The BJP-ruled state governments and its RSS-affiliated farmers’ wing, the Bharat Kisan Sangh, are worried about the fallout of the central government’s agricultural policies. People are confused, on the one hand, by the propagation of cow urine and, on the other, by the ongoing genetically-modified (GM) crop trials.
Perhaps these two are not incompatible. But many are finding it difficult to align such `traditional knowledge’ with `controversial science’. Having suffered considerably low farm-gate prices, farmers who supported the BJP are now wavering. Even BJP leaders are struggling to explain, for instance, the land acquisition amendments as a pro-farmer initiative.
The opposition blames the `controlled’ voices of dissent from within the Sangh Parivar as a strategy to keep dissenters within the fold from leaving the flock. Others allege the raised pitch for Ayurveda, desi cow products and the swadeshi hardsell to be a ruse to slip in contentious agendas, such as FDI in retail, a corporate-friendly seed Bill, trade pacts and GM technologies.
Numerous things are required to ensure farmer prosperity . Some solutions can be antagonistic and arouse fierce debate. Many contentious issues can be set aside for the time being to facilitate a minimum acceptable agenda for a polarised society , especially when the government is short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha.
One could learn from the 18th-century Maharaja Surajmal of Bharatpur, who would wage war by dispatching raiding parties after the harvest season so as to have farmers free to bolster the forces. Timing is key . The UPA lost a lot of political capital supporting laws it was deluded by armchair aca demics into enacting. The NDA must tread carefully , as it’s an uphill task to keep aspiring farmers satisfied.
Specifically related to agriculture, the ideas of crop insurance, the DD Ki san channel on Doordarshan, skill de velopment and soil-health cards of the new dispensation are path-breaking.
These do underline a vision, but what is missing is the team to design the im plementation of policies.
The crop insurance proposals can be termed a success if after three years a natural calamity strikes, farmers are automatically paid by crop insurers.
The existing patronage culture will inhibit DD Kisan from igniting the farmer’s imagination. As for skill training diplomas, the numbers won’t matter but the quality of training will.
The government will manage to is sue millions of soil-health cards. Even presuming these are technically accurate and cover micronutrients, one do ubts farmers understanding the imp lication. Soil-testing is a means to an end, not the end. India must emulate China, which accounts for 30% of glo bal fertiliser consumption. China esti mates that since 2005, when it started a programme to test soils and give site specific fertiliser recommendations to farmers, fertiliser use has dropped by eight million tonnes. Our irrigated lands have become salt pans without drainage facilities, while the rest of the country is being parched of water. Successive governments have lacked the political will to act prudently . Along with soil, PM Narendra Modi must make water a priority .
New irrigation projects are not the answer. We can reduce our water, fertiliser and pesticide consumption per unit and still achieve higher yields.After decades of neglect of farm advisory services, few -including farmers -recognise the potential to raise yields per animal and per acre sustainably as an integral part of the solution to combat rural distress. Improved yields will result in increased production, farmer incomes and rural wages.
It’s equally imperative to build farmer resilience to bear weather and price shocks. All these require 10 years of sustained effort. But five-year cyclic politicians don’t have that kind of patience. It’s never too late, however, to start a good programme. It is, though, getting late to start programmes that will provide meaningful results to convert into electoral gains.
Unfeasible policy fine print contrived by economists and directed by industry will make inclusive growth improbable to achieve. Economists are artists who can crunch numbers and conjure success out of sheer failures.Governments have a tendency to dish out such numbers for proving success.Quoting numbers is easy , measuring success is difficult, feeling the transformation more so.
A year before the next parliamentary elections three years from now, realising the absence of a successful transformation, the regime can be compelled to flood the nation with meaningless populist schemes to garner votes.Despite all shortcomings, I do believe India will achieve higher GDP growth. But only when farmers’ views are incorporated in the fine print of the farm policy can growth be equitable.The writer is chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj