'Cancun talks failure has given us breathing space'

Coimbatore Sept. 26. The breakdown of negotiations at the Cancun talks has given India "breathing space" to improve its agricultural competitiveness, the Vice-Chairman of the State Planning Commission, M. S. Swaminathan, said today.

Inaugurating a programme on high-tech training for technocrats in the departments of agriculture, horticulture and agri-marketing, organised at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University here, Dr. Swaminathan said the failure of the talks did not mean that decisions would not be taken; it only meant that the agreement had been postponed.

With agriculture being brought into negotiations regarding world trade, India would have to take steps to face the situation because substandard products would be unacceptable in the international market.

"The ultimate goal of agricultural extension is to increase the profitability per unit of water and land. Even the small farmers must have more marketable surplus.

It is not enough to consider merely the `yield per hectare'; we must give importance to `yield per unit of water'. Only then will farmers earn more income."

Emphasising the need for ``quality literacy'' apart from `productivity improvement,'' he said knowledge-intensive agriculture could encourage farmers to confidently adopt alternative cropping systems.

'Farmers as scientists'

The attitudes towards farmers should change from "patronage to partnership" by acknowledging the practical knowledge the farmers had. "We must promote more linkages and respect the farmers as scientists. There can even be lateral learning by farmers from one another if they are taken on field visits to farms in other areas, in order to study successful practices."

Pointing out that agriculture in advanced countries was backed up by "huge doses of capital, technology and subsidies," he reiterated the need for a "sustainable farming system" that did not damage the ecology, and a "happy farming family" that could earn income through value-addition to agricultural produce.

Nowadays it was possible to speedily pass on information to farmers, using the radio, the cable television network, the open university system, the local language newspapers and the Internet, in order to ensure food security and rural prosperity.

Agriculture had moved from the chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides of the 19th century to the genetic engineering approach of the 20th century. After that, it was the "knowledge era" of the 21st century, which involved adoption of a holistic view that took into account the impact on ecology.

"We must move from the `Green Revolution' to the `Evergreen Revolution', without causing social harm, and aim at productivity improvement in perpetuation, without damaging the environment," he said.

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