Indian agriculture has recorded an impressive growth of 4.9 per cent last fiscal, thanks to good monsoon. Whether is it sustainable? What is government’s view on GM mustard? And many more questions, Shobhana K Pattanayak, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare answered candidly in an exclusive interview to Pravash Pradhan, Editor, SMART AGRIPOST.
Q. The government has completed three years of its tenure. Please tell us about major achievements.
Ans. The Government has been having a very new look at agriculture. Some of the schemes which have been launched in the last 2-3 years are game changers for the agriculture sector. Just to give an instance, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Farmers can now take risk of doing agriculture freely. Once they can take the risk freely, they can also have high productivity and they can also grow for the market. The Fasal Bima Yojana is different from earlier schemes in the sense that the premium amount is very small that means farmers don’t have to pay a big amount of premium and the sum insured is almost the same as the cultivation cost of the farmer.
Secondly, due to use of smart technology and digital technology, we are able to settle the compensation very quickly. Some of the states have really made use of digital technology to ensure the crop cutting experiments are done in record time and some insured are settled at an early date.
Next I must say about the Soil Health Scheme. This is an attempt to give farmers a soil health card after testing the soil. This helps in judicious use of fertilizers, it reduces the cultivation cost and last but not the least it also ensures that the soil health improves. Once the soil health improves, again the production grows up and productivity grows up.
Then I can say about the e-NAM, the electronic trading platform where farmer can directly sell their produce in the market. They need not even go through the middlemen. We have linked 417 markets till date. We have a plan to link 585 markets by the end of this year. This is also another game changer I must say.
Last but not least, I must say about Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana. So far as the component which relates to agriculture department it is the micro irrigation. We have got a very ambitious target of covering 10million hectares of land in the coming five years and last year we had a target of 0.8 million and we have covered more than 0.8 million. In year 2017-18 we have the target to cover 1.2 million hectares and I’m sure we will be covering 1.2 million hectares.
It will make efficient use of water use efficiency and it will also give new power in the hands of the farmer even if there is less water available to them. So these are some of the changes which really make an impact on the lives of farmers and I hope agriculture will not be the same agriculture as it used to be.
Q. As per reports, agriculture sector has witnessed 4.9 per cent growth last fiscal. Is the growth rate sustainable?
Ans. We have a target to grow at a rate of 4 percent. When any economy is growing at 7 percent or 8 percent, agriculture is expected to grow at 4 percent. It is unfortunate that last two years we had a drought and therefore, the growth had come down. Even in a normal monsoon, we should be able to reach at 4 percent growth. We have to devise new strategies to attain that. So it is not an unachievable target, may be needed careful planning and execution and more so to motivate the farmers and find out the missing links, so that farmers get motivated to grow at that rate.
Q. Do you feel that agriculture should be brought under union list or concurrent list? It will help Centre to take more policy decisions to maintain the growth momentum.
Ans. No, agriculture can only grow if both state and centre join hands. We all know that agriculture is a state subject. So the nitty-gritty of agricultural planning has to be done by state government. We are not interfering at all. If you see the RKVY scheme, all the freedom is given to the states to decide what they should be doing in agriculture but the fact remains certain strategic directions in which states have to move, we have to take national interest into picture and then do it.
So the central government is only guiding the state governments in moving in the particular direction and it sets the standards at the national level because at the national level only we interact with what is happening at the world level.
Individual state government does not have that capacity or expertise to analyze international events and therefore there comes a role of central government. So we have to work in unison and we are working in unison. Record production last year is an example of the degree of cooperation that both central government and state governments have managed.
Q. NITI Aayog is seen actively involved in decision making processes. What is the role of Nitti Aayog in regards to development of agriculture sector?
Ans. Nitti Aayog also respects these lines of demarcation which has been very clearly identified in the constitution. So if you see the land lease law, it is not the law imposed by Nitti Aayog on the states. It is basically a model which is given to the states to suit them to their requirement. Same as the case, recently we also circulated model act on agricultural produce market, to carry out market reforms. This is also a model, it is not something that we are imposing on the states. If the states find it attractive they internalize it and they change their act and that is what is happening.
When we had a meeting of agricultural marketing ministers in Delhi last month which was presided over by the union agriculture minister, voluntarily many states told that yes, they are very impressed by this new model act and we will change our act accordingly, so that India has one market rather than so many different markets distributed among the states. We are moving in that direction.
