Saturday, April 05, 2014

Farmers' wish list for 2014 elections

The whole India is engaged in elections,  the16th Lok Sabha  elections and also some of the states are having Assembly elections, most of the parties have finalized their manifestos with a pack of poll promises. Like in every election, political parties consider the farmers and agriculture are very serious subject before going  to the poll, and soon after the results they ignore the problems and left to the farmers' fate. Farmers have to blame themselves for their perils since they are not active enough to make the political parties as the agrarian crisis is a priority agenda. During the election process, the farmers and farmer groups are working for their individual causes  and political motives. Most of the farmer unions are affiliated with the political parties which work for their electoral prospects  and farmers also forget about their agricultural problems , busy with local issues by dividing  themselves  in to social class, economic status and political party basis.

Each and every class of society have been achieving  their demands by unity though they are a small group of people. But being a 55% percent of the population and a biggest vote bank in India, the farming community  failed to achieve their wishes  and get rid of their problems. If the farmers have collectively agitated on their farming issues they will definitely get benefitted, but they are mediocre educated, lack of leadership skills, lack of  direction and socially segregated  which are the hindrances for their collective bargaining. In the 2014 elections , the political parties must consider the agrarian crisis is a prioritized issue  to help the Indian farmers in all aspects such as making agriculture as a profitable profession and providing a respectable economic and social status to the farmers.
If the political parties really have a commitment and affection on farmers, they should include the below said farmers' wish list in their manifestos and these must be implemented once they come to power.
1.     Implementation of Prof. M. S. Swaminathan Committee’ recommendations (National Commission of Farmers).                                     

2.     Special Financial plan (Budget) is required for agriculture and agro allied industries. (Not included irrigation).
3.     All farmers need to be provided Institutional credit with nominal interest rates i.e 4% and the amount should be based on their crop pattern and farm size.

4.     9 hours uninterrupted quality power supply to agriculture ( Day time).

5.     MNREGS program should be linked up with agricultural operations like transplantation, weeding, harvesting and so on which can solve the man power shortage problems to the farmers. Panchayats have to co-ordinate with Department of rural development in the allocation of MNREG works based on the villagers’ discretion.

6.     Agriculture, Revenue, Irrigation, marketing & warehouses, animal husbandry, fisheries, such as agro allied department ministers should be farmed as special cabinet ( Empowered Group of Ministers for Agriculture) which works for farmers empowerment. This cabinet should meet every month, the issues to discussed and resolved. The group should consider the suggestions of all farmers’ organizations, peasant organizations and voluntary organizations.
7.     The CACP(Commission for agriculture Cost and prices)  should be declared as  an autonomous organization, it should be restructured with new terms and references. CACP should consider all prescribed 12 factors and also other issues  like inflation, cost of living and losses due to import - export  policies while formulating the price recommendations.  
8.     Risk mitigation  fund for bonus on food grains to compensate the losses by natural calamities if anything occurred. Establish a Price stabilization fund ( Market intervention fund) to insulate the farmers from market price fluctuations.

9.     A required capacity of warehouses should be constructed since we don't have enough godown facilities to store the grains. The market yard godowns should be renovated and fully utilized, funds need to be allocated for market yards development. Value added agriculture , food processing unites, supply chain facilities must be created.                                    

10. Establish a farmers’ income commission for measuring the farmers’ economic conditions, all old age farmers should get monthly pension for their social security and all peasants’ children should get free education with hostel facility.

11. Empowerment of women farmers like capacity building and giving right to land ownership. Allocating unused lands to women self help groups / Dalit women groups. The farm wages should be equal without any gender difference.

12. National Rain fed Area Authority (NRAA) has been working on cloud seeding and artificial rains; in fact all these efforts are not really helpful to the farmers. Incorporate a State Rain fed/Dry land area authority to identify the suitable crops, harnessing the water resources for at least to cultivate two acres of land and save the lives of draught animal.  Identifying the viable alternative livelihood activities. Protecting and preserving the water bodies like natural lakes, ponds and village tanks.

13. Establishing crop based growers group (Kind of Collective farming /General Body of farmers Ex: Mulkanor cooperative, Ethonda PACS) for power of collective bargaining. The government should provide the support like credit facilities, subsidized inputs, Special markets, warehouses, processing units and so on.

