Crisis in the Farm Sector

September 20th, 2008

Round Table Discussion on “Crisis in the Farm Sector – Policy Options” by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan – Distinguished Agricultural Scientist, Padma Vibhushan, Member of Parliament and Father of India’s first Green Revolution in India International Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 3.


Area Of Expansion
  • Talking about the area of expansion, it first began in the last century, in the late 1930s in the United States in the mid-west United States in Iowa, with hybrid corn, called hybrid maize in the US.
Current Crises
  • Technology is the prime mode of change anywhere in the world. But technology alone cannot strike roots and bear fruits unless you have all the supporting services including extension, the input supply and so on.
  • The number one problem is ecology, i.e. environmental parameters, land and water, agro biodiversity and so on.
Conservative Farming
  • If you look at the American farm bill this year, the largest amount of money goes to conservation farming, i.e. conservation of land and water. In fact in the Farmers Commission, we recommended a special ad hoc allocation of Rs1,000 crores to Punjab, Haryana and Western UP which feed the rest of India now because they are the anchors of whole of the food security system.
  • In order to restore the soil fertility, and to eschew the overexploitation of ground water, facilitate salination control and so on, conservation farming is a challenge.
Adverse Economics of Farming
  • If you look at Singur, which I will come to a little later, it is the tip of the iceberg. It’s a wake up call for what’s happening there. You look at what over 1,100 farmers have got as compensation for 937 acres or something, that doesn’t make even one acre per head, or between 2,200 to 2,300 farmers have been given compensation, out of which about 200 have not accepted that. That is the problem.
  • So how do you give the power and economy of scale to very small producers? One example is the dairy sector where we are number one in the world largely because of the cooperative movement started by Patel, Kurien and Amrita Patel and others. That of course has worked very well in Gujarat and some parts of our country. But cooperatives get bureaucratised; they will work only when it is a win-win situation for all members of the cooperative.
  • All public good institutions, in my view, should have a pro-small farmer, pro-nature, pro-poor and pro-woman orientation.
  • One of the problems today in the economics of farming is with the escalation in the price of petroleum products.
  • The prices of agricultural commodities are finally the determinants of the interest of the farmers whether they would like to stick on to farming.
  • We recommended as summarised by Dr. Kartikeyan, total cost of production plus 50%, the procurement price that is the support price, should be the best available market price.
  • Globally, there are wholesome trends in hunger. On 25th of September, the United Nations held a special assembly of heads of governments to discuss the progress in the procurement of the Millennium Development Goals. The number one goal is reducing hunger and poverty by half by 2015.
  • The economic cost of hunger: It is supposed to be 0.5 to 1 trillion dollars per year globally in terms of total cost and the food security goal is over 122 billion dollars, in terms of work efficiency, work output, diseases and pests.
  • The social cost of hunger leads to degradation, disillusionment and upheavals like the Naxalite movement.
  • We say we have made progress. For instance, production of 230 million tonnes of food grains last year and so on. But in the last 10 to 15 years, we hardly find any improvement in the matter of child malnutrition.


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