Call to evolve socially-oriented farm sector

PALAKKAD, JULY 12. ``Unless we evolve an alternative development model that could stand up to the onslaught of globalisation our economy could turn out to be another banana republic,'' Mr. Ravikumar, agriculture expert, has said.

He told TheHindu that the economy is in a shambles in Kerala. Starvation deaths are on the rise and food production is dwindling. He warned that promoting basmati at this juncture would only favour the elite consumer and a few exporters.

Mr. Ravikumar was Senior Systems Analyst of the Reliance Agro Tech and General Manager of SPIC India. Currently an adviser to the Deesheeya Karshaka Samajam, he had prepared the group farming programme of the previous LDF Government when Mr. V. V. Raghavan was the Agriculture Minister.

Acknowledging starvation deaths means Plan campaign was a farce. But it is a bigger sin not to acknowledge starvation deaths as it deprives the opportunity to highlight the evils of globalisation. In short, when we say that we have achieved a high human resource index through the People's Plan Campaign, we have to say starvation deaths are due to globalisation, he said.

Globalisation and decentralised planning are contradictions. Globalisation is the integration of farm to the global market. What crop to grow, where, who should grow it and who should consume it are all decided by the exigencies of the international market. Thus where is the scope for decentralised planning here, he asks.

The crop that is thrust on the recipient country displaces the local food crop. It receives most of the Government support and funds because it earns foreign exchange. What we forget to visualise is that any day these export-oriented farming could cease if the agri-business companies locate another emerging undeveloped location that could offer them still lower cost. This is exactly what happened to our cash crops like rubber, cardamom, cocoa etc.

That is the fate of many Latin American countries where loans granted for structural adjustment have been converted to equity by the foreign banks practically buying out the economy by the foreign powers. There is no reason why this cannot happen in India. We are already on its throes in the case of coffee and rubber, Mr. Ravikumar said.

There is a contradiction to our approach to the agriculture sector. Do we expect it to be a vehicle to sustain the lives of millions of rural poor or should it be a means to profiteering by individuals and agri business companies? We have to realise that the crop that we grow has to fulfil certain socio-economic functions. It has to generate ample employment opportunities to ensure food entitlements to the rural poor, it has to make itself available as a food to the common man and it has to ensure a decent return to the farmer.

Mr. Ravikumar said that traditionally we have evolved our social institution and structures to sustain a decentralised production system spread over a million villages. Such systems despite its imperfections had its primary objective to ensure food security to the poorest in the village.

With the shift in focus to `modern' agriculture, we adopted crops and technologies that fit into a centralised production system. This was inconsistent with the social super-structure we had evolved. Such incompatibility alienated the poor from the mainstream. That is the reasons for the present plight of our agri-sector, he said.

For a sustainable rural economy there should be three segments - subsistence food segment, the basic food segment and the premium food segments. They have to co-exist and the crucial task is to strike a balance of all these crops in each village and with each farmers. Here decentralised planning becomes inevitable.

Today the Government has made a mockery of this idea by entrusting Government funds to local party supporters. The ostensible purpose is to encourage people's participation in the planning process.

All these project have been in the non-productive sector. It is mainly constructing roads and culverts and contract is awarded to those close to them. The labourers are brought from Tamil Nadu. This is not planning. It is plunder, he said.