Saturday, March 22, 2008

Modi Series Part 2: Real change in agricultural sector

Aspect 1: Legalizing the market for high yielding seeds:

A Section of farmers in Gujarat had got some "illegal" Bt cotton seeds i.e genetically modified seeds that produced high yields of cotton. When the Central Government's body Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) came to know about this, they immediately asked the farmers to destroy them. The farmers resisted because it was for the first time that such seeds produced high quality of cotton. In March that year, GEAC itself approved for legal use of Bt Seeds in 6 states viz, Karnataka, Gujarat, MP, AP,Maharashtra and TN. However, other states unlike Gujarat began to see problems associated with it. The quality of this Bt Seed is that it resists bollworm, a major headache for cotton farmers. While no pesticide is needed if Bt is itself used, still some pesticide must be used for its cultivation. The result: net increase in the cost of seed, in fact, higher than the normal seeds. However the yield is very good. The use of this seed also has side effects on soil. It will slowly make it less cultivatable. Remember, cotton also requires sufficient amount of water and farmers are heavily dependent on monsoons even today.

Many farmers were taken into this promise that government would give support w.r.t water. However, only Gujarat succeeded in giving this support. This was largely because of Modi. Fortunately, there were continuous monsoons for 4 years when this seed was planted and yield doubled. But in order to ensure water is got by the farmers even during failure of monsoons, Modi devised a strategy. He wanted to provide electricity so that through pumps or other such machines they can use stored water. So, he started electrification scheme exclusively for villages producing difficult crops like cotton. Also, in order to ensure that cotton is processed in fine quality, he signed agreements with Chinese and brought ginning machines. They were available for farmers at subsidized prices and electricity was continuously provided. 40% of land became favourable for cotton because of one green signal to use Bt Seeds and continuous supply of water through building small check dams in record time. Unlike Maharashtra which produces next highest amount of cotton, the area of cultivable land is just 3%. What a starking contrast !!.

Also, contract farming involving private participation has immensely benefited the farmers , in general. You can call it as corporate friendly politics, I call it reality of governance.

The impact was high yield and high profit crops produced with less dependency on monsoon. The farmers were happy. They started earning roughly Rs.60,000 per acre.

My final point: If Bt cotton yields, Modi doesn't become great. He becomes an efficient government officer because he ensured that water is supplied to farmers. The availability of water and uninterrupted power supply (although 8 hours may be a shorter duration) is itself going to help farmers in a long way not just to grow cotton, but everything else. Remember that farmer suicides do happen in Gujarat, but on a very low scale because the farmers are getting good price. However, despite all this, still at some places there are issues of compensation not reached. click here for this article
I think one should be patient enough as perfection cannot be achieved at one stretch.

Also, it must be noted that if there is no check for prices of seeds done on a regulated basis, any increase in them will lead to incurring costs on farmers. This will be detrimental in the long run. Also, the fact that farmers are being taxed and no free electricity is given is a good step. Usually when you start with free electricity, it's a sop to farmers and when a party comes to power, it will make it non-free. Hence, taking money from the beginning for electricity will be a good tool instead of blindly raising expectations of the farmers. The fact that electricity theft is being controlled from the beginning is a giant step forward.

I appreciate Narendra Modi and the people of Gujarat must be proud of him for some bold realities he has ensured in helping all sections of the society. Under him agriculture has seen 12.5% growth while the national growth is a mere 3%. Remarkable..!!!

Aspect 2: Setting up of 4 Agricultural Universities to give direct advice to farmers

Usually one would wonder what's the use of just setting up agricultural universities. There was only one centralized university in Gujarat that was doing research in how to achieve better land production and yield. This was too centralized and was of no use to farmers. The Government had to intervene every time to allow the results to reach farmers, which they eventually never did.

Scheme: Not just proposal, but set up 4 such universities - Anand, Dantivada, Navsari and Junagadh. All of them came up in just 1 year. What a pace!! The scientists get incentives from the government while they help farmers in specific villages.

How these are helping: Each university is set up in a region which is specific to a specific kind of agricultural produce. The research would focus on problems and solutions. Not just that. The scientists need to involve farmers. They go every year to organize Krishi Yatra to specific villages. They transfer their knowledge of research. They advise them on crop patterns, kind of fertilizers need to be used, quantity of pesticides that need to be used, quality of seeds that needs to be sown and many other such aspects.

Impact: The farmers have begun to be in touch with technology and new research. A unique program, heard nowhere is an enough daunting step taken by Modi. Modi is just facilitator, not an innovator. But who said, a leader should innovate and not just lead? A leader must lead perfectly taking the right people and this is what Modi has done. He has not innovated and he clearly says in his speeches that he made people participate in governance and hence he is successful. This candid admission is a rare quality in politicians.

