Soaring temperatures due to climate change, smaller size arable land holdings, scarce water resources, as well as low grade and spurious products jostling for space next to branded varieties in the local market. Every now and again, fly-by-night sellers and advisers make an appearance. These are only some ills that have beset Indian agriculture.
Indian farmlands have reduced to just a little over a hectare per household. The soil is depleted of its nutrients by overusing chemicals, and also wrong products. The farmer seeks the less expensive versions of agrochemical substances, which are also of low quality. Since he cannot read, he cannot differentiate between them.
However, when he uses the right products he will earn Rs 5 for every Re 1 that he spends on pesticides alone, according to one estimate. Farmers know even little that they are over tilling the land, destroying its cover, and hurting its natural ecosystem. When shorn of its cover, the eroded land expels into the atmosphere carbon and other green house gases that it had contained within it for centuries, causing climate change.
Putting the Spotlight on Farmers
The farmers require as much nurturing as the land they till, says RG Agarwal, member of The Economic Times India Leadership Council, ETILC’s core group on Agrochemicals, and chairman, Sub-Committee (Crop Protection Chemicals) & chairman, Dhanuka Agritech. Agarwal is a leading voice in the industry, and feels that policymakers may need to focus more on rewards and incentives ‘to scale up’ both farmers and industry.
Further, farmers need to do a lot more work on their farmlands so as to ‘double their incomes’, as suggested by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi has spoken of a national policy on agriculture as against the existing regional legislation, he adds.
Commitment to Sustainable Farming
Agriculture stakeholders including farmers, agrochemicals and seeds companies, agricultural experts, researchers and academicians; and ministers and politicians are anxious to promote sustainable farming and the use of agrochemicals. The farmers are concerned that their children are opting for jobs in other industries and services, and are willing to give up their own lands.
Prominent among the stakeholders who have voiced their commitment to sustainable farming are General VK Singh, MoS, Road Transport and Highways; Chandra Prakash Joshi, BJP MP; Parvesh Verma, BJP MP; Sudhir Ramachandra Gupta, BJP MP; Dr CD Mayee, Chairman Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board,
Former Agriculture Commissioner, and Former VC, Marathwada Agriculture University; RG Agarwal, Chairman, Sub-Committee (Crop Protection Chemicals) & Chairman, Dhanuka Agritech Ltd; Rajan Gajaria, Executive VP (Business Platforms), Corteva Agriscience; and Dr D Kanungo, Former DDG, Ministry of Health & Chairman, FSSAI Committee on Residue Network.
Among the guests were Kiyoshi Masuda San, Managing Director, ISK Biosciences India; CK Sabharwal, Director, ISK Biosciences India; Dr Vasant L Patil, Director, Science & Regulatory Affairs, CropLife Asia, Singapore; and Puneet Singh Thind, National Director, Vegetable Grower Association of India, Ambala.
Greening Lands Judiciously
The stakeholders pointed to the very real possibility of poor quality inputs and agrochemical substances being used, in agriculture. These have a negative impact on the economy and the food chain.
Crop protection requires the judicious use of pesticides and agrochemical substances. Overusing branded products is one problem, but using low quality and spurious products makes the farming activity a non-starter. The stakeholders feel a legislation to address this issue is a big imperative.
Among the policy suggestions is Sama Dama Danda Bheda, the ancient Indian philosopher Kautilya’s statecraft policy to use conciliation as the first step; giving gifts or compensation in the second; force and trickery in the third and fourth as the only way to eradicate this evil.
Empower and Reward
For farmers to now pursue sustainable farming we must find new ways of using technology that is tailor made to suit the smaller landholdings, say the stakeholders. Micro and drip irrigation must replace the current method of flooding which is also eroding the land of its nutrients.
New farm policies must be drafted so as to empower farmers to improve their yields and double their incomes, while maintaining the natural habitat of their land. Their partner stakeholder, the agrochemicals and seeds industry must feel incentivised so as to offer world class, products. Ratings on products will infuse competition among companies.
They will also carry out farmer sensitisation and assistance programmes related to their products, which will include directions on usage, and the right, judicious mix of substances, keeping in mind crop and soil varieties. Agarwal feels that local leaders among the farmers may be chosen on merit and empowered to use new technology and farming techniques. They, in turn, will become the change agents in their areas.
Seeking Data Pprotection
Agrochemical products have a long gestation period. In addition, new molecules currently take about five to seven years to be registered. The bureaucratic delay in the molecules reaching the farmers leaves them with no option but to buy the cheaper, low quality products.
It is suggested that the government look into this issue at the earliest. Also, while Indian formulations are mostly generic products, because R&D is very expensive, foreign companies usually diversify their portfolio and are keen to invest in India on product R&D and marketing. However, the data protection law needs to be strengthened for them to continue engaging with the Indian market, the stakeholders feel.
Farm Friendly Policies
The new laws must be passed at the earliest so Indian agriculture can start anew with the latest technology and new scientific methods, feel the stakeholders. One pending legislation is the draft bill on Pesticides Management. The Bill seeks to address two vexatious provisions of the Insecticides Act, 1968.
The first is that it seeks to make the Inspector accountable and liable for carrying out repeated search and seizures, and spot checks on a few big companies without reasonable grounds.
The second pertains to the private sector being allowed to set up testing laboratories and conducting its work independently of the Central Insecticide Laboratory, CIL. It is also suggested that new testing laboratories may be set up, with the government and industry, in public private partnerships, PPPs.
ESMA and APMC are Outdated
Some stakeholders also feel that farm incomes are currently regulated due to the Essential Services and Maintenance Act, ESMA, and the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC).
The first seeks to bring to market all farm produce to stop any hoarding activity. The second ensures that government mandis are the preferred markets for farm produce. Both the APMC and ESMA are outdated and revoking these legislations will spur a new beginning for Indian agriculture, they add.
While several amendments and new legislations are awaited, India must put in place a data-matching system where estimated farm produce may be compared against the actual produce, say the stakeholders. They also suggests that an inter-ministerial committee on food safety standards be set up, right from the farm to various stages in the supply chain, to ensure that the farm produce is sustainable.