Ajay Vir Jakhar, a citrus farmer by profession, has been the leading voice championing the cause of farmers. The youngest chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj (Farmers’ Forum India), he has been involved in a complex task of seeking for better policies and practises that would revive agriculture. Ajay will be in Goa as one of the speakers on the panel on ‘Youth, Agriculture, Migration, and Smart Cities’ of Difficult Dialogues which is being held in partnership with The Navhind Times from January 28 to January 30. He speaks to NT BUZZ about the need for better agricultural policies that would ensure the well being of farmers
Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
Q: You have been lobbying for better policies and practices in agriculture. How has the journey been?
The journey has been very difficult because farm policies are influenced by people who do not farm, do not understand ground realities but have the capacity of good articulation. The second problem is that farm policies are made more for urban consumers rather than for rural communities.
Q: How did become an expert on farming and a leading voice of farmers?
I’m not an expert on agriculture. But I do farming; stay on my farm half the month and during the rest of the month advocate for better farm policy. Because I live on the farm, I think I am better placed to understand farm policy implications and alternatives than those who do not. I try and understand farmer’s issues and think like a farmer.
Q: We hear about long term plans pertaining to farming and agriculture. Do you not believe there is an urgent need to start now and act fast? Are our politicians and governments insensitive towards our famers?
It’s not that politicians and government officers are insensitive. It’s just that they lack understanding of problems and solutions. Our farm policy is endangered by too many agriculture economists telling us what to do, when to do, how to do. Most political parties don’t have due representation of the farming community.
Q: At a time when salaried employees will benefit greatly from the 7th pay commission, will our farmers be able to sustain themselves and become wealthy or have privileges like others who fetch handsome salaries?
The 7th pay commissions should be put in a moratorium for ten years and we hope that better farm policies will lead to better income for farmers. Until farmers are involved in the fine print of policy making, farmers will not become prosperous.
Q: Your take on big corporate houses getting into the farming scene for example Reliance Fresh, etc.
I don’t think big corporate houses are going to get into agriculture for the sake of food production in a big way. They are only seeking an entry to use their agriculture activities to get permissions and be better placed to take advantage of future policies, which they are anyway influencing. They are hoping to appear holier than they are and helping the government to look upon them favourably for their other activities if they get involved with agriculture.
Q: Farmers are exploited by political parties as vote banks time and again. Please comment.
Yes, farmers are divided. Democracy is representative not of the majority but of the organised minority. When tax payers get together, they get concessions. When industry forums get together, they get concessions. Since farmers are divided on lines of caste, political parties and on types of crops they grow, they don’t collectivise. So they lose out to the organised minority. For example, the poultry producers have pitched to the government for cheaper chicken feed from abroad so the duty free imports of 5,00,000 tonnes of maize has been allowed. This will subdue maize prices in the year ahead and farmers will suffer.
Q: Farmer suicides and migration to urban areas need to be curbed. Please comment.
Farmer suicides don’t happen because of drought or bad weather or low farm gate prices. They happen because of bad farm policies. The distress on farms is manifesting itself into rural to urban migration. It is the largest migration in the history of mankind. If government does a cost benefit analysis, the government would realise that it is cheaper to keep farmers happy on their farms, than to have them flock to cities and then have to provide for millions of unhappy migrants in cities.
Q: There’s always hue and cry over subsidies. Is that the only way forward?
No, subsidies are not the only way forward.
Q: How will FDI in retail benefit our farmers?
FDI in retail can benefit farmers if produce sold in the value chain is procured from Indian farmers and it does not become a pipeline to retail imported food.
Q: What are some farmer friendly suggestions you would recommend to various states to revive agriculture?
We have submitted them to the finance minister and hope he will incorporate them in the budget. The suggestions are on my blog at http://www.ajayvirjakhar.com/budget-suggestion-2016/
Q: Won’t joining politics help your movement in agriculture, since you are a hands-on farmer and have a political background?
I know my limitations and there are many paths to the mountain top – I have chosen a different path.
Q: What do your foresee in the coming years in India in the agriculture sector?
The problem is not insufficient farm production but spikes in food prices and farm production. What I foresee is that in the next decade or two, India will have more than sufficient production but we will not have sufficient markets. Farmers face the problem of disposing marketable surpluses at reasonable prices. There are no buyers in the market today.
(Ajay Jakhar will be speaking on the topic Youth, Agriculture, Migration, Smart Cities at the Difficult Dialogues on January 30 at ICG at 12 p.m.)