Q: What are your reflections over the current state of agriculture and farmers in the country?
A: India’s agriculture is quite advanced and we have good production. But our problem lies in the poor storage facilities, inefficient transport and lack of marketing for our produce. The pockets where we have done good work have given us results. For example, in a tribal Gujarat region, we invested in the knowledge of local farmers, provided them with high quality seeds, helped them connect with the market and now there are trucks lined up there waiting to take away the produce. A tribal Gujarat farmer who was earning only Rs 15,000-16,000, is now earning Rs 30,000 a month. It has helped their entire families evolve. But of course, rural Gujarat has good roads, so connectivity was easier. However, we can use similar models in other areas like Naxal regions that are affected by violence and help tribals there to change their lives for better.
Q: What are the solutions?
A: We have both types of stories where, on the one hand, we see farmers prospering and on the other hand, there are farmers who are forced to commit suicide. This is why we insist on infrastructure. Even without good rains, farmers can grow. Technology has advanced, but we need better roads and electricity so that water can be brought to them, as less or more, rains come eventually. There are potato farmers in India who are millionaires because they have kept pace with technology. However, it should also be noted that in 2015, 133,623 suicides were reported in India of which less than 10% (12,603) were of farmers.
Q: How can this vast gap be filled?
A: There are examples where governments and farmers have worked together and prospered. No matter how good scientific knowledge we have to improve our yield, if it does not reach the markets where its requirement is high or if we do not create markets for this high produce and promote it well, then no extent of storage technology will be able to help us. So states where the farmers’ protests have been on the rise need to reflect upon these questions and improve the system. I am optimistic about the new policy that aims to double farmers’ income and I feel that we will not have to wait for five years, but in three years, we will witness farmers’ income growing. Farmers need demonstration, not lectures. They will be self-motivated to adopt new ways and become entrepreneurial if they are able to see the progress and success of other farmers.
Q: How can farmers’ income be doubled?
A: Our focus should shift from production to increasing consumption within and outside the country. In order to bring price stability in domestic market, we must access foreign markets. India’s share is less than $35 billion in global agricultural exports which is $1,500 billion. One way is to increase our agricultural exports to $100 billion by 2022.
Q: You have challenged the myths surrounding the use of pesticides that lead to cancer. How can the general public understand this contradiction?
A: There is no truth in these myths. These are lies that are propagated to affect our agricultural growth. You can look at the report drafted by the Centre for Environment and Agrochemicals (CENTEGRO) to know that the health scare is baseless. The study has debunked popular notions that farmers inject hormones and colouring chemicals into fruits and vegetables to improve their growth. Organic farming is not sustainable because of low yield and the need for huge amount of unavailable manure. Farmers spend on crop protection chemicals is just 1% of the value of total agriculture production. The health scare about pesticide residues in food is a malafide campaign propagated by foreign-funded NGOs to tarnish Indian agriculture. The incidence of cancer in India—a global leader in agriculture—is way below than the world average. However, Singapore, with almost no agriculture, has higher incidence of cancer than India.