The eight-member National Commission on Farmers, chaired by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, was set up in 2004 by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to assess the extent of India’s agrarian crisis. It produced five reports (the fifth in two volumes).
This second report focuses on the public spending and administrative initiatives that were required to mitigate India’s agrarian crisis. These included reforming the supply of credit, setting up state-level farmers’ commissions, and compiling a census of farm suicides. These measures had to be implemented immediately, the Commission said, and would continue till the end of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12).
The Commission stressed the urgency of the agrarian situation. It said that 400 million children, women and men from families of small or marginal farmers and landless labourers were in deep distress. It asked the government to implement the solutions proposed in its first report without delay.
- In this second report, the National Commission on Farmers suggested that the Ministry of Agriculture could be renamed the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare because the well-being of farmers should be the ministry’s main goal.
- It calculated that more than Rs. 8,337 crores was needed to implement the measures mentioned in the report and to begin to address the agrarian crisis.
- During the eighth, ninth and tenth Five-Year Plans (1992-97, 1997-2002, 2002-2007), the growth rate of food production fell below the population growth rate. Investment in agriculture stagnated at 1.3 per cent of Gross National Product. To achieve a 4 per cent growth rate in agriculture, the Commission recommended an 8 per cent growth rate in horticulture and animal breeding.
- Assured remunerative crop pricing could increase the productivity of small farm holdings and, in turn, alleviate rural poverty. It could also be a proactive step towards preventing farm suicides.
- Other steps to prevent the suicides were: ensuring farmers have easier access to credit and reforming the credit system; regulating the cultivation of water-intensive crops; introducing legislation to prevent the sale of spurious seeds and chemicals; and monitoring the market and helping farmers get a better deal.
- The Commission proposed a Farmers’ Livelihood Security Compact that would include setting up state-level farmers’ commissions; conducting a census of suicides and a survey of debt; introducing a debt waiver; initiating a shift from microfinance to livelihood finance; reviving lapsed insurance policies; moving ahead with the family insurance scheme; and putting farmers (not traders) in charge of farmers’ markets.
- When formulating policy, arid regions should be separated from semi-arid regions, so that site-specific policies for drought proofing, land management and livelihood security could be developed.
- Village ‘knowledge centres’ could be set up in high-distress areas to provide information on agricultural and non-farm livelihoods. These could be operated, if possible, by the families of the farmers who had committed suicide.
- Post-harvest losses could be reduced with training, appropriate equipment and a tightening of the supply chain. Farmers’ groups and cooperatives could be roped into the marketing process.
- A programme for sea water farming could establish agro-aqua farms on about 50,000 hectares in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha (then Orissa) and West Bengal, as well as in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.
- To solve the problems of tsunami-affected farmers, the following were needed: restoring soil health restoration, following sustainable cropping systems, diversifying crops, promoting multiple livelihoods, and introducing agricultural rehabilitation programmes.
- The all-India sugarcane yield dropped from 71.2 tons per hectare in 1998-99 to 64.6 tons in 2002-03. The Commission recommended a Technology Mission on Sugarcane, a joint programme with sugarcane growers, banks, sugar factories and research organisations. The mission would improve the productivity and quality of sugarcane by helping cultivators access better technology and grow at least 80 tons per hectare in five years.
- The Commission proposed a National Food Guarantee Act to ensure food and nutritional security. It said that people should be able to access grains from the public distribution system (ration outlets) whenever they want, wherever they want and in any quantity they want, subject to a few ground rules.
- Hill farming could be diversified, along with setting up a National Mission on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants.
- A national strategy for organic farming was necessary, which specified the regions and seasons ideal for raising crops using organic farming techniques.
- A well-defined biofuel policy could be developed jointly by the (then) Planning Commission, and the Ministries of Agriculture, Rural Development, Petroleum, Non-Conventional Energy Sources and Science & Technology.
- Factoids and Focus compiled by Samyukta Shastri.
National Commission on Farmers
Government of India
11 Aug, 2005
Download the full report HERE