Serving Farmers and Saving Farming; Towards Faster and More Inclusive Growth of Farmers’ Welfare – Fifth & Final Report, Volume I

FOCUS

The eight-member National Commission on Farmers (NCF), chaired by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, was set up in 2004 by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to assess the extent of India’s agrarian crisis.

The commission had 37 formal meetings between 2004 and 2006 as well as technical consultations involving key stakeholders in various parts of the country. It produced five reports (the fifth of these in two volumes) and presented two drafts of the National Policy for Farmers to the government. The revised draft policy was developed in consultation with central and state government departments, farmers, farmers’ organisations, tribal families, women’s groups, academia, civil society bodies, political parties, panchayat institutions, mass media representatives and individuals.

The first volume of the fifth report, submitted on October 4, 2006 to the then Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar, says, “We cannot be silent onlookers to a situation where 30% of India is shining and 70% [its rural population consisting mostly of farmers] is weeping.”  Volume I addresses key economic issues affecting the Indian farmer (especially one with small holdings); how the agricultural sector can be revamped; how agriculture’s ecological foundations can be strengthened; and how disenchanted youth can be drawn to work on farms, among other things.

    FACTOIDS

  1. The Draft National Policy for Farmers, presented by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) in its fourth report, stated that farmers must be assured access to, and some control over, the ‘basic resource base’ (natural and societal) needed for their livelihood. This included land, water, bio-resources, credit, insurance, technology, knowledge management, markets and other inputs and services. 

  2. The NCF said that the definition of food and nutritional security must include hunger resulting from poverty-induced undernutrition, from a diet deficient in minerals and vitamins, and from seasonal fluctuations in food availability. This, it felt, could help develop an effective operational strategy to achieve freedom from hunger.

  3. In 1991-92 the bottom 50 per cent of all rural households owned only 3.33 per cent of the total land whereas the top 10 per cent owned 54.08 per cent.

  4. A ‘millennium study’ by Dr. Abhijit Sen for the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation revealed that in the 1990s the actual average land holding of a farm family was bigger than the minimum required to keep it above the official poverty line only in seven states – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and West Bengal.

  5. According to 2004 data from UNESCO, India was home to one-third of the world’s illiterate youth, and more than 60 per cent of these were female. Women also constituted over 50 per cent of India’s agricultural workforce (especially in hilly areas). So the NCF felt that special efforts were needed to empower women through education, training and technology to help them increase their income.

  6. The NCF felt that agriculture needed to be modernised and diversified, especially in the areas of post-harvest management, farm-level processing and value addition to farm produce, which could generate quality employment for the rural populace, especially the youth.

  7. The report says that India produced over 22,000 agricultural graduates and postgraduates annually, and one-fourth of these were women. However, about 40 per cent of these graduates and postgraduates remained unemployed, highly underemployed or misemployed. 

  8. The NCF felt that business and financial management should be added to training in all applied areas of agricultural education, and a course in seed technology, for instance, could instead be on seed technology and business.

  9. The report states that there was no level playing field between the mass-production agriculture of industrialised countries and the ‘production by masses’ agriculture in India. The former was driven by capital, subsidies and technology, while the latter was characterised by weak support services, heavy debt and ‘resource and technology poverty’. The NCF proposed an Indian Trade Organisation, which would safeguard the interests of farm and fisher families by providing livelihood security and ensuring fair trade.

  10. In the NCF’s view, increased corporate investment in setting up new agro-processing units and modernising existing ones would help develop the sector, in turn raising farm incomes and generating employment.

  11. The report says that subsidies to farmers in developed countries greatly affected India’s competiveness in the global market. In 1999, the annual per farmer subsidy was US$ 26,000 in Japan, $21,000 in the USA, $9,000 in Canada and $66 in India.

  12. There were huge variations in yield in different parts of the country because of a technology gap. More than two-thirds of the crop areas had a yield below the national average. Thus, the NCF felt that special attention must be given to disseminating technologies to all parts of the country.

  13. India’s agricultural marketing system was restrictive and regulated by a plethora of laws that allowed little private investment in farming. For the Indian agri-sector to flourish, the NCF recommended that Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) and State Agriculture Marketing Boards needed to change their role from regulatory agencies to promotional and developmental ones.

  14. The NCF recommended a shift from the ‘green revolution’ (a commodity-centred increase in productivity) to an ‘ever-green revolution’ underpinned by eco-technology which would increase productivity without any associated ecological harm. 

  15. In the NCF’s reckoning, those developing agricultural programmes and policies needed to have practical knowledge of agriculture. It suggested that active and accomplished farm/fisher women and men could be made directors of various state departments of agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry and fisheries and have a five-year tenure.

    Factoids and Focus compiled by Samyukta Shastri.

AUTHOR

National Commission on Farmers

COPYRIGHT

Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India

PUBLICATION DATE

04 Oct, 2006

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