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Labs to Farms: The missing link in integrated farming in India

“I would be in my farms, than be an emperor of the world”---George Washington

Post by on Tuesday, January 4, 2022

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India, the largest landmass in south Asia has been benefitted with a veritable hue of nature’s bounties from the northern frontiers, the Himalayas to the all surrounding southern expanse comprising of the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of the Bengal with the Indo-Gangetic plains thrown in. No wonder with such a gifted terra firma, agriculture has been the mainstay of its majority of its population and rightly personifies the quote above of famous American president George Washington. But for any profession to be operating at its max level regular tweaking of its vital aspects is the need of the hour. The growing burden of feeding ever increasing mouths which are added every second to the billion plus people of India should make all right thinking Indians sit bolt upright. But is it happening around with the people & places that matter gearing themselves up to face the inevitable?

In the latest development on this issue, PM Modi while addressing the national conclave on “Natural farming” held at Anand in Gujrat on 23 rd December 2021 said that India and its farmers are going to lead the global mission for “Lifestyle for environment” i.e life in the 21 st century. Calling for adoption of revolutionary agricultural practices to suit the new emerging challenges, the PM said it was time to correct the past mistakes before the problems related to agriculture become gargantuan. As per him there is a dire need to take agriculture from the chemical /physical laboratories and connect them with the nature’s laboratory. Very high and  optimistic sounding words. But is it happening on ground? The two main stake holders in this whole issue, the farmers and the laboratories are at the two extreme ends of the agricultural spectrum. Who is going to join them? Which is that missing link that ought to be reconnected to the larger link of labs to farmers? The word “Laboratory” in this article is a metaphor used for all the related /connected offices, places which are supposed to help glue a farmer to his “Integrated farming” like never before.

Though on the face of it this link seems to be quite small and innocuous, but in actuality it combines many other smaller links that encompass offices, officers, and the like all related to diversification of agriculture to be of some impact. All these smaller links have been discussed threadbare in this write up, taking the template of 30 acres of my own brother in law’s farm at Bazpur , Utrakhand which by Indian standards is an aspirational district to boot. Having visited my brother in law’s farm at Bazpur and seen firsthand his  humongous efforts to co-align the idea of integrated farming with that of conventional farming I put across many searching questions to him in the light of the recent PM Modi’s  proclamations at Anand in Gujrat. What came out from him was an eye opener for me and I thought prudent to put it into black and white to let the readers of this article do self appraisal regarding our preparedness for achieving the lifestyle as occassioned by the present environment. The main bane afflicting Indian farmers on their way to empowerment has been a complex set of circumstances, situations, compulsions, ignorance and apathy all  combined with inertia amongst the “field level officers” in the agriculture related departments  to do their bidding to help farmers achieve their true potential. Though there are host of other irritants too which require ironing out, which I shall try to highlight in subsequent paras. Modi government in its previous tenure was harping on this vital aspect of linking the labs to the farmers as has been brought out earlier with concomitant results for the world to see. The first and foremost link in this whole issue is that of the KVK (Krishi vigyan Kendra). As on date there are approximately 645 KVKs all over India. The KVK scheme is a 100% financed scheme by the GOI with all these KVKs sanctioned to agriculture universities, ICAR (Indian council of agricultural research), institutes related to government departments, and NGOs working in the agriculture sector.

KVK is an integral part of the ‘National agricultural research system” (NARS) and aims at assessment of location specific technology modules in agriculture and allied enterprises through technology assessment , front line demonstration, capacity building of the farmers, multi sector support, on farm testing and advisory services to mention a few. But is it happening on ground? In a place like Bazpur, part of District Udham singh nagar (Utrakhand) most of the time the allotted KVK  has a big lock hanging around its main office with the I/C of the KVK missing in action. So how does a progressive farmer connect to the plethora of schemes doled out by the government of the day? Each district of the country is divided into various developmental blocks for implementing the developmental goals of the state with the BDO (Block development officer) under whose aegis various other schemes function like the fisheries, horticulture, roads and bridges at the helm. Each section has under its roll various field officers /foot soldiers that are supposed to visit /hand hold the various developmental schemes undertaken by the farmers under the “Integrated /diversification of farming”  business.

Since max number of farmers including my brother in law are into integrated farming /diversification to include fish farming, duck rearing, mango /banana plantation etc they naturally look forward to such visits by the  BDOs reps/ KVKs . But as is the wont, these field officers are seldom to be seen in their field areas to interact /impart any scheme knowledge leave alone any hand holding. The height of the perfidy being that these  field officers are filling fudged /non existent data of soil fertility, soil alkalinity , its suitability for crop rotation etc on their official websites of the individual farmers giving reference of the khasra numbers on which their land exists. My brother in law registered his farm with tourism department for ‘Deen Dayal Upadhaya homestay yojna, fishery department for ‘Blue revolution” and “Pradhan mantri matsya sampada yojna” ,horticulture department for a pack house ,rejuvenation & planting of new orchard etc. The connected officials with these schemes  as mentioned earlier are a source of obstacle with the common refrainthat these schemes are meant for EWS ,SC/ST category only.    I have seen myself one such example of false filling of agricultural/scientific data with regard to my brother in law’s land at Bazpur, thus confirming out worst fears that in a country like India the best of government schemes flounder on the anvil of implementation.  This is one of the many Achilles heel of our governance, though there are many more to which I am coming to in subsequent paragraphs.

Under the scheme ODOP (One district one product) launched by the CM of UP and later on replicated by the CM of Uttrakhand , Bazpur /Kashipur block has been identified primarily for promoting Mango fruit with the express aim of giving a fillip to the staple fruit found obtained in the area as also for generation of self employment amongst local farmers . But the moot point over here is that a farmer often grows more than one variety of mango fruit in his orchard to include Dussheri, Langda, Safeda, Totapuri etc. Which mango variety is being promoted under the ODOP scheme? Has the MSP been declared for that very particular variety of mango?  If not then why not? These are some of the grey areas which bug a farmer to no end. Moreover it has been seen that in the web site of UHMB ( Utrakhand horticulture marketing board) no such mango variety has been specified to be promoted as part of ODOP programme in Bazpur/Kashipur block.

In such cases where should a farmer head to or approach? It has also been experienced that when a progressive farmer often interacts with government licensed commission agents  for selling his produce the later  often pressurizes the hapless farmer into selling the same at a much lower rate than the prevailing market rate often taking  the alibi of quality concerns of the farmer’s product which more often than  is unfounded. It has to be noted that as far as horticulture produce is concerned much is left to be desired in so far as “Quality quantification” by the government goes. So how do you arrive at the quality parameters of the fruit under the scheme? Except the apple produce in Himachal Pradesh and marketed under the aegis of HPMC (Himachal Pradesh horticulture produce marketing &processing corporation) not many fruits in our country are quality certified nor are the horticulturists made aware of this quality concerns.

The above impasse leads to the hapless horticulturists at the mercy of the commission agents who undervalue the produce but later sell the same at higher prices thus cornering the commission. Same is the case with the “Basmati” rice which has been notified under the ODOP scheme for the same block under the conventional agricultural practices. As on date there are 07 varieties of Basmati rice which are grown in our country ranging from Dehradun Basmati to RS Pura Basmati, Himachali Basmati to that of Doaba/ Malwa region grown in Punjab. Connected with the above problem of identification of correct variety is the acute problem of cold storage and warehousing facilities which are the attendant facilities that go with the diversification/integrated farming. Though it is very well to exhort the farmers to go in for diversification from conventional farming where are the support measures that go with such revolutionary measures?  It is a travesty of justice that in a country predominantly surviving on agriculture there is a woeful lack of storage facility for the agricultural produce which a farmer as it is struggling hard to cope up with in his farm to save it from vagaries of weather.

As if the above perfidy heaped on the farmer lot is not enough, the community is further taken in for a ride when it comes to the “Grading of fruits” which is done by the licensed commission agent at the APMC (Agricultural produce Marketing Corporation) in a very ham handed and arbitrary manner. The modus operandi is to short shrift the horticulturists by picking up the worst of fruits in a pack and terming that as a datum (standard bearer) for that lot and accordingly lowering the price of the whole lot of them thus putting the farmer at a disadvantageous position ab initio. To help ward off such an eventuality the government should encourage the farmers to do grading of fruits at his farm only by providing “Pack house” facilities instead of letting the commission agents do their bidding at fruit mandis.

There have been cases where the application of progressive farmers have been hanging fire for months together for sanctioning of ‘Pack house” facility with even the chief secy of the state having seen it  keeping mum and not even an acknowledgement from the high office.  No wonder the recent farmer’s standoff which was spearheaded by the farmers from Punjab/Haryana was against the diversification of agriculture and was rooting for conventional farming practices which assured them a decent price for their produce. As John F. Kennedy the famous US President once said… “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.”  Let it not be the case anymore for a farmer to burn both ends simultaneously.

 

(The writer is a Retired Army Officer and Regular contributor to RK. He can be reached on: slalotra4729@gmail.com)

 

Box: As John F. Kennedy the famous US President once said… “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways” 

 

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