RESOLVING FARMER DISTRESS

#Vitarkka: Various data sources claim that between 160 to 395 Million acres of land are under agriculture in India and figures amongst the top 5 growers worldwide in many categories of agri-products. (India has about 812 Million Acres of land approximately). 60% of India’s population is directly or indirectly employed in agriculture. Agriculture exports according to the ministry of agriculture accounts for some $30 Billion of annual exports (Down from its earlier $40 Billion in 2013-14) and a third of this is meat and marine life exports. Therefore one could safely assume that we are exporting some $20 Billion of non animal agriculture products. But you’d be shocked by this statistic. In 2013-14 we imported $13.60 Billion of agriculture produce but this shot up in 2015-16 to $22 Billion. It is striking that with a 140 Crore people nation and with so many million acres of arable lands, it is just unimaginable that we should be exporting so less and surprisingly importing when data would clearly show us what these imports are and plug this by encouraging areas which are capable of growing these crops which in turn will push us to zero imports. 

Lately, we have been constantly reading stories of farmer distress and farmer suicides. Agriculture has always been used as a political tool to win votes and hence there are constant rants by various political parties on how they are the “saviours” of these farmers. When in reality, this narrative is only a six month long news buzz just before elections and for the next 4.5 years a half-hearted effort is made or it is forgotten. Lies will be peddled constantly to convince everyone about the good work the government will do for the farmers when in reality there is very little which actually percolates down.

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Alas, the governments have been so busy in their creative pursuits that all they can really think of as a quick fix for farmers is to get them off their backs by promising farmers dole money in the form of loan waivers and such schemes which in the long term cripple rather than strengthen the farming community. This is an extremely bad move and setting an extremely bad culture amongst farmers who will collectively take loans and keep coming back in the future for similar reliefs. Every state which is getting into election mode is waiving farm loans and this is costing the taxpayers and the country “LAKHS OF CRORES”. Surely this will have a long term impact on the overall economy which in time may set us on a devastating path of economic distress.

The other key aspect not being investigated is whether these monies are actually reaching the common man or is it that the local strongmen / politicians have the farmer take a loan on his/her behalf and these waivers are to benefit the strongmen/politicians and the farmer is just a pawn? The fact that ten’s of thousand of crores are at play can easily be construed as a way to raise election money and considering the need for big bucks to win elections, this could be both a direct and an indirect method of raising capital for the political party in power.

It should be made mandatory by the ELECTION COMMISSION that no grand scheme should be announced in the last 2 year prior to elections. This way the government has to work their backsides off to win the vote of the common-man and the first half of their term should define their spending pattern on the agenda which brought them to power.

One isn’t against socialism, but as the population grows larger, it’s time the government start thinking of enabling people rather than making them lazy or continuously promising things they cannot provide or cannot live up to. Nor should the government be involved in such pursuits other than governing. They should be the enablers that they are voted to be.

This gets us thinking as to whether it is such a tall task to create a platform which enables small population of farmers across the country to be able to enrich themselves and with this, the country. From ancient times there have been “marketplaces” like “Mandis” which enabled communities to trade. Whilst there was no technology to be able to communicate to far off places, the local areas would grow what was required by their community and their neighbouring ones and as population increased and transport improved, the volumes increased too and so did the reach.

In the current time, there is a desperate need for the government to disrupt this model of how the “Mandis” are currently operated. In our opinion, it is possible to revive the farming culture and make it extremely vibrant and beneficial for our farming families.

1. Firstly, the new “Marketplace” should be designed to cater to a smaller population of say 20000 people who fall under the farming families. This would mean that if a family is 4 strong, then the head of the families would be 5000 strong who would form part of the “Marketplace” community. Presuming that there are some 84 Crore people (Farming families) dependent on agriculture, this would mean about 42000 “Marketplaces” would be required throughout the nation. There are several existing Mandi’s which could be upgraded and new ones built where required. The investment is not more than 2 Crore’s per “Marketplace” which means that for the project to be implemented across the nation, would be just 84000 Crores (Less than the cost of the proposed bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai) which will completely change the farming landscape in the country.

