“Two years ago, I told myself enough of running around in mandis and started pepper cultivation instead of wheat on my four acres of land. I earned a good profit, all my pepper was sold at my doorstep, and the buyer made a quick payment since there is no middleman involved”, said Lakkha Singh, a marginal farmer from Malwa region, Punjab.
Yes, that same Punjab is infamous for its unsustainable paddy and wheat production. The Malwa region, though, in the state has a different story to tell.
Many small and Marginal farmers in this region have chosen to innovate and cultivate exotic crops like strawberries, dragon fruit, figs, and bell peppers.
The only concern that these innovative farmers have is price crashes which forbids them from good returns due to the absence of cold storage facilities.
Exporting their produce is one best ways to earn good returns but less considered, especially by small and marginal farmers.
Ever asked why?
Agri-Export Potential of India
The Green Revolution has played a significant role in not only enhancing India’s self-sufficiency in food production but also making it the 14th highest agriculture exporting countries in the world.
It has become the largest exporter of rice, but it remains limited to just paddy exports and lacks in other agri-exports.
This is in spite of being the number one producer of dairy, mango, banana and the second-largest producer of cereals, fruits and vegetables in the world.
The domestic consumption of these commodities is far less than total production making options for export viable.
Organic has also been the main theme for food consumption throughout the world.
Quality of food is now becoming as important as price if the same. In this situation, India’s classic, traditional means of cultivation and crop preservation (detailed out further) can be useful to avail better returns by branding them as 100% Organic.
However, now the Green Revolution has impaired Indian Agri exports, with decreasing productivity and increasing chemical residue, making it unsuited for exports.
Current issues - what is preventing farmers?
Constraints in Agri exports for marginal farmers:
Exporting is not a norm and considered as a too big thing to do
Lack of export infrastructure and awareness - like quality testing norms, training makes accessibility worst
Monopolies of APMCs discourage sales outside mandis.
WTO’s sanitary and phyto-sanitary clauses hinder fertilizer-ridden exports — a drawback of the Green Revolution.
Chinese cheap export due to huge scalability and enabling ecosystem
Lack of market-orientated production
Farm to fork chain needs to be more robust and fast
Constraints in adopting sustainable agriculture practices:
- Absence of risk-taking ability leading to lack of innovation.
- No incentive to adopt such practices — Same MSP on all types of crops, whether with chemical residue or organic.
- With modernisation and mechanisation of agriculture taking a toll, ancient agriculture practices have taken a backseat.
Absence of locally available best practices.
Requires more time and effort.
Changing definitions of prosperity, abandoning cow which is centre of all organic and sustainable agriculture
Farmer Laws - A Guiding Path
The recently enacted farmer laws could be a way to break away from the shackles of chemical-rich farming.
As mentioned in section 4 of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, mutually accepted quality, grade and standards of farming produce are to be adopted.
The technological methods to make agriculture sustainable is economically nonviable.
As a result, farmers will have to adopt the traditional, ancient ways of organic farming.
This will significantly improve farming practices, making them competitive in the international market.
The Farmer laws provide the opportunity to the farmers to sell their anywhere and everywhere, making them sovereign to sell.
These laws eliminate the need for a middleman (who is known to harass small and marginal farmers). Sustainability checked.
Now, what about exports? Section 4 of the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 empowers every person with a Pancard to become a trader, i.e., to purchase the farmer’s produce. This includes exporters as well.
The farmer can directly sell his produce to an exporter or even on e-commerce platforms for the purpose of exports.
The current paradigm has presented a dire need to look back at the ancient perception of agriculture.
From the Valmiki Ramayana’s focus on “Annadana” to Mahabharat’s sage Narad questioning the king “ how well he is keeping the farmers” and even today the worshipping of the legend of Annapurna (the goddess of food and nourishment) is inextricably linked to the social prosperity, for it is the farmers who held a high position in the society and who fed everyone from the king to a citizen.
