June 17, 2021
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Upgrading Rural Livelihoods

Right to food will be meaningless if there are not enough people producing food. Skill-training is urgently required for rural India.

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Upgrading Rural Livelihoods

The text of the speech by the celebrated "Green Revolutionary" agricultural scientist in support of the Motion of Thanks on the President's Address in the Rajya Sabha today

The President's Address is fairly comprehensive and deals with both new initiatives and also some of the older initiatives. I wish to make a few remarks in relation to areas which need urgent attention. The President has referred to the five important challenges facing our country and she has rightly listed livelihood security as number one.

Though Shri Venkaiah Naidu, Shri Shivanand Tiwari and many others have referred to the sad state of malnutrition prevailing in our country among children, women and men, in our country, hunger or malnutrition is not due to lack of food in the market; it is due to lack of purchasing power. Purchasing power means job security. Job security and income security are the most important components of livelihood security.

And I am happy that there is a very large skill training programme which is already in progress and which will be further expanded. But, I think, if you want to derive what they call demographic dividend, that is, the dividend coming from our predominantly young population—after all, more than 50 per cent of our population is below the age of 30—you need to have an emphasis on skill training. President Obama addressed a college in Mumbai, he said that India was very lucky in having essentially a young population. How are we going to give an opportunity to people for leading a productive and healthy life? This is where skill training is very important. I hope, the skill training programme will cover rural areas, where 70 per cent of our people live, and especially women.

In fact, the National Rural Livelihood Mission is also part of an overall livelihood security programme. Two years ago, the Finance Minister announced a special programme for women farmers largely arising from the large number of widows of farmers who have committed suicide. Widows of more than a lakh of people who have committed suicide are all farmers, farm women. So, the Mahila Kisan Sashakteekaran Pariyojana was initiated. It has been linked with the National Rural Livelihood Security Mission. I am sorry to say that it is not going well. I think, it is a very increasing feminization of agriculture. We have our friend from Uttarakhand. If you go there, you will see mostly women who are in-charge of agriculture; and they are increasing. Therefore, the Mahila Kisan Sashakteekaran Pariyojana should be kept as a separate programme, not merged with something else, so that it does get adequate attention.

Similarly, the skill formation in rural India should draw the attention. The President’s Address does not mention whether it is rural or urban. But, I hope, a large initiative in rural India would take place. If you want to attract and retain youth in farming, it must be given thrust. Wherever you go, including Punjab, the farmers say that their children are not interested in agriculture and that they would like to quit. Now, 45 per cent of adults want to quit farming. Then, what would you do if you have a National Food Security Act which assures legal right to food? That can only be implemented with the home grown food. You cannot borrow or import from other countries. So, I would say that we should have a component in the skill training mission for rural India, particularly for the rural livelihood. What are the livelihoods? Proper animal husbandry, fishery, forestry, agroforestry, agro-processing and certain service centres. These all will have to be upgraded with skills.

Let me give one example. There have been some comments on fertilizers. Fertilizer availability is one problem. But, now, the Government has changed its policy of subsidy from product-subsidy to nutrient-based subsidy. If you want to use the nutrient-based subsidy, you will have to have a soil health card and much more information on what the soil is lacking, and so on. All these require skills. I would not go into the details, but the skill mission should have a large rural component.

When I started Krishi Vigyan Kendras in the 70s, the idea was ‘learning by doing’, not by lecturing, so that farm women and men could learn the latest techniques just by actual work experience. Today, we require for our agriculture, at least, at every block, a farm school on the model of Krishi Vigyan Kendra. The only difference should be from end-to-end. Today, the food production technology is advancing, but the post-harvest management of what we produce is very poor. Therefore, I hope that the skill mission will have a rural component.

My second point, Mr. Deputy Chairman, Sir, is about the need to contain price volatility and food inflation. Everybody mentions it to be one of the reasons why we have so much malnutrition. The reason is the high price of commodities and the food volatility. We require a national mission for the management of price volatility and food inflation. I would not deliberate it in detail. But let me give two examples. There are some of the components of food inflation and one is the pulses. Pulses’ prices are very important. Milk prices are also very important. People do not realise that 80 per cent of the milk cost comes from feed and fodder. Most of our feeds are being exported. All our concentrates are being exported. We have 400 million cows and buffaloes in the country. We are already number one in milk production. How will you produce more? If we have to produce more, they have to be fed more, with nutrition. In all these cases, there has to be proper coordination between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Commerce, on the export-import policies.

We should not export feed grains, feed which are important for our own animals. Then only the milk price will come down; otherwise, milk price will go up and up. How can the farmer produce? They have to have fodder and feed. Similarly, pulses. The hon. Finance Minister announced 60,000 pulses villages. I think some work has been done. It is already showing its impact. From 14 million tonnes, we have come to 17 million tonnes. We require another 3 million tonnes more to fill the gap between demand and supply in pulses. Pulses are very important not only for fighting protein hunger but they are also very important for fighting soil hunger because they fix nitrogen in the soil. So, you have got double benefit, fighting protein hunger and fighting soil hunger by cultivation of pulses. I would again appeal that this Pulses Programme should receive much greater attention. There are mostly dry farming areas. People have no irrigation. It is all the more important if the farmer produces one tonne from 500 kilograms, instead of producing 500 kilograms, his income goes up. That is the only way to improve the income of small farmers in the dry farming areas.