14. State owned Agriculture Finance Corporation to be established. It shall be to assist in the development of agriculture and agricultural industries by making loans to farmers, co-operative societies, private companies, public bodies, and other persons engaging in agriculture or agricultural industries.
15.  A farmers friendly seed bill should be formulated that shall regulate the quality of seeds, sales, imports and exports. Plans should be evolved for 100% certified seed replacement. The government should allot some funds to agriculture universities to develop hybrid verities with the association of the farmers and the seed should be supplied through Seed Corporation. Promoting the indigenous (native varieties) seeds by incorporating the village level seed bank groups / Seed villages   (like Dwacra/SHG) with incentives and that will create a network among them to share and exchange.

16. Promoting Organic farming and sustainable cultivation practices. Encouragement programs for organic fertilizers, conversion of solid waste to bio – fertilizers.

17. Agriculture should be modernized by Information technology and Bio technology. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the best possible way to create awareness among the farming community which is  not only on prevailing prices but also about the possibility of exploitation by middlemen.  In order to access the ICT, free mobile phones to be provided to the prospective farmers each cost Rs.1500 which connects the markets digitally.

18. Decentralization of Powers to farmers in Co-operatives societies and Market Yards to strengthen the co-operative system.

19. Encouragement programs on back yard farming and family farming in urban locations.
20. Promoting the Agro tourism.

21. Promoting Exceptional Agriculture Regions for farming, the integrated approach of EARs will be including all farm-related schemes with respective panchayats and local farmers. They must be empowered to decide which crop to grow, what seeds to use, whether they should take to organic farming or use chemicals, whom to sell to and at what price. This EARs will encourage organic farming, aromatic, medicinal plants and exotic plants for international markets.

22. Subsidy up to 50 % on Solar powered water pumps for all farmers .

23. Successful corporate companies should spend at least 1% of their net profits for agriculture through government networks which is the part of their CSR, the spending amount will be eligible for tax benefits.

24.  The formation of cooperative societies which facilitates the farm implements on lease basis. Encourage the private companies for custom hiring tractors and farm machinery. Formation of sufficient number of agro service centers in entire state for better extension services, each center must cater services for at least 4000 acres under supervision of sufficient extension staff. These centers also provide farm machinery on rental basis like custom hiring centers.

25. Establish Rural Business Hubs for horticulture produces. These rural business hubs will serve as one-stop-shops that offer various agricultural inputs and services to farmers, including weather information, crop management advice, and access to markets and finance. will improve the horticulture produces value chain in the region by increasing productivity and linking farmers with private retailers/ processors and other stakeholders, leading to increased income at all stages - production, processing, distribution and retail.To increase farmer incomes in the region, these hubs are teaming up with public and private sector partners to demonstrate best practices and strengthen producer-processor-retailer linkages to better address the challenges related to production, price, and marketing that farmers face in the region.

26. We have around 50% of tenant farmers; very few of them are getting bank loans. Government should arrange some fund as a guarantee for banks  towards tenant farmer loans.

27. Crop insurance schemes should be developed by making village as a unit which must cover all risks from sowing to marketing with an affordable premium. The loss claim settlements  should be cleared within 60 days of the calamity.

28. Comprehensive Land Usage policy: The farming land area should be calculated as per population growth statistics and based on that only the agricultural land has to be converted to any other purpose.

29. Mobile clinics for Draught/Dairy/Herd animals, medical camps must be conducted in villages with certain schedules.

30. Protect and promoted the native breeds ( Nativ cows/ Ongole breeds), bull,cow and buffalo production programs. Financial medical assistance to Gosalas ( Cow herds).

31. Improved Sheep/goat/Pig herd programs, loan facilities, Insurance facilities. ( Small farmers and landless laborers owned these herds) Meat processing, production and export facilities in rain fed regions.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Why we need Agroforestry !!

The increasing population will need a lot of household wood products, paper products, packing material and fire wood. To meet the growing demand we can't rely on the forests alone, so private agroforestry is  inevitable.  India's per capita consumption of paper and paperboard is less than 10kg and whereas China is 72kg. The productivity of timber in India is only 0.7 cubic meters /ha/year whereas the world average is 2.1 cubic meters /ha/year. India's forests are covered in  69 million hectares i.e.  19.5% of the country's area, the  availability of forest land per person in India is one of the lowest in the world at 0.08 ha, against an average of 0.5 ha for developing countries and 0.64 ha for the world. The demand for timber was  85 million cubic meters in 2008 and now it is expected to cross 153 million cubic meters by 2020, the supply of wood from forests  are projected  to 60 million cubic meters by 2020. This means India needs to depend on imports or else agroforestry in private and community lands for its growing wood requirements.

