is not even connected to the large aggregators,food processors who represent to him the changing and evolving demand from consumers. So, he produces what he has been producing and what is supported by the government MSP programme.

2. Supplier Power : He can barely exercise his power as a supplier — neither in times of low production nor when high. He is not organized to gain power — he continues to be small & marginal, inadequately resourced, ill informed on markets and marketing, ill equipped to manage risk, has limited reach, burdened with credit & debts.

3. Over dependence on Agriculture : far too many people depend on agriculture- while Agriculture’s contribution to national GDP is 14–15% , it boasts of supporting 60% of the population. That’s far too much and we should stop seeing this in indulgent ways and start looking at as a serious problem. Its time Agriculture gets rid of this burden to become efficient ,productive,profitable and sustainable.

4. Technology Starved : A farmer is not equipped to demand the technology he wants. And far to weak to adopt it fast. Too many wasted interests deny him his right to new technology, scientific solutions so that he can compete on an equal footing globally.

5. Commercial Agriculture vs Subsistence Agriculture: No distinction between farmers who grow commercial crops, who grow export crops and those who predominantly grow basic food crops. The three should be divided as independent sectors with each having different policy prerogatives.

And what could be the potential solutions ….

The strategic policy imperatives and road map in finding longer term, sustainable solutions could be ……

1. A 20 year blue print to drastically reduce the no of people directly dependent on Agriculture — from 60% to 30%. Which means manufacturing and service sectors have to do much better and grow much rapidly to absorb a large population and provide gainful employment. Government as enabler has to think extensively and expansively on skill development, enabling policy directions, orderly movement of large no of people, urban and semi urban infrastructure, enabling industrial & labor policies.

2. A 20 year blue print to drive supplier power in basic food crops and commercial crops . Through different means and ways to drive consolidation of farmers and their lands into large groups — large farmer produce organizations, to drive collective bargaining strength.

3. Promote direct linkages between growers and consumers: An enabling policy structure to support development of direct linkages between professional aggregators and professionalized farmer produce organizations

4. A 20 year blue print to focus on exports : with a vision and target to grow exports by 10X to reach $500 billion.

5. A 10 year blue print to advance technology introduction & adoption in various aspects of Agri & Food value chain.

Easier said than done. But when we can send space probe to Mars at first go , this should not be such a big deal, right ?