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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The food safety of “Young India”

This note of mine has reference to my earlier article titled as “The Grain drain may touch our lives any time…” and an article of Ms. Suzanne Daley appeared in ‘The Hindu’ regarding the situation of the jobless in Spain, where opportunities are denied to get back to work in agriculture sector! The crux is that during the boom in infrastructure in Spain, people who were engaged in hard labour of farms upgraded themselves to softer jobs in infrastructure sector…! As the boom is over and jobs ceased to exist, suddenly many of them find it difficult to get back to their old jobs as it had been occupied by immigrants from countries across Eastern Europe and Africa. Now, the farm owners are not willing to induct these old employees back since they don’t want to jeopardize the current equation. Another aspect is the doubt that these locals will not be able to work as hard as the foreigners, as they had been doing softer jobs so far…!

I would like to compare the Indian scenario with this….India is currently undergoing infrastructure boom and unlike other places, we have a large unorganized employment sector, which amounts to 93% and this sector attracts predominantly people from the agriculture sector. To my own knowledge and experience, both farm owners and farm workers are slowly becoming species which are in the verge of extinction…thanks to unviable farming business model, exploitation of middle men and a huge real estate lobby! India is now a young country and expected to remain so for at least next 3 – 4 decades..! As of now, the agriculture sector is still the primary employment provider in our country. However, the growth and boom in the economy is bringing in lots of radical social changes– both good & bad! As of now, the generation who are employed in the farm sector seems to be the last to exist and their next generation does not want to undertake hard labour in the farms as they have multiple easy opportunities available during this growing economy even without much skills. Apart from this, multiple initiatives from the Government also guarantees a fairly reasonable livelihood for rural sector. However, the social change emerging from these initiatives will be non – availability of man power for the hard labour in farms and thus bringing in a huge vacuum in the already hit agriculture production!

The fears I mentioned in the previous article in this blog (The Grain drain may touch our lives any time…) had become order of the day as agriculture ministry started importing various grains to bring down the prices! We were a country boasting of huge food reserves till 2 years back!!

Now to understand the eroding human resource supply in agriculture sector, listen to the story of social change in a village….

There is a Gram – Panchayat which had shown the world that the Govt. employment can be assured to one member of each family in the village through focused preparatory classes for the ‘Public Service Commission’ examinations. Over a span of less than a decade, they had achieved their goal of having at least one in every family getting employed in Government sector! However, pit fall of this social change is that the elders of these families who were very efficient farm workers despite their age had taken an abrupt retirement as their children genuinely wanted them to take rest..! It’s a significant change in the existing social system and though it is a welcome change in terms of a reliable income source for those families, there is a gap created in terms of farming sector manpower requirement is concerned…? Every good social change can backfire if not planned well in advance!!

Now, let’s look into some practical answers….

We need to accept the fact that the country’s economy is in a growing spree and it will definitely induce more opportunities in various sectors and the brunt will be on the agriculture sector…?! In the above mentioned scenario itself, the young population of India, who had received basic education avoids hard labour and prefer softer opportunities, which are available in plenty..! Leaving some exceptions, those who stick on to farming (Be it farmers or farm workers) are mostly uneducated and unskilled people. This is the very basic problem of the sector! 

In this context, our Governments need to address this issue by attracting young efficient people into farming to improve our production and granary reserves. Call it a second green revolution or whatever; the thumb rule of attraction is to make farming a viable business model with less dependency in man power, especially by eliminating hard labours through intelligent automated solutions.

To achieve this, there should be a multi pronged approach to address each issue in the sector at micro level…

  • To devise a fresh credit policy with a strong monitoring system for any agriculture sector projects with preference to induction of advanced technology to optimize the results.

  • The application for credit should be accepted and evaluated by a ‘single window’ central agency and then asked to service it by local banks distributed geographically across the country, thus eliminating the delay in the evaluation process at the banks.

  • Enough thrust should be given by the RBI to the banks to avoid further delay by the banks in servicing and disbursement of credit for such recommended projects, even after the approval of this ‘single window’ agency.

  • The successful models of precision farming should be replicated across the country by educating youngsters on such advanced farming methods & techniques by introducing rural technical training hubs (knowledge centres) across the country.

  • The Government should envisage a target change in the sector in terms of making it more organized and soft labour oriented.

  • The micro tools depending on the area and the people, should be developed through participatory research programme by initiatives from premium institutions of the country and also with the technological affiliations from countries who are well advanced in agri-tech & research.

  • The training content should be prepared in such a way that it inspires the youngsters to take up jobs in the farm sector. It should inspire more youngsters to become entrepreneurs in the sector as well.

  • The agriculturists, agronomists and scientists should revamp the traditional image of the sector to make it more like a business option by building up a viable business model with very transparent and practical projections.

  • Like in every other sector, the farmers should be trained to do product costing before they fix the pricing for their produces taking into account of the production process, percentage of wastage & defectives, the input cost and the marketing cost. A similar approach should be taken to attract the young farmers to plan & optimize their production.

  • The production should be controlled based on the market trends and demand – supply studies in farming as well. This is possible in technology enabled farming like ‘precision farming’ and through various micro processor based technologies with controlled ‘fertigation’ models.

