Search This Blog

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!

No comments: