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'Had we spent the same amount of time we spend in selecting a cricket coach for agriculture, we would have been on top of the world!'

June 7, 2007
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his United Progress Alliance government is anxious to revive Indian agriculture, which has been in the doldrums for many years now.

Can the UPA's new farm policy revive Indian agriculture? Will the plan to convert farm land into Special Economic Zones in many states spell doom for Indian farmers?'s Shobha Warrier spoke to Dr M S Swaminathan, one of the architects of the Green Revolution of the 1960s that transformed India from a nation of droughts and famines to a country with a surplus of food grain.

In 2000, the National Agricultural Policy set a target of 4% growth for agriculture but could only achieve 2% growth. What went wrong?

I was chairman of the steering committee for agriculture when we set up the target of 4% growth rate. I had written that if you want to achieve 4% growth rate in agriculture, you should have 8% growth in animal husbandry and fisheries and 8% in horticulture. To some extent, we have achieved 8% growth in animal husbandry. In poultry, we have made spectacular advances. Horticulture is not bad.

But the agricultural portion, the crop portion -- cereals, millets, oil seeds -- they have all fallen behind. There has been stagnation in wheat and rice production largely because the strategy recommended in the 10th Plan has not been followed.

What were the recommended strategies?

We have repeatedly emphasised in the Plan document, unless there is a symphony approach in five major areas, the production will not go up.

The first is to give greater attention to soil healthcare. We had recommended that all farmers should be given a soil heath card. This has not been done. The government only gives subsidies for nitrogenous fertilisers. With the result, farmers do not apply balanced fertilisers. And there was more of Nitrogen and not P (Phosphorus) and K (Potassium). Also, practically there were no micro nutrients.

At the National Commission on Farmers, we again re-emphasised the importance of strengthening soil testing laboratories, mobile soil testing vans, issue of soil health card to every farmer but nothing has been done.

Some states like Gujarat have done good work, so the agricultural growth rate in Gujarat is over 9%. That shows it can be achieved.

The second thing we emphasised in the 10th Plan was the harvesting of rain water, storing it and using it very efficiently.

The third is, credit and insurance reforms, credit linked to insurance, which also has not happened. Hardly 4% of 15 million farmers have taken crop insurance.

The fourth is technology and inputs. Seeds must be available in an affordable manner. Implements hold the key for improving rain-fed farming.

Finally, a remunerative market. Without a remunerative market, why should a farmer grow more?

Rain-fed agriculture has had a negative growth in the last 14 years. Why?

That is because it also has not received the attention it needs. We have proposed agri-business centres and clinics which were set up during the 10th Plan but are non-functional so far.

Only now, in the 11th Plan, they have set up a rain-fed area authority. It has taken several years to even set up the authority. God only knows what the authority will do!

We have demonstrated from our Foundation (the M S Swaminathan Foundation) in the pulses villages in Ramanathapuram district and Pudukkottai district that if all the villagers harvest water and share it equitably, it can work wonders.

Image: Farmers walk through their fields on the outskirts of Siliguri, West Bengal. Inset: Dr M S Swaminathan, MP, Chairman, National Commission of Farmers.
Photographs: Farmers: Strdel/AFP/Getty Images; Dr Swaminathan: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

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