2. The key to the “Marketplace” is its close proximity to these many farming families and having 20000 people under each “Marketplace” makes it easy for the managers at each centre to better operate them.

3. The basic infrastructure for each of these centres should be:
i. Solar based cold-storage facilities.
ii. Tamper-proof weighing scales linked to computers to ensure no cheating in weight.
iii. Computer setup which enables linking all agri-produce to a national database which enables large chains, traders and international buyers to buy directly from this system.
iv. A store which makes available to all the farmers latest implements, seeds, saplings and fertilisers which enables them to grow organic produce.
v. An agriculture school which allows the farmers to learn all the latest technology and methods available and the teachers can act as mentors to the farmers to assist them grow crops based on soil conditions to achieve the best yields and prices locally/internationally.
vi. A laboratory which helps test their soil and advises on the fertilisers to use and methods to follow and several such steps which would build a robust “Marketplace”.

4. Each centre has to have a water specialist to ensure various methods of water availability for the farmers be it through ground water, river sources, rainwater harvesting etc. and they would not just lobby with the state & central governments to get adequate water for the farmers but also act as advisors to suggest crops which consume less water and are profitable in areas which demand so.

5. Each centre should also have marketing officers who lobby with countries (for exports), local hypermarket chains like Metro, Reliance, Tata, Future Group, D’Mart and large traders. This would also open up the opportunity for International & local buyers to have collaborative setups with various state governments to adopt clusters of “Marketplaces” to have them produce for them using the best practises to enable a huge transfer of knowledge and moving our farmers away from bad practises of pumping chemicals to increase produce which in time kills the land. The centres could also deliver directly to metros with a government approved transport network and supply all the government and private retail stores.

6. While each centre operates as an independent unit competing with other centres, boundaries have to be marked per centre to define the area as the centres development zone. With the centre run professionally, the heads have to make presentations every quarter on their business plan which is made available online for all to see. With the area defined per centre and data available, centres could define the crops they plan to grow to avoid oversupply.

7. Having built a massive chain of “Marketplaces” across the country which are hooked up via technology, gives a spectacular opportunity for the government to fix good rates from the farmers based on their input costs and yield data which will be available through a farmer app. This would allow them the farmer, to maintain complete crop data on the App including videos, process, products used etc. and be visible to the buyer (just like the process of farming in Europe) which enables extremely good prices for the farmer for the same amount of work. The App also will provide extremely long term benefits to the farmer which include ability to make and receive payments, purchase history of all implements, seeds, saplings, fertilisers, analyse his profit/loss to enable analysis of the crops the farmer is growing, communication with the management of the “Marketplace” and many such critical aspects to make the farmer extremely self reliant and successful. Another key gain for the government would be to better analyse the farming data which currently doesn’t tell the full story. With banking at the farmers fingertips, this would in time make the dream of the government to go cashless a reality.

While it may be said that these kinds of programs are already available, it must be noted that they are not designed to cater to smaller farming groups in a cohesive and comprehensive fashion which can enable a far more superior result.

Today, with Ayurveda for example taking centerstage around the globe considering its ancient wisdom to assist humans in better body management with thousands of years of research in plant science, the growing of herbs and trees could be once again a major source of revenue and an opportunity in farming. In the past decade, a homegrown company Patanjali has shown the world the power of Ayurveda and has in a short span become a billion dollar company. Many companies and spiritual centres like Sri Sri and Isha too are making deep inroads not just in India but globally. The need for farming to contribute to creating an Ayurveda revolution is a multi billion dollar opportunity. The “Marketplaces” could also teach the farmer how-to setup a cottage industry to process their produce which could bring in more revenue. The Bio-fuel industry is another massive opportunity to growing various long term trees/plants alongside mid and short term trees/plants to enable sustained yield for the farmer in time, who mainly depends on short term crops. The opportunity is endless and the agri-revolution has to be setup today for a brilliant tomorrow in India.

For more information on how to implement the ‘MARKETPLACE’, email us at vitarkka@gmail.com.

Raj Kaushik – Vitarkka

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