By: Vikram Rawat
Close to half of India’s land is fertile for agriculture as compared to less than quarter in China and the US, according to US Central Intelligence Agency Factbook. Yet, 40% of Indian farmers want to quit agriculture, a 2005 study by the Indian Agriculture Ministry shows. And there are valid reasons for them to do so, some very local in nature, like problems being faced by progressive farmers in Mandi district.
Despite having good potential for even apple farming, the younger generation is Himachal’s apple belt is looking for government jobs. Why? Because the government has not been able to motivate them to adopt farming. Our apple yield is the lowest in the world. It appears, when we look at farming methods, we still live in ancient times. The horticulture department is having demonstration and progeny farms, but there is nothing to be demonstrated. Mistakenly, if any farmer visits these farms, he will immediately abandon any he may be having of adopting farming.
The government has huge plans for infrastructure development under Din Dayal Krishi Samridhi Yojana. But they have not worked to develop marketing strategy. They have also not come up with any growing plans. I fear if most of the green house growers start growing colour capsicum, the farmers will never be able to meet out even their production costs, the clientele for which is limited. It had happened and, it is going to happen very shortly again.
Under the Pandit Din Dayal Upadhyay Krishi Samridhi Yojana stress is given to water structures only, (apart from green houses), and that too for only those who have water sources available. For majority of farmers the main source of water is indeed rain, but rainwater harvesting is missing from the scheme. Any farmer thinking to create water storage tank for rain water is not going to get any benefit under the scheme.
Despite subsidies, farmers are continuing to struggle with the risk of unpredictable monsoons and climatic conditions. Fortunately, if they succeed in growing vegetables or fruits, they get only 20% of the retail price. They also have no site to sell their final produce directly because of the long chain of middleman. Huge subsidies are given for chemical fertilizers, transport subsidy for industries (raw material), but there is no transport subsidy if mushroom compost is to be transported from a private farm by a mushroom grower.
Marketing boards are working, but with no new strategy, only photo-copying the old marketing yards. These Boards provide platforms (like railway platforms) for traders and the middlemen, but nothing for farmers. Yes, if farmers take their produce to the nearby market, they impose production tax. Northharvest, an SSG promoted by Karsog Valley Farmers Group is paying at the crossing of Mandi-Shimla border at Tattapani @Rs10/box having vegetables worth Rs 100-200, but for an apple box (cost 1000- 2500) this fee is Rs 3/box (Though in other districts this fee is Rs 2/box) , so different rules for different districts.
Under this kind of discrimination, it is obvious any thinking person would not like to opt for farming. At least, the state government should understand the local needs of farmers to work out practical solutions. For example, small growers can use the wide network of HRTC buses to transport their produce, but here too they are being exploited. Northharvest farmers send mushroom to Rampur Bushehar and other parts of Himachal, but the conductors are charging Rs 100 for one box (10-20 Kg) and in return they don’t give ticket. If a ticket is asked for, they direct farmers to unload the boxes. If the government shows interest this little interest and asks HRTC to work out the modalities of letting farmers transport their small produce through buses legally, it can work wonders for the farming community within the state.