View: A lot done, now take MGNREGS to small and marginal farmer

M Venkaiah Naidu

As India grapples with an unparalleled crisis triggered by Covid-19, let’s salute our farmers, the unsung heroes. Their role is as crucial as that of other frontline warriors – doctors, healthcare staff, police personnel and sanitation workers – in combating the pandemic.

Indian farmers have always been the frontline warriors in protecting and ensuring our food security.

They are toiling day and night to keep millions of hearths burning across the country to feed a mammoth populace of more than 1.3 billion. Undeterred by daunting challenges in the wake of Covid-19, they have soldiered on bravely and achieved an estimated record production of 291.95 million tonnes of food grains in the current year.

Their feat is all the more phenomenal as agriculture has been witnessing adverse conditions due to a host of issues. Indian farmers have produced surplus food grains at a time when the UN food body warned of the likelihood of global food shortages due to protectionist measures in the wake of the pandemic. Agriculture continues to be the primary source of livelihood for about 60% of the Indian population.

Thanks to the timely exemption of agricultural activities from the lockdown, harvesting operations and supply of essential items are continuing on a war footing. Other measures such as allowing interstate and intrastate movement of farm machinery, payment of Rs 2,000 to farmers as the first instalment under PMKisan scheme, enhancing wages from Rs 182 to Rs 202 per day under the MGNREG scheme and the three-month moratorium on agricultural term-loans are expected to provide much-needed relief to the farming community to some extent. At the same time, there is a need to consider extending MGNREGS to small and marginal farmers.

While India is the largest producer of milk, pulses, jute and cotton, and the second largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, vegetables and fruits, all stakeholders must act in a concerted manner to realise the stated objective of doubling farmers’ income and make agriculture remunerative.

I have been advocating structural changes to make it resilient, sustainable and profitable. The four ‘i’s, namely irrigation, infrastructure, investment and insurance, need to be strengthened for the overall development of the farming sector.

Farming cooperatives can help farmers pool their small and fragmented landholdings to take up intensive cultivation by using modern technology. Given the small size of landholdings, it is imperative to increase productivity. Parallelly, there has to be judicious use of scarce resources like water and electricity. Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides must be avoided at any cost. Soil protection has to be given top priority.

Farmers need to be encouraged to take up allied activities like poultry, dairy, fisheries, aquaculture, pisciculture, sericulture, apiculture and horticulture to have income in case of a failed crop. The Indian food processing industry has immense potential and needs to be fully tapped.

Agricultural universities and Krishi Vigyan Kendras need to adopt a proactive approach in bringing the latest research and innovation to farmers. The lab-to-land concept has to be effectively implemented.

Encouraging agro-forestry is one of the ways to increase farmers’ income. It helps to restore ecological balance, prevent soil erosion and provide alternative income options.

In the final analysis, coordinated action is needed by both the Centre and the states to make agriculture profitable. As farmers are unorganised and voiceless, the four ‘P’s – Parliament, political leaders, policymakers and press – must proactively adopt a positive bias towards agriculture.

Loan waivers and subsidies provide temporary relief to farmers and are not sustainable solutions. Both long-term and shortterm measures are needed to ensure remunerative prices to farmers. Among others, countrywide restrictions on the movement of agri-produce have to be lifted and comprehensive crop insurance needs to be introduced and effectively implemented. Farmers should be supplied seeds, fertilisers and other requirements for ensuring timely harvesting.

Besides promoting e-marketing extensively, cold storage facilities and refrigeration vans should cater to farmers’ needs in a big way. Providing uninterrupted power roundthe-clock and extending timely credit at low-interest rates are crucial to making agriculture profitable and viable.

Implementing all these measures and encouraging agripreneurs will prevent agro brain drain and will hopefully attract youth to take up farming as a profession. I visualise rural India buzzing with agricultural activity, thereby according due respect and value to farming.

In the wake of the pandemic, the world is looking towards India. We need to seize the opportunity and give special impetus to agriculture to not only sustain self-sufficiency but also export to other countries and further strengthen India’s economy.

(The writer is the Vice President of India)

Source Article