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Successive govts have tended to pay lip service to farmers: M S Swaminathan

When farmer suicides are in the news, father of the Green Revolution M S Swaminathan speaks out against political one-upmanship in agriculture. Excerpts from an interview with TOI’s Sagarika Ghose.

A poor monsoon’s predicted. Are we facing an agrarian crisis?

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The situation is very unsatisfactory. The government says it’s prepared a contingency plan. If rains fail farmers will need alternative crops, alternative seeds. The role of states will be crucial although the Centre will need to help with funds. An inter-disciplinary team will be needed to manage an unfavourable monsoon.

Do governments tend to neglect agriculture?

Successive governments have tended to pay lip service to farmers’ needs. Farmers are 60% of the population. You can’t ignore them. They mention in Budget speeches that finances will be allocated to farming. But actions and investments aren’t commensurate with what they say .

Is dependence on monsoon bane of Indian agriculture?

Yes 60% cultivation depends on rainfall.Only 40% depends on irrigation. But irrigation systems require rainfall.Farmers depend on monsoon and markets. There’s talk about market economy . Nowhere is the farmer left entirely to the market. The US too supports farmers.

The beef ban hurts Maharashtra farmers…

Yes, they aren’t able to sell their bullocks. When the household economy collapses, they sell their bullocks. When they sell cattle, you know they’re facing a drought.Today there are no cattle buyers. Maharashtra said it’d implement a scheme –Gokul Gram Yojana -but so far it hasn’t.

Government says raising MSP will fuel inflation..

Why such concerns only when it comes to farmers? The market price is already so low; 80% farmers aren’t insured. Why doesn’t government talk of inflationary pressures when it comes to industrialists? Input costs are rising for farmers.

Your assessment of farmers’ suicides

Suicides happen due to frustration, helplessness, lack of credit. There’s no government protection, no social or community protection for farmers. This is particu larly true for dry-land farmers. We must strengthen the pan chayati system, make credit available.

Will the new Land bill cause further distress?

Three conditions should be met for land acquisition. First we should ensure food security. Second, land should be ac quired only for public good. Land shouldn’t be acquired for private profit.Third, when it comes to consent, seek consent not just from the farmer but his wife. Often, she’s more dependent on land because she tills a small plot for her family’s nutrition security. Generally, men have the patta and widows are let high and dry.

Is NREGA a white elephant?

NREGA should be revitalised and skilled work included. The project is named after Gandhi. It should follow his words about productive work being a marriage of intellect and labour. The intellect is missing. Train women in balwadi and creche work.

Does Modi government have a vision for agriculture?

The PM has announced a big irrigation programme and a soil-health card. The Budget speech on agriculture though didn’t seem adequate. Everything depends on implementation. The farm crisis must be gone into properly. We need a holistic approach to livestock, fish and agriculture. fish and agriculture.

What about Rahul Gandhi’s padyatras to villages?

It’s good that political leaders are showing interest but there should be a follow up. The farm sector shouldn’t be about political one-upmanship. Agriculture is the largest private sector enterprise in India and requires more attention.


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