Indian Agrarian Crisis now moved to www.agrariancrisis.in

Farmer-the most endangered species

Missing the wood for the trees

Posted by Ramoo on January 31, 2007

By K P Prabhakaran Nair

All of a sudden, there is a great debate and agitation going on in the country on the question of setting up industry by private enterprise acquiring land, sometimes fertile and from farmers, who have been tilling it for generations, under the overall umbrella of Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Nowhere else has the agitation gripped the attention of the entire nation as pointedly as it did in Singur, in West Bengal, on the acquisition of about 1,000 acres to set up the “small car” project of the Tatas.

Undoubtedly, India has been an agrarian country for millennia: 65 per cent of the population is involved in agriculture, and feeds the rest of the 35 per cent, which has a per capita domestic product that is more than 600 per cent of the former. India, indeed, is two countries — the “galloping India”, the nine per cent plus GDP India that boasts of a per capita purchasing power parity gross domestic product above that of Philippines, whose economy is modelled along that of the USA, and the other poor cousin — “Bharat”, which is mired in poverty and misery.

Inclusive policy

It is then logical to think that unless this 65 per cent is salvaged out of its abject misery, India has no economic future to be clubbed along with the comity of prosperous nations. Ever since Nehru dreamt of factories and dams, India has been on a trajectory of economic development based on big industries and almost all our five year plans have followed the pattern based on a western model that says “export and expand”. But, the bedrock of our development has been pegged on the agrarian sector, which of late has become the real laggard.

The annual rate of increase in food production has fallen below the annual increase in population, setting in motion the Malthusian theory of population explosion outstripping food production. With India’s global trade in agriculture less than one per cent, a double digit growth in industry — the latest November 2006 Index of Industrial Production (IIP) which had zoomed to 14 per cent — must persuade the country to take the 65 per cent out of its quagmire. The question is how?

This is a gargantuan task. An example: Transferring about five million workers from the agricultural sector (about two per cent of that workforce) to the non-agricultural sector annually will require upwards of Rs 2,50,000 crore or about 30 per cent of India’s total capital formation. It would be totally impossible to generate this colossal sum of money on our own. But, we must make a beginning. Redirecting through incentives, current non-agricultural investment to rural districts, along the borders of taluk and district headquarters, which skirt the highways, might provide a substantial sum of money. This is where the mandarins in New Delhi and state capitals need to be very vigilant — zero in on the authentic industrial enterprise with integrity from the land grabber. Nowhere else has this been so glaringly show-cased as in Singur.

A myth

Importantly, the country’s leadership must tell the agricultural fraternity in no uncertain manner that if they have nothing spectacular to show on the farmers’ fields, it might be better to fold up or trim substantially the burgeoning “research” monoliths. India can no more afford to keep singing the paens ad nauseam of a so-called “green revolution” that has outlived its utility more than two decades ago, and created in its wake, unmanageable environmental hazards. And the word play of an “ever green revolution”, to bring in through the back door genetically modified crops, is no answer either.

Look at the state of the agricultural extension network. Only 0.9 per cent of India’s huge farming community make practical use of the huge monolith — the Krishi Vigyan Kendras under the ICAR being run since decades on a very huge budget! The 1.5 million Agro Technology Agents in China do a far better job, working shoulder-to-shoulder with farmers in the field, constantly innovating!

Probably this is where pro-active, forward looking statesmanship, has to come to the fore, as opposed to the conniving gimmickry of “vote-bank politics”.

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