Thirdly, Mr. Deputy Chairman, Sir, the President has rightly said that we have had a record production of nearly 242 million tonnes of foodgrains and 231 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables. We should always take into consideration both, not only grains but also the other commodities. But there was no mention of the fact about the amount of spoilage. If you see the Government figures themselves, about 30 per cent fruits and vegetables are spoilt. Of course, we know how grains are stored. There is not a word about the management. There is no use in telling we are producing more and more, but how are you managing that production and how are we storing it? This is why I have been repeatedly recommending, particularly in the context of the National Food Security Bill, which is a historic Bill, whenever it is approved, at least, have, at 50 different locations in the country, one million tonnes of foodgrains of ultra-modern storage. It would not be much; it would not be a big one. Fifty millions tonnes is always in your stocks. So, I wish the President’s Address had, at least, contained one or two statements that the Government would intensify its management of whatever is produced in terms of post-harvest management, our production, processing and marketing.

Mr. Deputy Chairman, Sir, I have just two more points. One is the National Water Mission, which is a very important one. Water security is going to be our important problem in the future. Therefore, every drop of water must be conserved. There are programmes of the Government like ‘more crop per drop of water’, ‘more income per drop of water’. I would like to suggest – I have been mentioning this to the Minister of Rural Development – about the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. If you read the purpose of the Scheme, it talks about watershed management, aquifer recharge, recharge in the ground water, and so on. This is the most important aspect. Mahatma Gandhi, 70 years ago said, “What we need in rural India is the marriage of intellect and labour.” Just shramdaan won’t do. You have to marry technology with labour. This programme lacks very much the technological input. The labour input is there, but the technological input is not there. We have got a number of institutions. We should bring them together.

Then, we should also give some prestige to the workers in the MNREGA. Don’t call them all some beneficiaries, and so on. They are also human beings. They are earning their daily bread by working harder than you and I. They work in the Sun and rain. I think we should give them some awards. Raise the prestige of the work. Let them have self-esteem. There should be a National Water Saviour Award for the best MNREGA team, which has developed a very good watershed, and so on. And also, the Monsoon Mission which was announced by the President is exceedingly important. It is because the monsoon and the market are the two major determinants of a farmer’s well being in our country. This year, for example, there are predictions from foreign countries that the Indian monsoon may not be all right. I hope it is incorrect. But we have to be prepared. This is why we have to prepare a drought code, a flood code and a good weather code. All these are anticipatory actions. These are anticipatory in the sense what we should do, if we have a good weather. They must maximise production in a year of good weather, minimise the adverse impact of abnormal weather. So, the monsoon mission should not remain only statistical information over the radio and television. It has to be operationalised by producing the codes and so on.

Lastly, Mr. Deputy Chairman, I think, the President's Address contains a reference to a very important Conference which is being hosted in Hyderabad in October this year. This is the 11th Conference of the parties of the UN Convention on Biodiversity. India is mega biodiversity area. This is the largest gathering, a meeting of experts of the world in the field of biodiversity. It will be in Hyderabad in October. That is what the President's Address mentioned. Now, I found one sentence in the President's Address,

"The Government will endeavour to use this Conference to bring about noble consensus and forward looking action on initiatives like operationalisation of access and benefit sharing mechanism."

I am sorry to say that our Biodiversity Act is 10 years old. In 2002 Parliament passed the Biodiversity Act. If you read the Biodiversity Act, it has three levels of management. One is Panchayat level, Panchayat level Biodiversity Management Committee and then we have State level Biodiversity Boards and then the National Biodiversity Authority. So, there are three levels. The National Biodiversity Authority exists with its headquarters in Chennai. As regards State level Biodiversity Boards, Shri Digvijay Singh established the first one in Madhya Pradesh long ago, most of the States have Biodiversity Boards but at Panchayat level nothing has been done. If you go to Panchayat people and ask them about this biodiversity Act and its access, they do not know. But they are supposed to give the approval for access. For example, most of the rich biodiversity is in tribal areas. Koraput is a very genetic paradise. In fact, Koraput in Orissa is recognised as a globally important agricultural heritage site. The Prime Minister gave that certificate on January 3 this year at Bhubaneswar. It is a globally important agricultural heritage site. The next one is Kerala, the Kotonad, below sea level point. We have this wonderful heritage which the world admires with an enormous amount of biodiversity. But who is to give the permission, access and benefit sharing, the powers are vested with the local Panchayats and Committees. I think at least before October our Ministry of Environment should in a few States activate the Panchayati Raj institutions. There are many other points which are required to be discussed..

Mani Shankar Aiyar (intervenes) Could you also mention because it will help a great deal the importance of the Panchayats in the last mile delivery of food security, of drinking water, all these matters of the National Climate Change Programme? If you were to just endorse the importance of Panchayats for all these purposes, it will help us in other matters

Gandhiji mentioned one thing that Gram Swaraj is the way to Puran Swaraj. If we do not have Panchayati Raj, nothing will happen. Thank you, Sir.

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