SPEECH BY HER EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA SHRIMATI PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL AT THE WORKSHOP ON "POLICY INITIATIVES FOR PROMOTING PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN STAKEHOLDERS IN AGRICULTURE WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO RAINFED / DRYLAND FARMING"
Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi , 15th February, 2012
At the very outset, I would like to say that I am heartened by the enthusiasm shown regarding this Workshop. There are participants from the entire country - from the North, South, West and East, including States from North-East representing different agricultural zones. Moreover, there is broad based participation. I am happy that the Prime Minister is especially here to inaugurate this workshop, and his cabinet colleagues, Governors, Chief Ministers and Ministers of States are present, as also are farmer organizations, agricultural organisations, Agricultural Universities, institutions like KVKs, representatives of industry, experts, scientists, bureaucrats and academicians. By coming here, all have shown the importance they attach to this sector of economy and I welcome all of you. I compliment the Prime Minister for several laudable measures taken by his Government to support agriculture and the farming community. This workshop is an attempt to bring all stakeholders on one platform so that they can put their heads together for a sort of convergence of various important aspects to make agriculture prosperous and productive. I keenly look forward to the discussions through the day.
Since the Workshop focuses on Rainfed and Dryland farming, which I will refer to as RFDF, I will point out some specific features of these areas. We know about 60 percent of our cultivated area is under RFDF. It provides 44 percent of food production in the country that includes 87 percent of coarse cereals and pulses, 80 percent oil seeds and, 65 percent cotton. It supports about 40 percent of the population, mostly belonging to the poorer sections of the society. It also supports nearly 60 percent of the livestock population. It has very low investment as compared to irrigated areas and I think urgent attention to RFDF is warranted, as broadly 80 percent of farmers in RFDF areas are small farmers. A willingness to look at out-of-the-box solutions is necessary to usher in a noticeable change in handling the subject.
The first issue of focus of this Workshop is policy initiatives to remove factors impeding rapid development in RFDF and to suggest measures to expedite growth. What are these factors and what are the remedies?
One of the most important factors in RFDF is reaching water to the farmer and ensuring its optimal use. How to do this? Water and soil conservation activities alongwith de-silting of the existing water reservoirs will have to be undertaken on a big scale. Proper harvesting of rainwater will also be of great use. I would like to mention here that I know in Rajasthan where there is shortage of drinking water, people used to, and in some places they continue to, dig wells of particular depth and circumference and store rainwater hygienically in the dry wells, to be used later. So, I think why not use the same idea for RFDF. The drywell could be dug in any low lying part of the land for harvesting rainwater. The rainwater collected can be used for crops in dry spells between two rains, particularly when there are delayed rains, during the sowing and crop growing periods as dry spell is what hits the crop the hardest. The water can be taken to the fields through pumps and sprinklers which can be provided to farmers individually or jointly through some mechanism which can be worked out. I understand that a drywell of 5 meter diameter and 10 meter depth can be useful in irrigating crop on one acre and also it is not an expensive proposition and a one time investment. The wells could be dug under MNREGA and in this way; funds under the scheme can be put for productive use in agriculture. There are also instances in RFDF where water in the wells was limited, it was brought by tankers and put in the well along with some use of manure and drip irrigation was used. Through this practice, yields went up four times. This is another method that can be looked at. I think a down to Earth approach needs to be taken into account.
Maintaining soil health is critical to RFDF. Farmers need to know about the use of appropriate fertilizers at the right time and in adequate quantity. Certain cropping patterns also help the soil retain its nutrients. Vermi-compost and organic manure are better known nature's produce for rejuvenating soil health. Compost pits in every village, as also common facility centres for customized services in agriculture machinery could be thought of. We need to look at innovative methods of providing farm based services through Public-Private-Partnership also. Policy support is needed for such partnerships.
