The biggest impediment to agricultural development could not be at the policy level. The flaw is at the implementation level.

We say India is an agricultural country. Yes, it feeds a billion people but let us acknowledge that ours is not a flourishing one. The share of agriculture in GDP has come down from 55 per cent in 1950-51 to 17 per cent in 2008-09. Still the sector provides livelihood security to 65-70 per cent of the population and employs a two-thirds of the country's workforce. It clearly speaks of the backwardness of our agriculture. We had a Green Revolution but it went in favour of a few rich farmers of fertile areas. Now, we speak of a rainbow and evergreen revolution. In the meanwhile, the waiver schemes were not for making our farmers rich but for saving them from suicidal deaths. Of course, these waiver schemes could have been a requisite one, given the circumstances under which it was conceived. But there is no reason at all to believe them as solutions to the problem, for it provides only temporary relief. We witness the unabated continuance of suicidal deaths even after the announcement of these schemes. It is simply like giving food to a starving person for a day or a week, without assuring his livelihood security. On the one side of the country, flood takes away every year thousands of lives; on the other side, the role is taken over by drought. We have put in place a target of 4 per cent annual agricultural growth but the very first year itself is facing the threat of negative growth.

The biggest impediment to agricultural development could not be at the policy level; in fact, the government often comes up with good policies - such as the farmer commission's recommendation that the government hereafter should come up with farmer-centric policies rather than farming-centric ones. The flaw is at the implementation level. We need to be bold enough to agree that the functioning of our agricultural research and development programmes is not up to the mark. In the name of basic research, many research programmes are confined to laboratories and do not reach the farm lands.

Agriculture is an applied science and no research is worthwhile unless it finds its way to the farmer. Again, a big part of the agricultural scientific fraternity does not have its academic background in agriculture. We do not think any crop improvement is possible from any quarter of the agricultural science, say biotechnology or entomology, without a proper understanding of the agronomy and physiology of the crop. We lack a responsible agricultural extension system.

Many of my relatives are farmers and I used to ask them, if their fields are being visited by agricultural officers; they replied in the negative and a few wondered who are they? It is true that a majority of these officers are not responsible and duty bound. As an agricultural student, I can say our academic system neither shows the path nor gives any clue about the destination. As students, we were not equipped to respond to the requirements of time and the nation. Our syllabus did nowhere reflect the real picture of the scene we had before us. We were taught only the aspects of how to produce without motivating us to search for answers to crucial questions such as, how much to produce? What are the requirements of the nation? What are our obligations towards the World Trade Organisation and what for are we fighting out there?

Remember this is the country where the people elected their representatives, who had to be bribed by the same people to raise the issue of the plight of their adverse farming conditions on the floor of parliament. Again, the big and rich farmers have their own associations, which show no concern for the small and marginal farmers.

The solution lies in the restructuring and revamping of entire agricultural system because the infection here is not a localised one to treat it on the spot; it is systemic.

Again, it is not only the Parliament which sails by collective responsibility, but everything including agriculture and rural development requires a collective responsibility from every quarter of the system, viz., the people, the department, the scientific fraternity and the politicians for its development and progress.


Farm suicides: a 12-year saga January 25, 2010

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