“Everything can wait, but not agriculture,” said Pandit Nehru many decades ago, but the same holds true even today. Agriculture is the building block of our economy, and farmers are the foundation. Under no circumstance can we take them for granted or ignore their plight. Due to the current state of the economy and political structure, farmer suicides have reached staggering rates, primarily due to mounting indebtedness, non-remunerative prices for their crops, increasing cost of production, and declining agriculture credit. The Congress party and I strongly believe in the importance of setting up state machinery that works to benefit farmers and their families.
Our primary focus must remain on helping Indian farmers escape the shackles of mounting debt, we have to focus our efforts on finding innovative and sustainable measures to remove this burden. In order to help everyone, we will initiate a loan waiver scheme for small and marginal farmers, on the same lines as the farm loan waiver programme devised by the UPA government in 2009, which benefitted over 3.2 crore farmers. In addition, it is imperative for farmers to receive state support on the price of their produce. We need to relook at the current MSP, and incorporate the formula suggested by the Swaminathan Committee. We must take into consideration the value of owned capital assets, rent paid for leased-in land, and the rental of owned land. Without the proper MSP calculation, we are doing our farmers a disservice and will never be able to provide them the support they need.
In order to help farmers grow, we need to create the right opportunities, that will benefit them in the most substantial manner. We must provide interest free loans to cover input costs to tenant farmers, share-croppers, and farmers that own and cultivate up to two hectares of land. This will ensure they are provided the platform they need to improve yield, without the worry of finances. In addition, we need a farmer centric paradigm shift in Indian agriculture that will restore profitability, taking a humanitarian and compassionate approach to enhance farmers’ incomes, ensuring dignity to farmers, good education to their children, healthcare to their families and financial and social security through pensions to farmers and farm workers. The Kisan and Krishi Majdoor Welfare Aayog, will oversee welfare for farmers and farm workers, guaranteeing them social security through a pension fund.
In every sector of our economy, including agriculture, we need to consider innovative, scientific and modern methods to achieve better results. The Congress party has always been of the belief that every Indian must benefit from modern technology and scientific discovery. For agriculture we will extend support to start-ups and businesses in the farming sector to assist farmers with marketing, new technology, distribution, etc. We will explore setting up Special Agricultural Zones which would focus on raising high value crops for the domestic and export markets. This will lead to branding of products, economies of scale and attract investments, benefiting farmers irrespective of their background. We will focus on creating skill centres for farmers at the block level - much like former Congress CM, Siddaramaiah did in Karnataka - to ensure farmers have access to the latest technology and networks. We will also emphasise imparting basic skills in agriculture and animal husbandry at class VIII level so that students can understand the significance of agriculture.
In a country where 56% of the working population belongs to the agriculture and allied sectors, it is imperative that we frame our policies to benefit those people. 60 years ago, India became a food surplus nation through modern technology adopted in the Green Revolution; today we must strive to create a radical change similar to early 1960s and completely transform the lives of farmers and their families.