The phrase has been circulating uselessly within speeches, reports, research papers, policy documents, workshops and symposia. It has been responsible for the careers of generations of people for five decades now. In a way, it is a ‘milk cow’ that does not go away as it is most convenient for bureaucracies.
Surprisingly, this phrase finds no place in the private sector and nobody there wastes time discussing it as they have real businesses to do. There is no consensus over the definition of the phrase, and there are multiple definitions with the colour of the phrase constantly changing with time.
What has really happened is that all programmes that have been launched in the name of sustainable agriculture have ended up perpetuating poverty of the subsistence farmer. In fact, one of the most economically distressed professionals in the world is the farmer. Why is this so? It is because nothing is sustainable unless it is economically viable.
Address weather and price issues...
Agriculture has been beset with two problems since time immemorial: weather and prices. If anyone can get a handle on these two, problems of agriculture will vanish in no time. What does a poor farmer and a rich farmer want? He wants a reliable income to maintain his family. The rest like preserving environment, biodiversity and sustainability does not enter his mind, unless they have something to do with his income. These days, the needs of a farmer to assure a steady income from agriculture are simple and straightforward: high quality seed; quality inputs; irrigation; infrastructure to market where his produce is in demand without the usurious middlemen.
Governments around the world have reduced investment in agriculture, and there is no hope of improving the poor farmer’s conditions at this rate. Private sector in agriculture that provides inputs is turning out profits year after year, not that the farmer is handicapped with any knowledge or modern skills or technology to do the ‘smart farming.’
Agriculture needs business acumen
What is critically needed for a sound sustainable agriculture is to bring business acumen to farming. If farmers insist doing agriculture the way their forefathers did, it is not going to work. Subsistence farmers cannot be helped on the farm. The sooner the administrators, policy makers and politicians realize it, the better. They have to be weaned into other professions away from farming. For modern agriculture, one needs a critical mass of land without which it is not economical to do farming. Another key to beneficial farming is to use the best technology possible. People and organisations that advocate against modern science must be reined in.
India’s agriculture needs a boost
When everyone’s agricultural productivity rate is shooting off the charts, only India’s is regressing. This too at a time of increasing population, decreasing arable lands and climate change. India’s rural poverty cannot be erased by allowing agriculture to wallow in misery. When almost 60 per cent of Indians depend on such an inefficient agricultural system, how can one expect India to attack poverty? The present government in Delhi seems to be taking the right steps starting with the land acquisition bill, and hope that better sense prevails for the betterment of Indian agriculture and poverty reduction.