I’d tackle the crisis beginning with the last of the above problems: inefficiency and corruption. A notable success of India in recent times is the women’s self-help groups [SHG]. Here are some examples [ 1, 2 ] Having membership of between 12 and 15 each, thousands of these groups across India have earned the trust and respect of banks. They have a timely repayment record of 99%+. These women have become adept at formal accounting and reporting practices. But so far SHG’s have confined themselves to dispensing small loans to individual members starting micro-businesses.
The time has come to develop them into business cells. The time and money spent on upgrading their knowledge and awareness can result in a reliable delivery mechanism that is corruption and sloth free.
I’d call upon tycoons, such as say Mr Tata who has announced a Rs.100,000 family car, to develop and market small scale farm machines and equipment. This rice harvester is criss-crossing small fields all over the Far East. There are numerous other machines that aid small farmers in Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and China. These small portable bins can hold grains for months at the village level until fair prices are assured. Manufacturers of sub-15 hp equipment would be incentivised.
These would be made available to SHG at concessional finance. They would render peripheral services -ploughing, planting, harvesting, processing, storing and marketing- to farmers in a cluster of villages.
I’d encourage the non-edible vegetable oil producing pongamia pinnata, a tree that can come up on village road margins and commons. The oil extracted would be used exclusively for driving small farm equipment. This is contrary to the trend of making biofuels for the city’s vehicles, often on good agricultural lands. My goal is local energy self-sufficiency.
Acknowledging that farmers would be reluctant to commit a part of their land to farm ponds, I’d pay the cost of the land, have the ponds dug and hand it back to him. In return for this giveaway the country will be the richer in water wealth and decrease the energy needs of irrigation.
SHG can be incentivised to run goshalas [aged cattle shelters] and turn them into profit centres producing vermicompost.
What has been detailed is of course not a formal action plan but suggests the direction the policy makers should be contemplating on. When rural welfare is earnestly wished for, an accountant’s mindset will turn into that of an environmentalist’s. Wealth will then be computed on the basis of soil fertility, societal health, water wealth and strength of local economies.
Indians used to be pretty good as least-external-input farmers. It can be successfully argued that farming with animals and bio-waste is every bit as productive as with chemicals.
It is sobering to contemplate the consequences of not acting in synergy with nature. In the weeks of inaction at pointReturn, as I idled and turned the pages of a newspaper, I read that the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s [FAO] Director General Jaques Diouf was visiting India. The context of the visit was rising food prices and their scarcity. The report quoted him thus: “The world food situation is very serious today with food riots reported from many countries like Egypt, Cameroon, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Senegal. We fear that this may spread to other countries.”
Altogether, the foregoing thoughts were enough to make me long for action to resume at pointReturn.