Focus on small farmers to achieve food security: Swaminathan

New Delhi, June 15 (IANS) India must act swiftly on agriculture and tap the potential of double yields, even as the proposed food security bill can address the economic well-being of small and marginal farmers, says noted farm scientist M.S. Swaminathan.

One of the key architects of the Green Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, the soft-spoken scientist says the country’s agriculture sector is facing stagnation and that food security cannot be achieved without improving production and productivity.

‘The food security bill should address the question of supply. It should also address the economic well-being of small farmers. Eighty percent of our farmers are small and marginal. Unless they produce more, we cannot have more production,’ Swaminathan told IANS.

The food security bill — which seeks to guarantee subsidised grain to the poor — has been in the making for some time now. The government is holding consultations with the states, union territories and other stake holders in this regard.

The National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi will also consider various issues relating to the bill and give its recommendations after its next meeting July 1. The NAC is contemplating changes in the current draft to provide more for poor people.

Agriculture logged a meagre 0.2 percent growth in the last fiscal, the lowest in past five years. Food inflation rose to as high as 19.95 percent in December owing to low domestic production and higher international rates.

‘I hope with the present food inflation comes the realisation that it is not easy to buy grain from abroad as all over the world there is difficulty today. We cannot depend on outside for food security for our 1.1 billion people,’ Swaminathan said.

‘We have to go back to what Jawaharlal Nehru said in 1947 that ‘everything else can wait but not agriculture’. Unless we have a sense of urgency and commitment, we will continue to face stagnation,’ the agricultural scientist said.

The major policy initiatives of the government include the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana that started in 2007 and the agriculture ministry data shows out of an allocation of over Rs.3,760 crore, only Rs.1,122 crore was used by states last fiscal.

‘It is most unfortunate that we have the opportunity but are refusing to take advantage of it. In spite of all these schemes, agriculture is not showing substantial progress that we witnessed in the 1960s and 1970s,’ Swaminathan said.

He also said that there is little scope left for expanding agriculture in northwestern states and strongly emphasised on spreading the green revolution to the eastern states to increase productivity.

‘Our rain-fed areas can double yields with present varieties but this needs coordinated effort in many areas like water and soil health improvement. Every farmer should have a soil health card. A farmer must know what is the missing nutrient in the soil.’

Asked about environmental sustainability of agriculture, Swaminathan underlined the need for rainwater harvesting and infrastructure creation through schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

‘I have always been talking about an ‘ever-green revolution’ – that means increase in productivity in perpetuity, without any harm to soil and water.’

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at anjali.o@ians.in and biz@ians.in)

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