It is generally agreed that freedom from hunger has been the most fundamental difference that helped Independent India rise up the global socio-economic hierarchy. The achievement is attributed to Dr. M. S. Swaminathan (August 7, 1925 – September 28, 2023). Dr. Swaminathan was more than a great scientist, it needed a genius of a different stature to shepherd India through its regulatory tangles and bureaucratic ways to usher in a transformative regime and that too at the farm level. Never before in Indian history had policy-level success been achieved on such a massive scale in such quick time.
The area of human resources — amongst the most mishandled and underappreciated areas of development in India — has seen the Centre, the states and public sector units floundering on independently developing rules, regulating, identifying trends, and delivering on declared objectives. Consequently, government departments and organisations are increasingly turning to global consulting firms for advice. The outcomes and consequences of outsourcing “thinking” do not become clear for years and are difficult to quantify, further undermining the state’s capacity to analyse, strategise and govern. That it can be detrimental to the nation’s interests is explained by Mariana Francesca Mazzucato and Rosie Collington in The Big Con. The ill-fated farm laws were a demonstrable failure of agency and capacity.
In this thought-provoking session for Prabodhan Manch Parle, Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, delves into the challenges and solutions surrounding Food, Farming & Farmers. He brings attention to the importance of understanding the on-ground realities of the agriculture sector and the need for informed policy formation. He emphasizes the significance of Universal Basic Services for farmers and highlights the transformative power of research and skilled human resources. With India’s diverse land and habitats, he advocates for an independent agriculture policy tailored to local conditions.
Addressing climate change, he encourages the framing of policies aligned with India’s goals rather than blindly following Western standards. This session prompts us to reflect on these critical aspects and work towards meaningful policy reforms, dignity for farmers, and sustainable practices in Indian agriculture.
Peeking into the immediate neighbourhood – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka — one is relieved to have avoided the plunge over the cliff. After seven years, Ursula K. Le Guin’s words ring true “There is a certain bleakness in finding hope where one expected certainty.” Within the constrained fiscal circumstances, having expended its political capital, with looming state and parliamentary elections, the Union budget was only expected to be populist laying the groundwork for a re-election. It does far more.
As usual, I am awake, while it’s dark outside. Soon the birds begin chirping, one can identify pigeons, magpie robins, parrots, tailorbirds, crows, babblers and partridges. Their chirping ushers in the dawn. I step out, the sky is brighter, and the air is fresh. Blissful it seems, till I look down to find a dead bee on the floor and then there are more and some more. I flinch for a moment. Deep down, I would have hoped otherwise, but I half expected it. It always happens after we spray Profenofos, an organophosphate insecticide. When every measure to stop the pests fails, it’s the extremely toxic weapon of last resort. It also affects brain development in humans, particularly children.
Like the monsoons, just when everyone was giving up hope, it poured with a vengeance. The government made a commitment when it repealed the farm laws last year to constitute a committee, which has finally been constituted to promote zero budget-based farming, to change crop patterns and to make MSP more effective and transparent. It is exhaustive body of 28 members with cross representation from the Central and State governments, farmers, agricultural scientists and economists.
My grandfather, Balram Jakhar was amongst the pioneers of citrus plantation in north India, in the mid-1950s. In 1972, when he first became a member of the Punjab’s legislative assembly, he had promised to transform the bleak near-arid barren sand dunes into California. As his days came to a close, he loved to talk of the promise and similarities of the much-diversified farming in the area, when asked about it. We farm in village Maujgarh, in the Khuiansarwar block of district Fazilka in Punjab.
A month back, it was evident beyond doubt that wheat yields were down due to the exceptional heat wave and government procurement of wheat would also remain far below the last year levels. But, the mirage of excess production, caused due to wrong estimates of wheat production and analytics by government agencies has led to misplaced policy decisions. In its exuberance to be a messiah to the world, India prodded private trade to export vast quantities of grain, which they complied with gusto. The central government also bravely announced an extension of the subsidized food programme by six months. Therefore, the government of India’s announcement to ban export of wheat has come like a bolt from the sky not only for Indian farmers, traders but also for the international community. Expectedly India has lost credibility and even the G7 has criticized the move.
The finance minister’s frequent reference to the “Amrit Kaal” — India’s 25-year-long lead-up to its first centenary of Independence in 2047 — in her budget speech, encompasses, in no small measure, its massive accomplishment of running the world’s largest welfare program: that of feeding 800 million of its populace through entitlements of free and subsidized food. As a farmer, one hopes that a better measure of accomplishment would certainly be India not having to feed anyone for free because everyone could afford nutritious meals.