The following is the second installment of Venkat’s In The Name of the Farmer series about how we can really help Indian farmers.
Myth #6: We need to invest in more agri research and dissemination to farmers
Crores (millions of dollars) are spent on research projects to find out how to increase yield and productivity. But, strangely, nobody seems to do much to reduce the ‘wastage’ which is almost 50% of the yield. What research are we doing to reduce wastage? To start with – do we even have demand/supply data with us?
Stop chasing the light at end of tunnel – because every researcher wants to ‘discover’ this silver bullet solution to solve world hunger. Often they are facing the wrong end of the tunnel.
Myth #7: Genetically Modified (GM) crops are a boon to Indian farmer vs. Organic/Natural farming is the solution to restoring natural balance vs. Organic farming doesn’t have enough yield
Each one of these concepts originates from the west. All these statements are backed by research and consulting agencies and expensive certifications. GM crops which have been banned in Western countries are openly touted as God’s gift to the Indian farmer. And on the same note, we see the government claiming that abuse of fertilizers & chemicals has destroyed yield and promoting organic/ natural farming. We have saying in Tamil “pinch the kid and rock the cradle.” Dear Agricultural minister – when you are not busy between IPL cricket matches and posing with cheer leaders – can you please resolve this little dilemma?
Myth #8: India doesn’t get enough rain to do farming owing to repeated monsoon failure
Well, yaaawwwn. How long are we going to hear this same sob story? Is it that the rain gods are ONLY angry with India and the rest of the countries are all well taken care of? Global climate change is a
pretty worldwide phenomenon by now. What others have done is anticipate this, and taken measures to plan, protect and allocate their natural resources wisely. For example, China doesn’t boo-hoo
over poor rainfall. Is lord Indra leaning towards communism?
India’s agri planning & water resource planning has “Malfunction” written all over it. Between politicians, environmentalists, Naxals and NGOs, all the waters we get either get lost to ocean or results in skewed flood/drought combinations that when we look at the macroscopic picture, we have to admit – even God helps only those who help themselves. The best of weather satellites and Abdul Kalams not withstanding, our rain & water management is pathetic. We hope at least this time our prime minister can wield a stronger stick among the state governments to cooperate better – or else!
Myth #9: Information technology can rescue the farmers
Well, after they manage to rescue themselves. Given the global meltdown and scams that have tarnished the much glorified IT Incs. Yes, technology definitely can aid the millions of India’s poor. But the
problem is the business houses have always been more tuned to working with HNIs and $$ customers, that the huge mindset shift which is required to adjust to Indian customers and that too those BPL is too vast for now. India’s IT companies have built the backbone of the world’s leading supply chains & agri businesses, but look within and we are just about to put a cell phone in every person’s hand. There is a
lot that can be done in this sector, provided one knows where to start ad how to go about it.
Myth #10: We need to create rural hubs – provide commodity futures trading, healthcare, insurance and FMCG products to improve a farmer’s lifestyle and needs
Well, if you ask any farmer he will tell you he has already discovered such a hub – it is called the city. Just like any city-bred middle class man always dreams of going to the West & settling down in the land of opportunity, the villagers also harbor dreams to coming to our cities! They want to drive cars (maybe not Tata’s Nano – but the swankier Camry’s), live in high rise apartments, and send their kids to private school and get treated in Apollo hospitals. You think I am joking – just look at any village today – you won’t find any youngsters – they are all in the city , powering the BPOs & call centers. Attend any rural job fair and the single requirement is to ”settle down in the city.” Even the farmers are pushing their kids to move away from their villages. The real estate boom has increased land values to such high proportions in the last few years that it is lot more lucrative to sell the land and live off its riches than toil on it.
The great minds in our planning commissions assume the farmers to be ‘village idiots’ – but the joke is on them. The pace of change in rural India is so drastic and the migrations to the city so rapid, that most of these utopian projects like farmer’s hubs are becoming ghost towns. People have always tried to sell things to farmers, without actually realizing that they haven’t done much to buy things from them. Every village now has one rupee sachet shampoos which have become success stories in rural BOP marketing, read by generations of MBA graduates. But go to any wholesale mandi (vegetable market) near the city and look at how vegetables are sold – in crude gunny bags and open crates! No case study there Mr. IIM professor!
The city dweller may cherish this dream of fresh air, green fields and swinging by the babul tree – but the villagers are just bored. They would rather see all that in a multiplex. Mr. Gandhi, had he been
alive would have rephrased his statement – “India lives in villages, but the villagers are living in our metros.”
Well, shocked? Upset? Dazed? So are we. The myths about villagers are breaking every day The more we think we know about rural India, the farther we seem to be from the truth.
Let’s stop romanticizing about farmers. There is nothing romantic about being an Indian farmer today.
Even if you can’t genuinely do anything for them, at least stop raping them and telling them you are doing a great service. As Michael Jackson said, “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a…CHANGE.”
In next few posts, we will look at what farmers really want and a few projects that are creating success.
Venkat Subramanian is the Founder and Managing Director of Matchbox Solutions, a company which uses technology to solve critical issues in India. Efarm, one such solution, uses technology to provide supply chain efficiency for procuring and delivering fruits and vegetables grown on rural farms.