National Commission on Farmers
The National Commission on Farmers was constituted in 2004 under the chairmanship of Prof. M.S. Swaminathan. With the budget provisions of 2018 bringing agriculture to the forefront , the Swaminathan Formula has yet again gained significance.
The key recommendations of the Commission include:
Land Reforms- distribution of ceiling surplus and waste lands, preventing diversion of agri land for commercial purposes, ensuring grazing rights and establishing a National Land Use Advisory Service.
The Commission recognized inequality in landholdings, reflected well in the land ownership. In 1991-92, the share of bottom half of the rural households stood at 3% as against 54% held by the top 10%. Such inequality in land ownership persists even today.
Irrigation- to ensure sustained water supply to farmers, compulsory water harvesting and initiation of Million Wells Recharge programmed, targeted at private wells.
Rain fed agriculture continues to sustain more than 50% of gross cropped area. In this era of climate change, dependence on monsoons remains an unreliable option.
Credit and Insurance- formalize credit system for farmers, reduce crop loan interest to 4%, and create agriculture risk fund to provide relief post calamities.
A significant percentage of farmers are dependent on informal source for credit lending, often moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest. Failure to repay loans is a major cause of increasing farmer suicides.
Food security- Implementation of a universal public distribution system, elimination of micronutrient deficiency and formulating of a National Food Guarantee Act.
The National Food Security Act, 2013 addresses the concerns of food security, covering upto 75% of rural and 50% of urban population under the targeted PDS. The next progressive move will be to universalize the PDS.
Prevention of Farmers’ Suicides- providing affordable health insurance, setting up Village Knowledge Centers at suicide hotspots, public awareness campaigns, etc.
Given the recent spurt in farmer suicides, the issue continues to hold relevance.
Competitiveness of Farmers- MSP to be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production, reforming the APMCs, promotion of commodity based farmers organizations and moving towards a single Indian market.
The provisions of Budget 2018 raising MSP by at least 50% above cost of production and establishment of a National Agriculture e- Market go well with the spirit of the Swaminathan recommendations.
The Government has made progressive moves in the field of agricultural reforms. However, the pace has been slow, and gaps remain in implementation.
The visionary recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers if implemented well can bring much relief to the distressed agricultural sector.