Increased cost of cultivation, non availability of farm labor, higher farm wages and various reasons farmers are switching to less investment and less labor intensive farming like short term commercial crops and forestry plantations. Agroforestry system is mostly practiced by  the large farmers who have alternative source of income rather than agriculture, It won't viable to small farmers  since they need annual returns on agriculture for their livelihood. But some of the areas the small farmers  also cultivating the  agro forestry  by  inter cropping  the food crops between the rows up to one or two years or till the trees get  bigger, which is a good sign for food security and wood security.

Leucaena and Eucalyptus trees are widely cultivated in Andhra Pradesh which give the guaranteed farm income and the yield of each acre is used to be between 25- 30 tonnes  for  every four years as the trees are harvested only after 4 years.The wood pulp is being used in paper industry and as well as plywood, particle boards and wood veneer. The waste wood has been used in bio mass power generation plants as a substitute to coal and other fossil fuels to reduce the green house gas emission. In Prakasam district alone has more than  one lakh acres have been cultivated and  producing  10 lakh tonnes of wood valued around Rs 390 crores annually. The market price has increased  recently up to Rs.3900 per tonn  due to the shortage of wood and fair competition among the firms in industry which is a lucrative income for farmers. Most of the progressive farmers  would like to adopt agroforestry model for sustainable agriculture to improve the farm productivity and profitability.

Indian has achieved self sufficiency in food production, now we should focus on ecology,  preserving our fossil fuels and also cater the growing wood demand caused by population growth and economic development. The agroforestry system is capable to sequestrate the massive amounts of carbon  that helps to mitigate the danger of green house gas concentrates. We can implement this system in large barren lands, farm boundaries to improve soil fertility and water conservation. There is a remarkable scope in agroforestry  to focus on the ecological issues, biomass production,  cattle fodder and various outputs to industries as well as employment generation.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Incredible challenges in Indian tobacco Industry

India is the third largest producer of tobacco which is 681 million kilos, next to China and Brazil and the second largest exporter of tobacco with 228,025 Metric Tons, next to Brazil. We have around 130,000 tobacco farmers, among them 89,855 were registered with Tobacco Board as a Flue cured Virginia growers with cultivated area of 2,15,000 hectares. Around 38 million people are directly or indirectly involved in various phases of tobacco industry for their livelihood.

The Indian Tobacco Industry contributes ₹ 4,980 crores of foreign exchange through exports and ₹ 17,415 crores through excise duties on tobacco products. Over 120 million Indians smoke, i.e. 10% of the world's tobacco smokers live in India and 102 billion sticks produced in India every year. India produces the tobacco which has lowest levels of pesticide residues.

We have some incredible challenges in our tobacco Industry which need to overcome.

India is the 6th largest illicit cigarette market in the world and about 16% of Indian tobacco products are illegitimate which the value is 1900 crores of rupees and hundreds of crores cigarette sticks are smuggled  in to the Indian market. Some of the studies say that the contraband market is may increase to 23% by 2016. The growing share of illegal cigarettes is reducing the demand of domestic tobacco industry, erstwhile in 2005/2006, the cigarette market size was 109 billion sticks and now it is reduced to 102 billion. This adverse situation threatens the life of 38 millions of tobacco dependents and big loses to Indian government since the illegal cigarettes evade the all kind of taxes like excise, customs, VAT and others.Allowing legitimate foreign brands into the Indian market is a wise decision to combat the contraband trade and prevent the losses of tax revenue. On top of that the Indian consumers’ tastes have changed and they are looking for world class products.

Indian Tobacco Industry is operated by a few domestic players and there is no effective competition. Farmers are not getting the prevailing price through monopolistic and unfair trade practices by domestic trade cartel. One biggest Indian company is controlling the 80 percent of market and it buys more than 60% of the cigarette variety leaf with lesser price which is nearly 50% below of global average. The company makes heavy margin but the farmers being paid by non-remunerative and unfair prices.

