He said that a small-farm management revolution will not be possible in the country with out attracting the new generation into the farming sector and promoting the farmers of 21st century.
Pointing out that 70 per cent of country's 112 crore (1120 million) population was below 35 years of age and 70 per cent of them live in villages, Swaminathan said that it is crucial to attract these people to farming. The farmers of the 21st century are prominently going to be young, he said.
Swaminathan, who is also the chairman of National Commission on Agriculture, was addressing an all party meeting convened by the Andhra Pradesh government to discuss the idea of promoting community or cooperative farming to over come the hindrances caused by the fragmented land ownership in increasing the productivity and making agriculture more remunerative.
The meeting attended by the leaders of all the major political parties had an elaborate discussion on the proposal of the Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy that all the land owning farmers in a village should come together to set up a company by merging their landholdings and take up collective farming and allied agriculture activities.
Unless farming becomes intellectually satisfying and economically rewarding, the younger generation will not take up farming, he said.
He suggested relevant mechanisation and technological upgradation through initiatives such as the biotechnology movement must be conducted to make agriculture attractive for the young people.
He said that the skilled young people including agriculture graduates can play a major role in providing services in the rural areas especially in agriculture sector if the collective or cooperative or contract farming is taken up.
Swaminathan supported the idea of cooperative farming but added that it will be successful only if it benefits all those who join it. The agriculture sector should learn from the successful experiment of cooperative approach in the dairy sector where the economy of scale played a major role.
He said that if the country was able to produce 115 million tonnes of milk to become the largest milk producer in the world, it was a management revolution and not a technological revolution.
It was done through cooperative and other methods and marketing technology. There are lessons for the farm sector which can be extrapolated, he said.
Stressing that the biggest challenge before country's agriculture today was how to make small farm economically viable and beneficial to the farmers, Swaminathan said that benefits of mass production technology should be combined with Mahatma Gandhi's concept of production by masses with out affecting the individuality of farm holding.
He gave the example of group farming in Kerala, where integrated pest management, nutrient supply and natural resources management was taken up collectively as it can not be done individually by small farmers.
Enlightened self interest is the only method of sustaining a cooperatives, he said adding that the agriculture business should not be only for the big business but also for the small farmers.
Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who has called the proposal of community farming a flagship scheme of his government for the next five years, said that the idea was triggered by the fact that the state had badly fragmented land holding.
At the time of independence, the agricultural land was held by 45 lakh families. Now the same land is owned by 1.2 crore (12 million) families badly affecting the productivity and prosperity of the farmers, he said.
The concept involves the farmers of a village merging their land together to set up a company for collective farming and using the land of the value and contribution of the government to avail bank loans.
He however made it clear the scheme will be totally voluntary and it will be taken up in a village only after all the farmers of the village reach a unanimity and come forward to take it up.
He allayed the fears of the opposition parties that cooperative farming was a mere pretext to promote corporate farming by the big business houses.
People have fears that Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis will come and occupy our land. But when we are going for such an experiment it is our duty to ensure that the wealth of a village remain in the hands of the farmers of the village individually or collectively and no big company or industrialist from outside will be allowed to usurp it.
But the opposition parties - Telugu Desam, Praja Rajyam, Telangana Rashtra Samiti, BJP, CPI, CPIM and Lok Satta expressed their strong reservations about the practicability of the idea. They recalled the failure of the cooperative societies in sugar industry, fisheries and banking in the past.