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‘The Labour Of Farmers Must Be Compensated’

BW Businessworld strives to get an insight into the reality on the ground in an exclusive interview with the Father of the Green Revolution in India, M. S. Swaminathan

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Farmers were on centre stage again, when a multitude of them led a march to Mumbai. The protests have been called off, but have raised many posers on the efficacy of the measures that have been taken to allay the distress of cultivators, like part-implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report. Prabodh Krishna strives to get an insight into the reality on the ground in an exclusive interview with the Father of the Green Revolution in India, M. S. Swaminathan. 

Edited excerpts: 

Q. What are your views on the recent protest by farmers and tribals in Maharashtra?
The recent protest by farmers and tribals is an indication that their genuine problems are not being attended to.

Q. Do you see a need for changes in The Indian Forest Act?
The Indian Forest Act is a good one, but we should ensure the rights of the forest dwellers. Often they are the guardians of  the safety of forests.  Their legitimate rights as dwellers and conservers should be recognised and honoured.

Q. How legitimate is the demand for unconditional waiver of farm loans?
The demand for waiving farm loans arises because the farmers are unable to earn enough money to repay their loans. Without the repayment of  the loans, a new loan cannot be obtained for the Kharif season. The demand for loan waivers is an appeal for enabling farmers to continue farming.

Q. The recent protest involves tribals believed to be sympathisers of Left extremist outfits.  Would you say that farmers’ issues have been hijacked?
Political parties will always take advantage of the problems faced by the government. In this particular case, all parties are united in ensuring that farmers are able to practice farming.  The protest has nothing to do with extreme outfits, but it is the result of extreme frustration.

Q. Would you say that your recommendations as chairman of the National Farmers’ Commission have become more of a political weapon for blame games?      
Unfortunately, the recommendations made by us in the New National Policy for Farmers have remained on paper.  Only now, there is interest in attending to them seriously, because of agitations by farmers.  I fail to understand why farmers’ needs are always swept under the carpet.

Q. We have the largest irrigated land mass in the world but we still have a long way to go in taking irrigation to all the land under cultivation? What is the prime hindrance?
We have a large area under irrigation, but there is more possibility. I think we should make rain water harvesting mandatory.  There should also be more integrated irrigation systems in practice.

Q. In computing the cost of production for the minimum support price (MSP) guaranteed by the government, is it justifiable to add the cost of  labour, even when the land-owning  family cultivates the land? Will such a trend not raise expectations of other family-run enterprises?
It is quite justifiable to add the labour cost and family cost in the cost of production.  Farmers cultivate their farms at their own expense.  They have no salary or pension.  Therefore, their labour must be compensated. Farming is also one of the riskiest enterprises, dependent on the sun and the rain.  Therefore, we cannot compare farming with other kinds of economic activities.

Q. What is your opinion on pension for farmers? There is a view that the government should give it more importance than other social pension schemes.
Pension for farmers is a good idea, but may be difficult to operate. It is far better that  they be able to earn enough to be able to save for the future.  If they have surplus funds, they can invest it in fixed deposits or other methods of  saving for the future.

Q. Contribution of agriculture to India’s GDP is better than that of the US or the UK or even China … 
The contribution of agriculture to the GDP is high in India because of  less contribution from the secondary and tertiary sectors.  And this contribution of  agricultural GDP is also going down in India because of  the diversification of our economy.

Q. Farmers are not very open to new agricultural practices that require diversification. Is it possible to break this psychological barrier?
Farmers in general take to new technologies without hesitation, provided they are convinced that the technologies are economically sound and profitable.  Minimising risks is more important to farmers than just maximising profits.  The Green Revolution technologies were adopted by farmers immediately because we had laid out National Demonstrations in the fields of  the poorest farmers to show them opportunities created by semi-dwarf wheat varieties.  As a result the demand for seeds grew very rapidly.

Q. There are larger global issues like the water footprint that also impact Indian agriculture. How long can we afford to overlook such issues?
We should look at problems relating to water security very seriously.  As much as 97 per cent of  the global water resources come from the oceans.  In my opinion, we should spread the art and science of sea water farming. One such practice has been developed by the M. S.  Swaminathan Research Foundation.


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