The UPA government banned the FDIs in tobacco industry in 2010, the Japan tobacco international was the victim of Inconsistence policies of the Indian government on FDIs and it has closed its operations in Dec2011. In April, 2012, some of the US trade bodies sent a representation to Indian Ambassador to USA, to consider the abilities of foreign companies to participate in Indian tobacco market and also they opposed the FDI Ban in Indian Tobacco Industry.

Tobacco farmers have been agitating against the monopoly and unfair trade practices and also not allowing FDI’s  is against to the Competition Act 2002 which prohibits anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant position by enterprises and also promotes the free and fair competition within the economy. The Department of Industrial Policy and promotion (DIPP) should rethink and review the FDI policies to allow foreign investments in tobacco industry since they allowed foreign investments in other industries. Indian farmers are looking for permanent solution to prevent the tobacco trade cartel's deceptive, monopolistic and unethical trade practices. They are eagerly waiting for international tobacco companies to participate in Indian tobacco industry for getting fair price among the competition and moreover the Indian farmers would like to be competitive to garner the major share in world market.

India has been a forerunner in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO- FCTC) which is aimed to reduce tobacco cultivation and restricting the all kind of supports to tobacco farmers. India ratified the FCTC in 5th Feb, 2004, it is the Regional Coordinator for the South-East Asian Region and India has a legal obligation to implement the FCTC guidelines. Most of the Indian tobacco growers don't know about the FCTC, the Ministry of Health never discussed and notified to tobacco farmers while signing this agreement, now Indian government is pressuring the farmers to go out of tobacco cultivation. Cultivation is farmers’ birth right and they have right to grow any legal crop of their choice. Consuming tobacco is a social problem; the government should control the same by creating awareness and educating the civil society. As per article 17 of FCTC, the government should provide economically viable alternate livelihoods to the tobacco farmers while implementing the FCTC guidelines, there is no such thing or any scientific exercises were not conducted so far. FCTC treaty is autocratic and forcibly imposed one, Indian tobacco farmers are opposing the several articles in FCTC guidelines.

Protecting public health is unquestionably noble objective, controlling tobacco cultivation is  a complex and socio-economic issue that needs a pragmatic approach  and make involvement of key stakeholders at every stage for their smooth economic livelihood transition.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

India needs nutritionally enriched Food security

On July 5th the Food security ordinance was approved by the President of India, the ordinance will guarantee 5 kg of rice or wheat or millets  a month to poor at a discounted rate of Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Re. 1 respectively.  Food security means ....not only  providing  5 kilograms of subsidized food grains but  also that should ensure the nutrition security. I don't  think  that 5 kgs of food grains is not enough to feed  one person per month. Average consumption per year for each person is around 178 kgs. ( 15 kgs per head/monthly) and average family size in India is  4.8 persons,  so each family needs at least  65-70 kgs of grains per month.  Food habits have been changing gradually, people are slowly shifting from grains to more protein and nutritional based foods. Edible oil, pulses  are good source of nutritional values , each person needs minimum 1kg of edible oil and the same way 1kg of pulses per month, though which  is less than nutritionist 's recommendations  i.e. 16kgs of edible oil and 20kgs of pulses per capita. I don't know, how come this bill is going to ensure the food security by just giving  5 kgs of grains and the same way how it's going to reduce the malnutrition by just giving grains without any nutritional food items.

India ranked 65 among the 79 countries which are listed in global hunger index. ( High number means most vulnerable) . As we know  that our working class poor people are still in calorie deficient and they definitely need the nutrients to get strength, endurance and productivity at their workplace. The UPA-2 government is trying to mesmerize the people that it is doing a big favor to below poverty line by the Food Security Act. The edible oil and pulses are essential for human beings to sustain proteins, vitamins and minerals. The market prices of edible oil and pulses are very high and have been increasing , the government  doesn't have any control  over the prices and price mechanism . The nutritional food items  must be reasonably priced to consumers, then only the people will get comprehensive food security otherwise it 's  going to be a futile exercise.

