National Commission on Farmers

In 2004, the UPA government had constituted a National Commission on Farmers under the chairmanship of Dr. MS Swaminathan.

This commission included a wide variety of people into definition of farmer. Farmers included landless agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, small, marginal and sub-marginal cultivators, farmers with larger holdings, fishermen and women, dairy, sheep, poultry and other farmers involved in animal husbandry, pastoralists, as well as those rural and tribal families engaged in a wide variety of farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermiculture, production of bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides, and agro-processing. It also included the tribals who engaged in shifting cultivation and non-timber forest produce.

Emphasis on Cost Risk Structure

While making a statement of the problems of the farmers; the Swaminathan Panel gave special emphasis to the Cost-Risk structure in Indian agriculture. It said that the farmers frequently face fury of the nature in the form of drought, unseasonal and heavy rains causing extensive damage to crops. This coupled with weak institutional support, ever increasing cost of production and not so supporting minimum support prices (at that time) have led to an adverse cost-risk structure of farming. This led to peasant indebtedness and farmer’s distress.

The committee also pointed out the inputs that did wonder during Green Revolution period have been giving diminishing returns since 1980s and the Capital formation in agriculture and allied sectors as percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined for a long term , only reversing recently. Adverse irrigation and rural infrastructure have led the farmers to commit suicides in Vidarbha  and other parts.

Agricultural Renewal Action Plan

Most of the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers focussed on improving farm productivity and profitability in perpetuity without ecological harm. It presented an Agricultural Renewal Action Plan, which called for introduction of mutually reinforcing packages of technology, services and public policies to bridge the gap between actual yields and potential yields. The Agricultural Renewal Action Plan had five components as follows:

Soil health enhancement

Agricultural Universities, research institutes, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, fertilizer companies, states department of agriculture and fanners’ associations should aim at increasing the productivity potential of the soils by paying adequate attention to the chemistry and physics of soils (macro and micronutrients) and microbiology. Dry farming areas should receive special attention.

Irrigation Water Supply Augmentation and Demand Management

National Commission on Farmers made a very forthright declaration – “Water is a public good and a social resource and not private property. The privatization of its distribution is fraught with dangers and could lead to water wars in local communities”. Improving supply through rainwater harvesting and recharge of aquifers should become mandatory.

It suggested that 10 million hectares of new area under irrigation should be developed; all existing wells and ponds should be renovated; seawater farming should be promoted in coastal areas through the cultivation of mangroves and other vegetation such as halophytic plants. Demand management through improved irrigation practices, including sprinkler and drip irrigation should receive priority attention.

Credit and Insurance

The panel emphasized that “Credit reform is the primary pathway to enhancing small farm productivity and ending farmer suicides.” In this direction, it suggested to:

  • Reduce interest rates on crops to 4%
  • The natural calamities such as droughts and floods lead the farmers to default on their loans. To meet the natural calamities, the union and state governments should come forward to create an “Agriculture Risk Fund” to provide relief to drought and flood hit farmers.
Technology

The performance of the new varieties of seeds should be judged on the basis of “net income per hectare” and not just in terms of yield per hectare. The governments should add Post-harvest technology wing to the Krishi Vigyan Kendras. Government should add Lab-to-land demonstrations in dry farming areas where millets, pulses, oilseeds and cotton are grown. The committee had also suggested to establish a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (Government established Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India in 2008).

Marketing

The committee suggested that the market reform should begin with production planning, so that every link in the cultivation-consumption-commerce chain receives adequate and timely attention.

Five Point Action Plan

For revival of agriculture, the Swaminathan Commission on Farmers suggested a five point action plan.

These five points are as follows:

  • Soil health enhancement
  • Water harvesting and sustainable and equitable use of water
  • Access to affordable credit and crop and life insurance reform
  • Development and dissemination of appropriate technologies and improved opportunities
  • Infrastructure and regulation for marketing of agricultural produce.

They have been discussed below:

  • Undertake soil health enhancement through integrated measures in improving organic matter and macro-and-micro-nutrient content, as well as the physics and microbiology of the soil.
  • Promote water harvesting, conservation, and efficient and equitable use by empowering gram sabhas to function as “Pani Panchayats“. A sustainable water harvesting system should be established, particularly in rainfed areas lacking assured irrigation. This can be facilitated by mandatory water harvesting and greater attention to dry land farming.
  • Immediately initiate credit reforms coupled with credit and insurance literacy. In chronically drought-prone areas, the repayment cycle should be extended to four to five years. Besides this, the credit delivery system should be made gender sensitive.
  • Bridge the growing gap between scientific know-how and the field level do-how both in production and post-harvest phase of farming. This could be accomplished by organizing the training of agricultural workers as farm science managers, strengthening Krishi Vigyan Kendras (Agricultural Science Centres) in both production and post-harvest technologies and organizing nation-wide lab to land demonstrations in the areas of agricultural diversification, food processing, and value addition. In nutshell, low economic risk, high factor productivity and avoidance of ecological harm should form the fundamentals of all agricultural research and development strategies. Success in agricultural progress should be measured by growth rate in farmers’ income and not just by production figures.
  • The gap between what the rural producer gets and the urban consumer pays should be made as narrow as possible, as has been done in the case of milk by Dr. V. Kurien. At the same time, there should be a Risk Stabilization Fund and a farmer-centric Minimum Support Price (MSP) and Market Intervention Scheme (MIS).
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