Another issue is how to coordinate the allied sectors in RFDF? Improved livestock management can lead to huge accretion to milk yield which will increase business opportunities and at the same time result in improved nutritional levels. Also food processing industries can give option of value addition, improving the viability of farming activity, and leading it to an "enterprise mode", enhancing purchasing power of the farmers and boosting the economy as a whole. This requires the whole-hearted support of the Governments and financial institutions and proper guidance. However, can all this be systematically done and made a reality? Greater coherence and coordination of different schemes under different Ministries, both at policy formulation level as well as implementation level is important. And there should be planning from village level to block and district levels. A Block, generally the administrative unit for all developmental activities, could monitor, coordinate activities in the block. Each block could also be a nucleus of a "food and fodder bank" where food and fodder, is stored as per requirements to ensure food guarantee for people and livestock. Local storage of grains with easy availability in any season would reduce the distribution cost and would be a low cost option that also cuts on wastage during transportation. This will facilitate PDS too.
Knowledge and technology is another activity in which the Workshop could suggest how institutions, scientists, agricultural universities can propagate and take initiatives to the doorsteps of farmers. The various agricultural institutes and universities in the country should focus on farmer oriented technologies. Similarly, the extension machinery needs to be far more pulsating so that the results of research quickly reach the farmers. Farmers have traditional wisdom and practical ideas. Knowledge partners can also build on this wealth. At the local level, how can the Panchayati Raj Institutions, agriculture officers and the Krishi Vigyan Kendras play a proactive role to firmly weave knowledge and technology into the fabric of agriculture? This needs fresh thinking.
Also, steps for agricultural development must be accompanied by measures to remove the debilities of the farmers and empower them through marketing, finances and organisations of farmers. How can farmers get better marketing options? We need to look at building more open marketing systems including through suitable amendments in the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees Act, which have been made in some States. More useful and better enactments are necessary. It is observed that even regulated markets are not able to serve the intended purpose. These have to undergo structural changes in tune with the changing market conditions. The development of warehousing and cold storage are also essential. Ware-house receipts have recently been made negotiable instruments; but the reach is very limited in scope and the system is yet to stabilize.
Another point is how to empower farmers through financial inclusion and access to credit. Indeed, financial exclusion has been a bane for Indian agriculturists. As of now only five percent of more than six lakh villages in the country have bank branches. This coverage must expand rapidly. This will obviously take time and the Workshop should look at how lending can be made easier. Farmers continue to go even now money-lenders as the money is lent to them easily and quickly. This is a ground reality. So, it may be useful to find out whether individuals or micro-lending institutions can be registered and given some incentives and with some regulation, allowed to finance agriculture under the supervision of a suitable regulatory agency. Let these be woven into the banking system so as to facilitate speedier disbursement of loans to farmers. Sowing and other farming operations go as a cycle, and farmers cannot wait for paper-work to be completed by banks. Therefore, lending time to farmers with some degree of flexibility is basic to rural credit systems. This reality needs to be taken into consideration. And, I think at various stages new laws need to be enacted and readiness to do so has to be shown, for the growth of the agriculture sector.
When farmers organize themselves into farmers' organizations or cooperatives or producer organization, it gives them the advantage of dealing with their problems and engaging other stakeholders through a collective approach. The SHGs have demonstrated that with a pooling of resources, their bargaining power increases.
In terms of an approach, I have been advocating a move away from an isolationist attitude whereby agriculture is considered as an activity that happens in distant rural areas. Without integrating agriculture with other sectors it will not benefit the farmers or nation. Industry, big and small can have a mutually beneficial symbiosis with agriculture. I have been speaking about industry-agriculture interface over the last two years. I am glad that some formats are emerging where the farmer is also stakeholder and can also keep his land in his possession. We need to draw lessons from these and see how to further strengthen these models. Indian corporate houses have emerged as major investors in agriculture in other countries. Why then the hesitation to engage with the agriculture sector and rural areas within the country, which has huge potential?
Finally, agriculture has to continue as an important activity in our country. To address the specific problems and to empower small farmers in RFDF, institutional changes are required. A administrative set up in the form of a separate Directorate for RFDF in the States under the Ministry of Agriculture would be useful for focused and coordinated action. In the twelfth Five Year Plan it is necessary to give a thrust to RFDF areas that will generate a sense of urgency at the Government level and promote partnership between various stakeholders to revitalize Indian agriculture. So, to conclude I would say:-
Let us together with our farmers toil.
Let us make our dryland fertile!
Let us walk one more mile!
To let our farmer smile!!