The Public Distribution Systems is not functioning efficiently,  it’s all corrupted and controlled by the second fiddles of local MLAs. Everybody  knows that the PDS food ration is going to the black markets and  also too many   fake ration cards. The PDS system shall be pruned to remove the bottlenecks  in supply chain of food distribution especially  for  this upcoming Food Security program. The UPA's National Food Security bill doesn't have any time bound or any target orientation.  There is no clarity in elimination of malnutrition and how many people will be moved out of hunger in next 5 years or next 10 years and so on. The Bill is just targeted for 2014 elections for their electoral prospects and it is political hoax .

The government must focus on 4 Ps i.e. Production, Procuring, Preserving and Proper distribution of food grains. Food security act will not only serving the poor but also encourages the production of food grains which is directly  benefit to the farmers since the consumption will be more. At the same time, the farmers should not be burdened  with the cost of subsidizing the supply. India needs to be self sufficient in food grain production to meet this new demand, so the agriculture should  have high priority in National Food Security program.

Friday, May 03, 2013

My way of thinking on GM crops

Developing countries are adopting the Biotech crops at faster rate, Genetically Modified (GM) crops have been cultivated more than 1. billion hectares worldwide, 10 % of the world crop lands were planted by GM crops in 2010, 17.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 2012. India cultivated 9.4 million hectares of GM crops in 2010. Major scientific academies and regulatory bodies of the world from the US, Canada, UK, Germany, France, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Russia, Australia and  New Zealand  have completely  endorsed the safety and efficacy of the science and technology of GM crops. Most of the developed nations experience with Biotechnology crops are  reliable, alternatives to traditional pests, reduced input costs, quality in crop yields and finally income benefits to farmers.

Achieving food and nutritional security is tough task, we need to try all possible options like GM and conventional. Malnourishment still exists in India, India ranked 65 among 79 nations in global hunger Index. ( High ranked = Most vulnerable).Everyone concurs that sustainable agriculture plays a critical role for future food needs and better environment. The first green revolution achieved by applying the chemistry and petroleum, but now the Biotechnology, information technology and renewable energies are crux  for the next green revolution. It's something modern way of thinking for food security, economic development and environment. Now the most of farming community has been dependent of information, communication and technology, they are adopting modern growing techniques of precision farming  like  System of Rice Intensification Method  in paddy cultivation, modern farm implements, organic farming and also cultivating the transgenic commercial crops like BT cotton.

Applying Biological solutions instead of Chemical applications has been growing in agriculture. In India, lot of hurdles to integrate the biotechnology into agriculture research I.e technical, political, environmental, intellectual property, biosafety and trade related issues. Based on the demand, it is suggested to implement Biotechnology applications in strategic areas where the agriculture get more gains. As we know that, parliamentary standing committee and a Supreme Court of India jointly appointed the Technical Experts Committee (TEC) to perceive the pros and cons on GM Crops, TEC has recommended a ban on field testing of GM crops which are under development in both public and private labs for a decade, but it was dismissed by the courts and now the Environment and Forests Ministry has allowed the field trials on 20 GM crops such as cotton, rice, tomato, groundnut, potato, corn, sorghum, okra, brinjal, mustard, wheat, watermelon, papaya, sugarcane, rubber, castor, banana, pigeonpea and chickpea. Out of 20 crops, field trials were initiated for only three crops ( Cotton, Corn, Mustard) upon obtaining the no objection certificates from the state governments. 

All these actions indicate that India has positive approach towards transgenic crops, the real challenge is that how the scientific regulatory bodies monitor the process of trials and research. The regulatory precautions should be implemented very meticulous and ultimately those crops must not negatively affect on human health and  environment or animals and other crops. In India lot of apprehensions on GM crops which are related to safety aspects of human health and environment, let us wait and watch.. how the scientists and policy makers are going to address the public apprehensions on the GM crops which are now in field trials  Everything should be transparent in the field trial process and the research data, nothing should be hide, farmers and consumers must be better informed.

GM seeds are expensive and the technology is protected with stringent intellectual property laws and patented. Some of the international seed companies are monopolizing the business by merging the small seed companies and they are pushing their GM seeds in place of conventional. To break the monopoly of big biotech companies, government should encourage the extensive research and field trials through private companies and universities, so that  the enhanced competition will help the small and marginal farmers to afford the GM seeds. Nonprofit organizations and public sector scientific agencies should focus on safe and effective application of biotechnology to the extremely important crops for the benefit of small and poor farmers.