A recent study highlighted by the Thomson Reuters foundation revealed that if land rights of smallholder farmers (both men and women) are secured, strongly and broadly distributed then there will be an increase in agricultural investment, reduction in hunger, feed the rural poor and growing urban population. This will promote the growth of equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth. The study has highlighted that there is direct link between the land rights and the economy growth. Despite this study the trends in agricultural sector in India shows some opposite symptoms like of poverty and suicides.
Taking a comparative approach, Uttarakhand in last 15 years is the most underdeveloped state in terms of farming stated a recent report from Hindustan Times. Despite proper budget allocations the state has unable to revive the farming sector. Also the government allocated 90% of the total Rs. 482.69 crores and Rs. 187 crores was shared 50-50% between the state and the central government, the sector is going through tough crisis. The situation is evenly worst in the once so called agriculturally rich and wealthy state of Punjab. A recent study by Indian Express revealed that farming community in Punjab is unable to face the wrath of cashing crop prices and rising farmer defaults as a result of which over 500 farmers have committed suicides in last 5 years.
As a universal fact, the Indian economy is largely based on the Agriculture. Therefore, agricultural growth and increases in agricultural productivity is vital. Also, thrust should be imparted upon the installations of agriculture related rural enterprise. A large chunk of productivity is lost to pest, weeds, harsh climatic conditions and wild animals due to which the concept of modern agriculture should be analyzed critically. Modern Agriculture focuses entirely on sustainability which means “keeping the crop productivity going without enhancing the input levels”. As a result of which, the model for the modern agriculture should be entirely based on: resource conserving, socially cohesive, commercially competitive and environmentally safe. But, over a period of time, there are some of the major challenges that have developed against the modern agriculture and they are:
- Development of integrated crop management (ICM) system which is resilient to pests, disease and weeds also which is environmentally sustainable and socio-economically appropriate.
- Tackling the misuse and overuse of synthetic chemical pesticides promoting their safe disposal developing pest management system based on newer safe chemicals.
- Developing alternative pest control technologies.
- Introducing participatory approach for the development and extension of ICM technologies and strategies.
- Education and engagement of youth
- Introduction of Rural Entrepreneurship
Table 1: Response to fertilizer application in food grains production
While surveying the different areas of Uttarakhand it was observed that paddy and wheat were dominant crops among the others. The major varieties of the wheat used in the production were: HD 2967, WH1105, WH 711 and PBW 502. While following variety of Paddy was used in the hilly areas like: VL-208, VL-209, VL-154, VL-62, Govind, Pant-11 etc. whereas the plain areas used the following varieties of the paddy: NDR-359, HKR-47, BC-370 etc. While surveying the areas of Prempuri, Bachuabaan, Malsakhet, Chinauni, Chaukhutia (as they are rain fed areas) the crop have been sown in residual moisture, the germination is good and crop is at tillering stage. The incidence of stripe rust was observed in few improved varieties of plant like HD 2967, VL-209 and others. Also many Ngo’s and institutes have introduced new technologies and methods like line sowing, crop threshers etc. In line sowing fewer amounts of seeds are required as compared to the conventional form of sowing. Crop threshers, harvesters, tillers and mowers are very helpful in reducing the manual burden of the farmers as most of them are female farmers. “Introducing new forms of seeds and technologies has enabled the farmers to increase their output without much use of chemicals” says Inder Bisht (a field worker from INHERE- Institute of Himalayan Environmental Research and Education, an NGO working in Chaukhutia related to the issues of agriculture and climate change). He also said that “under new methods of farming we are introducing services like value adding, market linkages, rural entrepreneurship education, managing and teaching the human-techno interface.”
Table 2: Seed Rolling Plan of Uttarakhand Government 2013-18
But the agricultural situation remains sensitive in the area of Uttarakhand. Since last 15 years agrarian economy of the state has not grown much. Uttarakhand state with diverse agro-climatic endowments, the plains and hills present differing scenarios for agriculture while commercial agriculture is practiced in the plains. The hill farmers mainly practice subsistence farming. The hills practice mixed cropping, while in the plains in a given season single crops are grown mostly. Irrigated land is freely available in the plains, with over 87 per cent land being irrigated as against a mere 10 per cent in the hills. The seed replacement rate for the plains stands at 15-20 per cent, while for the hills it is 3-4 per cent. Productivity across the same crops also differs greatly between the hills and plains. In Uttarakhand more than 75 percent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. The average size of holding in the state is around 0.98 hectare. Another feature typical of hill farming is the small and scattered land holdings. Out of the total cultivated area, about 50 per cent of landholdings (in number) are sub marginal, and 21 per cent of landholdings measure between 0.5–1 hectares. Over 27 per cent of the area under cultivation consists of plots less than 1 hectare in size. Another 26 per cent of land holdings are between 1 and 4 hectares in size, and account for 51 per cent of the total cultivated area. 22 per cent of the cultivated land consists of plots over 4 hectares in size, and these account for 3 percent of the land holdings in number (planning commission report 2007).
