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Farming is crying for investment: MS Swaminathan

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The whole country is grateful to you for the Green Revolution you have ushered in the 1960s. Even after that thousands of farmers have been committing suicide. Where did we go wrong?
There are several major issues confronting farmers and farming in our country. From the days of Green Revolution the number of farmers has increased. The population has grown. When the Green Revolution was announced by Indira Gandhi in 1968, the population was 40 crore. Now we have 120 crore, three times increase. The average farm size has been coming down. The prime farm land is going out of agriculture. Real estate is occupying tremendous prime farming place.

The children of farmers do not want to take up farming. Weather conditions are becoming uncertain, may be due to global warming or other reasons. There is no really good marketing system which provides the farmers assured and remunerative prices for their produce except crops like rice, wheat which the government of India and state governments buy through Food Corporation of India or State Food Corporation.

That is why the National Commission on Farmers recommended several steps. One recommendation was assured and remunerative price, what I called C2+50 per cent. Production cost plus 50 per cent profit. That is the minimum the farmers should get. Go to a pharmaceutical company for which the Hyderabad is famous. They get 500- 600 per cent margin. At that time the farmer was getting 15 per cent margin. Then I intervened. Now they are getting 25-25 per cent. The farmer should have profit and surplus to invest.

The smaller the holding the greater is the need for marketable surplus and income. Without that they would not be able (to sustain). That is why I want value addition. The farmers are themselves value addition to the country. Go to villages. The landless labourers are the worse now. We have to take a relook at the farming and farmers. After all, they are the citizens of this country. The various Krishi Bhavans and State (agriculture) departments call the farmers are the beneficiaries. It is utter nonsense. We are the beneficiaries.

They are the victims. Is it not?
Yes. There should be greater social status for the farmers. We should encourage more young kisans and women farmers. Their number is increasing. We should tell the service sector to enter rural areas. Otherwise, we will find more farmer suicides in the villages. With the food security bill, which makes availability of food grains to all citizens a fundamental right, the importance of agriculture will increase. It should be a democratic right and not a political patronage.

In the context of Andhra Pradesh, you must have seen Jayathi Gosh recommendations. Had we implemented those recommendations in toto, do you think the farmer suicides would have been prevented? 
Andhra Pradesh farmers were praised long ago by Royal Commission on Farmers as the best in the world in 1925. Like Punjab farmers ,they(the Andhra farmers) are in the forefront. Farming is life giving profession. The Sun light, green plants and the farmer who converts them are the real forces. The people who are in life giving profession are taking their own lives, there is something radically wrong in the society. The problem was dealt with in a superficial way. There were packages. Chief Minister Package and Prime Minister Package. The Prime Minister announced a package for Vidarbha. It did not work because they were not developed in consultation with farmers. You should know where the shoe pinches.

I myself come from a joint family. My father died very young. My uncle looked after me. There should be some social protection. If a farmer commits suicide others are not concerned. There should be social protection. The Gram Sabhas should be ever vigilant. They know the farmers are highly indebted and they know that they are taking loans from money lenders. You have to move on different fronts. There should be packages for giving insurance for cow, crop etc.
Now the social structure is becoming more selfish with the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution has become greed revolution.

Do you think in their enthusiasm to produce more the farmers are using more manures and fertilisers and incurring more losses?
Farmers can produce much more. The potential actually is very high. The rice production can be increased by 50 per cent not by the new technology, but through proper use of manure and water management. If I am a farmer and produce more, I will get less money. The more you produce, the lesser (money) you get. Management, monsoon and marketing are fundamentals for the survival of the farmer.

When Chandrababu Naidu was the Chief Minister, he argued that more and more people should turn away from farming and take to other vocations. He was misunderstood and he had yet to recover from that.
In our country it is unfortunate that we are worried about production. Rice production. Milk production. Jowar production.

The farming should increase in its totality. Marketing, valuation, processing etc. There are not many jobs in farming. Once we improve post-harvesting technologies in processing and marketing etc farming would become remunerative. Suppose there is a labour shortage. Young people should come together and purchase a tractor and give it on hire to other farmers. Likewise, a commerce graduate and an agriculture graduate should come forward and establish an Agriculture Transformation Centre, which is essentially a service centre.

The farmers need not bother about applying manures, pesticides etc. These centres can perform such tasks. We need new management methods to make small farms viable.

I heard you saying FDI in farming is good. The foreign investors like all investors look for profit. How do they invest? Is it going to be through corporations? 
Foreign investment comes if they have a market opportunity. If I am a foreign investor, I will expect reasonable return on my investment. It should be small-farmer-oriented. They should bring their produce in April and get money for it immediately. The farmer does not have holding capacity. It is a great opportunity to transform the rural economy.

How will they invest? Will they invest through corporation and go for corporate farming?
They should take up contract farming. Like in Punjab, the contract farming is the best method. Just as Kurian so successfully did in Gujarat, bring the milk in the morning and take the money in the afternoon. The farmer does not have holding capacity.

The fear expressed by the leftists and others is that the farmers would become labourers in their own farms. That is what corporate farming does, is it not?
We should not encourage corporate farming. It encourages jobless growth. It would be highly mechanised. In our country we need a job-led growth. We need a model of combination of production by masses on mass production technology. Decentralise services like storage and marketing, warehousing and other value additions. Andhra Pradesh can make much more money by marketing rice, rice husk, the brawn and straw.

They called it baroka as they are doing it in Myanmar. It needs investment. But investment should be for farmers and they should not be thrown out.
Indira Gandhi could experiment in Phokaran because of our food production. Food self sufficiency can ensure national sovereignty. Without that you cannot have independent foreign policy.

Do you think there should be some mechanism to control foreign investment? Should there be any government agency between the foreign investor and the farmer?
Foreign investment or national investment, it should be controlled by a code of conduct and ethics — a Code of ethics. The bottom line is that it should be beneficial to the farmer. They constitute two-thirds of our population. With the national food security bill a historic transformation will come. Then everybody should be provided home grown food. Then the attention on the farmers will increase.

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