Q. Does the government plan to implement Dr Swaminathan report fully, especially the recommendation on MSP?
Ans. There is a public debate on the report of Dr. MS Swaminathan. In fact some of his recommendations have already been implemented. What he has mentioned in his report that the demand of the farmer is that they have to get C2 plus 50 percent of cost. Now in several commodities we have already reached this stage. There are some of the commodities in which this particular recommendation is not implemented and there are different reasons for it because the cost of cultivation is much lower so we just cannot do that.
Therefore, since there is a demand from the farmers regarding it we are again studying it commodity wise to see to what extent, we are falling short of this recommendation and we will take necessary corrective steps if it is required.
But whatever decision is taken by the government it should be in the interest of the farmers and at the same time, the general interest of society has also to be looked into.
Q. What do you say about introducing GM mustard in India?
Ans. The responsibility of introducing the GM species is not with the agriculture ministry. It is a decision which has to be taken by the Ministry of Environment and Forest. If Ministry of Environment and Forest considers any new GM crop to be introduced in India and they give all necessary statutory clearance the agriculture department will definitely take follow up action and in this regard nothing is imposed on any farmer to grow any particular crop.
There is no law which says you should grow wheat or rice or you should grow GM wheat or GM rice. So there is no law, everyone is free to do anything. Farmers are also free to do that. So let us say that MoEF clears any GM crop, it needs to be promoted, it needs to be notified by the ministry, we will notify it and farmer has a choice whether to grow it or not to grow. We are in a democratic society and everyone is free to do what they feel like. So that is the law of the land.
Q. Now the Prime Minister is talking about Evergreen Revolution. What is evergreen revolution? How will it impact the growth of agriculture or help doubling farmers’ income?
Ans. We all speak very gloriously our first green revolution, it is basically when hybrid wheat was introduced and irrigation and all these things were introduced first. So people started talking about second green revolution but the question is agriculture is constantly innovating itself and coming up. For example, the population during the green revolution day and the population now if you see there is significant increase and if you take the bumper years of green revolution days that is early 70s and 80s what was the production and now we have gone much ahead of that production and how it has happened. It is due to constant innovation which has taken place in the field of agriculture and Hon’ble Prime Minister has mentioned it. Evergreen revolution means the effort should be continuous to innovate just like it is happening in the field of IT or Electronics. So this feeling should come in agriculture. Now the scientists have been sensitized to it, farmers have incentivized to it, the development administrators in agriculture, horticulture department, agriculture marketing department have been sensitized and the responsibility on all of us is to ensure that it takes place. This is one.
Coming to doubling of farmers’ income, we have had several seminars and workshops and we have now devised strategies for each state and different agro climatic regions far achieving the target. I can only say that farmers’ income can be doubled provided the cost of cultivation gets reduced and there are a number of schemes which I alluded to my initial part of the talk will ultimately help in reduction of cost.
Now reduction of cost also improves farmer’s income but to give the clear-cut example of how to double farmer’s income. You know 55 percent of our land in India is rain fed and they don’t have any access to water. So when you give water to a person who doesn’t have access to water, this itself helps him to double the income because earlier he did not have water. Now he is having the water. This is one example. Now number 2 – if I am growing one crop, I grow two crops then there is a possibility of doubling the farmer’s income.
Suppose I’m only growing crops and not growing high value crops like horticulture, if I switch over to horticulture like vegetables and fruits then also I have the possibility of doubling the income. Then another way is to supplement your income by other activities or switch over to other activities like animal husbandry, dairies, fisheries, poultry etc.
There is lot of scope in this country to do many things to double farmer’s income. You can take allied activities like bee keeping, mushroom cultivation, vermincomposting, rendering services to farmers itself. A person took a cell phone and linked up 500 farmers.
He is charging 100 rupees from each farmer but he goes to his farm, he tests his soil, he says him to spray something and he also renders the service. Many startups, IT people and agriculture graduates are doing this. They are also getting the income and farmers are also getting the benefits as well.
Last but not the least that farmers can also resort to nonfarm activities for improving their income because the farmer is just not a farmer he can do many other things in the village. So that is another way for which skill development is required. You know the skill mission is giving lot of importance to it.
Earlier farmers were growing for the sake of production. Now the moment you make a shift from production to income, he thinks of doubling his income.
Q. What is your priority for the current year?
Ans. We have done a jump in pulse production. We need to maintain it because we got to have self-sufficiency in pulses. We need to ensure that our agriculture produce finds some market outside India because that will only help us in producing more and we must streamline the laws governing the export of agriculture commodities from the country.