  • Controlling of the prices should be handled by the farming community based on the market demand and supply chain challenges.

  • The Government needs to set up a Farm Produce Price Regulatory Authority (FaPPRA) in line with TRAI and IRDA in order to control and audit abnormalities and exploitation in the sector.

  • There should be a continuing education programme on ‘Post Harvest Handling’ and marketing. There should be awareness and support programme to inspire group initiatives in food processing projects.

  • There should be micro monitoring system (not micro management) established under ‘FaPPRA’ to support and execute such projects vide credible NGOs working in those areas with strict accountability norms.

  • Though linking of technology to the farmers seems to be the biggest challenges now, it will become much easy once the youngsters take it up. They will drive the change in the sector in positive direction.

So it becomes all the more important to attract youngsters to more organized, scientific and precision farming by facilitating infrastructure for such a revolutionary change in the sector!

As a hand holding initiative, Governments can link the PDS outlets procurement to such farming groups under the guidance of ‘FaPPRA’ through long term procurement contracts, which should envisage both interests of the farmer as well as the consumer. This will induce price stability and eliminate middle men’s exploitation. 

However, if the Governments do not act fast, we’ll be left with no grains for the youngsters and there will be a generation who will look up to other countries to produce and feed them!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Development agenda and importance of enthusiastic professional politicians

What is the qualification required to become a successful politician in India?

Minimum:          3rd Std failed or No school

Maximum:         3rd Std passed or No school

I know our beloved District Panchayat President Sri. Thankappan Pillai since my childhood days. The first time I knew him was as the one who loudly reads news paper for those labourers of Beedi manufacturing unit on my way to school..! He must be a 4th Std drop out and no one was bothered to know about it. For his service of reading news papers to his employees and thus saving their productive time, the owner of that beedi manufacturing unit used to reward him with ‘4 Annas’ (close to 25 paise) in those times. Thankappan Pillai became aware of world affairs through those numerous news papers and he started quoting those news bits in relevant and irrelevant contexts. Most of his audiences were either as less informed as him or much lower literate than him! So, for them he became genius and an expert in world affairs!

Over a period of time, he had grown in stature and as he neither can think of doing any hard work nor does he have any skills, he found politics is the easy and apt profession for him. After having multiple tenures in Gram Panchayat as its president, he was elevated as Block Panchayat President and eventually he became District Panchayat President in these revolutionary times of ‘Panchayati Raj’ and de-centralized development!!

Thanks to Thankappan Pillai’s brand of development that it was never beyond his capacity of thinking and even after years of tenures, the villages remained as primitive as it used to be…! In his capacity, he allowed illegal metal quarries and sand mafia to thrive..! When it became intolerable, some of the responsible citizens went and got a stay order against such illegal mining..!

As responsible citizens of India, we all should realize the serious deficiency of our system in terms of attracting qualified brains in participating in the process of policy making for the development of our country! Like innumerable superstitions and blind-beliefs of our country, we all are prejudiced about the way politicians are supposed to behave…?!! We all say that’s the practice followed by our ancestors and any deviation from such a pattern is seen as offensive behaviour?!

In this context, we need to analyse the rise and fall of a Minister of Tharoor’s stature , who has a strikingly bright professional background, internationally!

When today’s opposition was the ruling party in centre, another minister for State in the Ministry of Railways, who hails from Kerala gave a letter of reference  requesting HRD Minister to consider my friend’s  application for a ‘Jan Shiksha Sansthan’ (a continuing education centre) for our Panchayat under the NGO represented by him. Understand the fact that he was trying to help my friend; just because it comes to his home state (He was not even representing Kerala). As a matter of fact, my friend didn’t get this institution as two out of the proposed three centres were allocated to HRD Minister’s state and another one was allocated to one of the North-Eastern states!

In this context mentioned above, can anyone say that the minister who gave reference letter had misused his good offices to lobby for us?! The local president of their party was with my friend as one of the advisory committee members of the NGO…! Can anyone say that this person got the post under any shady deal? Nowadays, to get a confirmed railway ticket, you carry MP’s letter…how do you qualify that?

It is clear in the case of Tharoor that he called to find why the signing process was delayed for no reason? This call would have been made by any one of us, if we were enthusiastically involved in offering moral support and help…!  Not just to IPL commissioner, for that matter to anybody, when you suspect there’s a foul play…! Call will be actually made by you as an individual, regardless of the position you are holding!

We need young dynamic people with intelligence and transparency in public places, who should bring modern thoughts and bold new practices in their respective places. Our system is such, there are lots of Thankappan pillais who neither have the capacity to envisage better quality of life nor have exposure of the development happening across the world!!

Given the situation, it is time for Tharoor to re-invent himself to focus on keeping in touch base with the common people by continuous interaction. I feel he should come up with an action plan on the development agenda he has for his constituency and for the state and then for the nation..! If he can publish it in the site and update it with the ‘target vs achievement chart’ in simplified, illustrated form which could be understood by the youngsters of this country…I’m sure he’ll win many hearts!

Though at the cost of his designation, Tharoor controversy became a positive initiative towards cleaning up the IPL and its systems apart from the individuals. However, with the kind of mentors Modi has, he never thought it would become the end of the road for him so soon..!