The migration of youth from these areas towards the urban cities has actually created a crunch in this agricultural sector. In Malsakhet (a remote village in Almora District) Gram Panchayat Member Dhangiri confesses that “Youth of this village is no more interested in farming and they are more inclined towards going to the big cities and doing small routine jobs. They are also aspiring for better and new future which is impossible if they live in this village and contain themselves to the farming only”.
In Bachuabaand (another remote village in Almora district) also the situation is alarming. Only women from each household are employed in this area and there is no supporting hand. “There are no basic amenities in this village. Farming does no more serve our purpose of gaining income and we do not have that much knowledge too regarding marketing the crops and all so they all move to cities for higher studies and then settling their future there only” says Vimla Devi who is residing in the village since last 40 years.
The modern agricultural impact has not been able to pave its way to these villages up till now as a result of which villagers are still dependent on traditional sources of farming. Also due to small land holdings, difficult terrain and pricing status these people are unable to adhere to modern means of farming. Jagdish, a worker with INHERE revealed that “technology is very difficult to access in these areas, both due to difficult geographical conditions and cost. Also they are holding small piece of land they don’t require much of the mechanized agricultural process.”
However, institutes like INHERE, Vivekananda Krishak Foundation etc. are introducing modern means of farming in these areas with the help of various national and international agencies like NABARD and World Bank. But non engagement of youth into the agriculture and lack interaction with modern means of agriculture has made this region of Uttarakhand an underdeveloped in terms agricultural output.
The epicenter of famous “Green Revolution”, the state of Punjab is slowly become a depressed and under production state in terms of agricultural yield. A study of farmers’ issues conducted by Dr. Sukhpal Singh and a team of Punjab Agriculture University reveals the farmers are reeling under debt. Of the sampled farmers, 88 per cent had an average debt of Rs.218,092 per household. The amount of debt per hectare was inversely related to the farm size. It was the highest among marginal farmers at Rs.1,70,184, followed by small farmers at Rs.1,04,155 and for other farmers at Rs.44,069.
In 2009, a Greenpeace report found that water from local wells in Faridkot carried dangerously high levels of nitrates present in the surrounding agricultural land.
According to the report, “20 percent of all sampled wells have nitrate levels above the safety limit of 50 mg of nitrate per liter for drinking water, established by the World Health Organization (WHO).” It further noted that “nitrate pollution in drinking water can have serious health impact on humans, especially for babies and children.”
“The agricultural crisis in Punjab is deepening. The groundwater table is reducing by 2ft every year, the usage of NPK and other fertilizers are increasing, the indigenous seeds are losing their identity, soil is getting polluted, health and safety issues etc.” says Randheer Singh Pratap, a farmer from Punjab. (He is farming since last 20 years)
The reasons are clear. Punjab’s agriculture has been reduced to a market for chemical corporations, which are now the seed corporations. High cost seeds and chemicals are a recipe for debt creation. This is the first aspect of the agrarian crisis in Punjab today. Chemical agriculture is also very water intensive. It also reduces the capacity of the soil to hold water and needs more irrigation. It destroys soil fertility by destroying soil organisms which makes soil fertile. There are no earthworms, no mycorrhizal fungi that make humus. Punjab soil is degraded and dying. When soils die, they take with them the prosperity of society.
The youth in Punjab is already fighting with the problem of drug abuse. Another major problem is after completing their higher education they are settling in abroad so the migration rate from home cities to foreign nations like Canada and UK remains high. In last few years farmers are selling their lands to big builders and contracts and illegally entering into real estate mafia and drug smuggling which is yielding more profits then the farming. As a result the sector is getting cramped up. Thus, once the so-called Bread Basket of India is now in deep trouble.
There appears a huge disparity among different parts of India in terms of agricultural practices and production. It should be kept in mind that the modern means of agriculture is not to exploit the soil and yield higher productions but to manage and sustain the basic features of soil and traditional agricultural practices. It has to serve as the link between the traditional and modern agricultural scenarios. Modern agriculture has to keep ‘sustainability’ in center and balance the ongoing crisis.
Rural Entrepreneurship, education and motivating the youth to engage with farming is the need of the hour. A huge void space is getting created between the agricultural sector and services industry. Manufacturing and industrial units are increasing so are the number of farmer suicides. Policies to address the agricultural debts have to be addressed efficiently. Human-techno interface has to be developed and should be made accessible to the most underdeveloped regions of our nation. Then only this agricultural crisis can be ‘minimized’.
Author: Rishabh Shrivastava, Founder (Analysis: The Spirit of the Free World)
(Author was the part of month long course conducted by the Center for Science and Environment, Delhi on Environment and Development (June 2016) as a part of which the field visit to the Almora and Chamoli Districts in Uttarakhand was done by the author)
You can reach author at: email@example.com