BALAJI SHANKAR

Small farms can be very profitable and we do not need GM seeds or green revolution or agricultural research to do that

THIS IS in response to the article by N. Bala Ganesan on FDI as a means of improving the farmer's lot (Open Page, January 8). As an organic farmer with a `minuscule farm' of two acres and a family of five, I would like to point out some inaccuracies in the article as well as submit a different solution to improving the farmer's condition. First, FDI does not produce justifiable job opportunities in the manufacturing sector. Most MNC manufacturing units are heavily automated and provide employment only to knowledge and skilled workers. Most of the farmers in India do not have formal education beyond school level, if at all. As such they would be unemployable in sectors requiring skilled and semi-skilled workers, leave alone knowledge workers. We have neither the resources nor the organisation to train over 300 million people (50 per cent of current farmers and farm labourers) as skilled workers. Besides the sheer social and political dynamics of migrating 300 million people into our already overcrowded cities will lead to what E.F. Schumacher calls "dual poisoning": the city people mechanise agriculture and rob the villager of his job, the villagers migrate to the city and deplete the city's resources making it unlivable.

Spending on pesticides

The author admits that we need one million rupees of capital to employ one person in the manufacturing sector. A hundred trillion rupees of FDI is simply not realistic, now or in the future. However, there is a truly astronomical figure that we ignore: farmers spend close to one trillion rupees a year on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. If this market is catered to with local small scale units producing vermicompost and herbal pesticides, the employment opportunities in rural areas would greatly increase. Secondly, most Indian farmers do not need to spend what their city cousins such as textile workers spend on rent, milk, vegetables, foodgrains, transportation and other amenities, let alone healthcare and entertainment. To achieve the comfort level equivalent of what the farmer in the village enjoys with a monthly income of Rs. 2,500 requires at least 5-6 times that much in metro cities (where FDI happens). In cities like Chennai or Mumbai all the five elements viz. earth, air, water, space and fire (what with looming gas prices) are either unavailable or unaffordable save by the upper and upper-middle classes. There really is no reason for the farmer to live in crowded unhygienic habitats and subject himself to humiliating loss of dignity and comfort, just to be economically viable to the planners. He should be psychologically viable to himself. Contrary to the author's idea, small farms can be very profitable and we do not need GM seeds or green revolution or agricultural research to do that. A well managed, integrated organic farm (of a `minuscule 1.2 hectares' size) that uses native, non-hybrid seeds and meets its own nutrient requirements can produce, in a year, a staggering 3,000 kg of rice, 600 kg of pulses, 200 kg of cooking oil, 10,000 litres of milk, 2,000 kg of honey, 15,000 kg of vegetables, 15,000 kg of fruit, 10,000 kg of surplus vermicompost and items like mushroom, herbs, timber and bamboo that have high commercial value. One can work out the economics of this on the back of an envelope. An enterprising farmer in Uttar Pradesh is earning an annual income of Rs. 1 million from one hectare! [source: www.downtoearth.org.in]

What they need

What farmers need to improve their life is: 1. Lower input costs (to de-risk and also free them from debt traps) 2. Better share of the end consumer price (currently they get only 40-50 per cent of the retail price) and most importantly, 3. Ecological Security The solution is organic farming, crop diversity and local marketing. If a farmer will try to grow most of his food himself and sell the surplus produce to a select few customers in the nearest town (organic produce at market price) he can earn upwards of Rs. 10,000 a month from one hectare of land after meeting most of his family's food requirements. And what can the government do to improve the farmer's lot? Educate the farmer - just as AIDS cannot be fought except by educating the individual, the farmer can improve his lot only by learning to be self reliant. Phase out all subsidies - including electricity and fertilizer. Do not give soft loans or write off loans. And most importantly do not tempt him with high yielding hybrids and do not threaten his survival with WTO debris like the seed bill. Enforce stringent environmental legislation so his water is not polluted by industry. The farmer's capital is his land, seed and water. Just protect these, show him the way to use these wisely and let him be.

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