Imagine a beautiful plant. On soil, close to its roots, there is a small plastic packet of plant nutrients. While the packet is close to the plant, it cannot be absorbed unless the cover is removed. It might be the best nutrient imported from a different continent and brought all the way to the root of the plant, but it starts showing results only when the plant absorbs it. The farmer is the plant. Government schemes on agriculture are that packet of nutrients.
Suddenly, farmers in India have a happening life. It is quite similar to a teenager who suddenly comes from a small town to a cosmopolitan city. A digital wallet, Smartphone apps, crop insurance, soil health cards, e-markets and best of all, an American dream that their incomes will double by 2022.
They hear about Aadhaar having the potential to change their lives. They went through DeMo of NaMo during last winter, which is considered ‘pro-poor’. There is news about ‘One Nation One Market’. Agricultural commodity exchange ‘NCDEX’ has been making a lot of news. The vibe in the rural is that ‘something big is happening, but we don’t really know what it means to us’.
Three major problems
The Modi government just completed three years. In the next 500 days the sarkar should focus on three aspects to make the big list of reforms reach the farmers. They are: strengthening the agricultural extension system, regulatory reforms in land; and creating hybrid governance structures of farmer collectives.
Agriculture extension services: Leveraging the technology and adapting it to local conditions, government extension departments should upgrade themselves. A farmer should be able to raise an information or trouble shooting request through his/her mobile by simply voice recording or taking a picture.
It should be centrally monitored but locally delivered through the field agronomist. A suggestion without any accountability will not have much relevance. Also, incentives for the officer should be based on outcomes. Only then can tools such as Plantix implemented in Andhra Pradesh can be leveraged for this purpose.
Regulations around land: Land ownership is still a highly debatable issue in rural India. The panel set up under NITI Aayog suggested reforms in land leasing policies, ramping up of land records and titles.
This will create better access to credit and help farmers realise the value of asset when required. On one hand, we read that small scale farming has challenges due to diseconomies of scale. On the other hand, land is being fragmented more and more with one generation handing it over to the next. Without progressive regulations on land leasing or aggregation, farming will continue to be increasingly unviable in may parts of India.
Farmer producer companies: Despite forming more than 3,000 farmer producer companies (FPCs) to solve the problem of distribution and diseconomies of scale. A recent study from the Institute of Livelihoods Research and Training found that many of these FPCs are missing both competent, business-minded leadership and transparency.
Generally, in a company form of organisation, ownership and management are two separate boxes. But in farmer producer companies, farmers own and manage the set up. We know the limitations farmers have in terms of education and business exposure. This needs to change. Having started three startups in the past six years, I realise that running a company is not as easy as starting it. It requires professional expertise and business acumen.
Today, 100 per cent of ownership and 100 per cent of management of FPCs is with farmers. If professionals and business-minded people are roped in, things can look better. With 20 per cent ownership in professional hands, things can change. There will be business interest for professionals to turn the business profitable and farmer groups can enjoy 80 per cent of the profits, too. However, regulation should provide safeguards against any exploitation by one party of the other.
The writer is co-founder of Kheyti, a farm tech startup