The Arthashastra (by Chanakya) mentions agriculture as one of the 3 Vārttā (Commerce) in Ancient India. Agriculture was treated as a commercial practice, unlike today where we give a bare minimum support price making the farmers dependent.
However, there are ways through which we can reclaim the lost glory of such a noble profession which is agriculture. Various communities, Indigenous people still carry on the traditional practices of not only sustainable, organic and healthy but also a prosperous one which is highly in demand both domestically and internationally.
Looking at the traces of Kalibangan (in Rajasthan), Mehrangarh (in Pakistan) - the then one of the most important places in Harappan civilization; one thing worth noticing is that crops were climate-resilient and no crop was sown in an area which was unsuitable.
The foremost reason why agriculture remained sustainable till the arrival of chemical fertilizers and unfair irrigation policies along with the politicization of agriculture.
These sustainable practices if used by the farmers along with local varieties of crops can lead them to not only addressing the demands of the domestic market for safe, sustainable, nutritious food but also India can reclaim its position of trading and exports to the global market.
Furthermore, the link of region-specific crops famous for its quality and the GI tag has helped Indian farmers raise their export.
The Kesar of Kashmir valley is a brilliant example of that, if the farmer is freely linked to the market, then he/she is sure to get the right price with profit while sustainably performing the traditional practices. In today’s globalized world, GI also acts as the guardian of the local culture and tradition.
GIAHS in India
Saffron Heritage of Kashmir, India, 2011, Koraput Traditional Agriculture, India, 2012, Kuttanad Below Sea Level Farming System, India, 2013.
For harnessing the export potential of Indian agriculture along with preservation of the environment, of local culture and traditions while making farmers self-reliant, is the Indian way.
Branding Agri commodities is very important especially that of organic produce and rich traditional crops which we have been preserving.
There is an utmost demand to focus on Clusters and putting in place institutional mechanisms for effective involvement and engagement of small and medium farmers for the entire value chain as group enterprise(s) within clusters of villages at the block level for select produce(s). This will help to realize the actual benefit and empowerment of the farming community to double their income through the entire value chain.
Moreover, we should entail promoting value-added exports such as product development for indigenous commodities, promoting value-added organic exports, promotion of R&D for new product development for the upcoming markets since today only 1% of students enroll for agriculture-related studies in higher education.
Skill development is another necessity, million farmers’ schools in Uttar Pradesh should be an inspiration for other states for successfully training the farmers, the practice won international recognition including from the international food policy research institute.
Another aspect that needs light is Marketing and promotion of “Brand India” - Post Covid world has shown the impact of Indian preventive healthcare as well as that of centuries-old Indian food habits like ginger and honey for preventing cough. All of this on the world stage has gained momentum as India rises, the demand for such food rises, and amazingly every state, every district of India has the potential to contribute to Brand India.
Lastly , the most awaited farmer’s reforms to attract private investments in export-oriented activities and infrastructure, the establishment of Strong Quality Regimen, Creation of Agri-start-up fund: Entrepreneurs are to be supported to start a new venture in Agri products exports during their initial period of establishment.
To conclude, In India which is the land of opportunities, each and every marginal farmer has the potential which he/she could realise by going back to the very roots of ecological balance (ऋत)
Kisan is the owner of two things- Cow and land and if we incentivise using one to enrich the other then we are not only reducing the cost of agriculture for the marginal and small farmer but also enabling him to fetch more prices. And these incentives must be in form of procuring his produce while also giving him support at the farm level for boosting quality and decreasing pesticide residue.
We in the Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh have been trying to connect small farmers with markets while conducting training sessions for them. We as an institution have been working in 20-30 villages and we welcome all industry and institutions to help us in making one district a model for industry-led agriculture growth and farmer welfare. It’s time to make our Kisan(farmer) - Vyapari (Trader).
Let’s restore the sanctity of profession by breaking the taboo that farmer is helpless and lets work towards - “Doctor, Engineer, Teacher, lawyer ...Farmer”
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