Aspect 3: Creation of Special Agriculture Zones (SAZ)/Agricultural Export Zones

Even when NDA government decided in National Policy and gave a green signal to setting up of Special Agricultural Zones in 2002 (good vision), state wise, no state took it seriously as much as Gujarat. Modi led a team of experts, agricultural scientists, research analysts to come with the idea of Special Agricultural Zones.

What do these mean: These zones specialize in how to harvest, pre-harvest certain kind of produce and train farmers how to bring in quality (health and hygiene), not just quantity. Also, such zones handle maintenance and storage of the produce so that they are packaged well and exported. Also, manuals are prepared in local languages and distributes free to farmers about crop harvesting in case they are not able to attend the demos.

Scheme and Implementation: 3 Agrizones set up:
  1. In South and Central Gujarat for vegetable and Mangoes
  2. In Saurashtra for onions (white and red)
  3. In Saurashtra for sesame seeds
Impact: Because this is purely an interaction between farmers and scientists, government officers and agencies are not involved. This however does not guarantee that they would do their jobs well. However, the chance of success is much higher than with the involvement of government officers. The eminent question is how serious are the scientists in doing this job? At the same time, will they mandatorily help farmers? If not, does government take action on such scientists. I think, it is trivializing a giant leap with a narrow scope of questions. At least, the fact that government has not set up committees after committees just to study. Modi has ensured it becomes ground reality. One should not forget that Gujarat is highly enterpreneural in spirit. So, they survive only on exports. So ensuring quality will give rich dividends. Mr. Manmohan Singh, will you hear to this??

Aspect 4: The first state to aggressively use Soil Health Cards

In US, the practise of using soil health cards has been in use for quite a while. On just the basic part of it, it contains chemistry, physics and micro nutrient composition details of a particular soil. For a particular soil, a soil health cards carry the details such as - quality of the soil, what kind of fertilizer can this soil accept, what quantity of fertilizer this soil can accept, amount of pesticides that need to be used etc. These cards are specific to a soil and needs constant update.

When Tamil Nadu university first came with Soil Health Cards way back in 2003, it was then proposed to be implemented as a part of policy making at the centre. But it did not do so. UPA government has made it compulsory for many states now to use these cards. Gujarat was way ahead in this as early as 2004. Modi ensured that these soil cards are developed after testing all kinds of soils in the state.

In fact, Gujarat became the first state to have conducted a complete soil study and then the inputs were used to develop soil cards indigeniously. These cards made by scientists are made as per laws to be given free to farmers. Accordingly farmers have availed this from various distribution centers, Kisan melas etc and have understood the right quantity of fertilizers that need to be used in the field. The scheme is highly successful and because no government machinery is involved, efficiency was found to be much higher.

Initially the government involved a team of scientists and conducted the soil study in 18,000 villages. Then a law was made that the scientists will be working at every such village where some crop is grown. They will give personal assistance as and when required. So, even if the soil card in the local language cannot convey anything, scientist would help farmers.

Impact: 2,00,000 soil cards distributed. Agricultural scientists, agricultural officers, horticultural scientits all involved today at village, taluk and district levels, giving personal guidance to farmers. It is very essential that farmers know the right quantity of Urea they need to use in the fields. Only then soil quality will be maintained and better yield can be expected. In fact, Punjab and Haryana have now started the soil cards usage after seeing success in Gujarat and made it compulsory for farmers to have it. Perhaps, if Punjab had the fortune of using Soil health cards in 60's when Green Revolution took place, it would not have to see a day today where soil quality has become terribly bad due to excess fertilizer usage.

Aspect 5: Credit, Insurance and Financial Support

For the first time, a state in India has come with concept of insuring the farmers. Gujarat has taken the lead. Government has started insurance programs to help farmers against crops which cannot be grown at the time of famine/drought, and also accidental insurances.

The scheme no doubt is good. In practice, the real question is - Will this money reach the farmer in case of such an event? I guess this also needs to be decentalized in some way. Anyways, at least a scheme of this kind being introduced only indicates the seriousness of a government to help farmers.

My final point:

No wonder why the Father of Green Revolution, M.S. Swaminathan has applauded Gujarat Government for having taken such pro active steps so quickly and efficiently. Even when Manmohan Singh is thinking about implementation of the recommendations of National Commision of Farmers (set up by himself), Gujarat under Modi has gone way ahead in its implementation. So, Mr. Singh, stop thinking, start acting. You are a good economist, not a good leader. Modi is not a good economist, but a good leader to have brought in right people and put them in right places.


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