Farmer leaders favour agriculture-zonal planning to reduce fertilizer dependence
In view of the supply crisis arising out of the Russian-Ukraine war and the ever-increasing prices in the international market, there is a need for agriculture-zonal planning in the country on the basis of crops. Besides reducing dependence on chemical fertilizers, this will also promote crop diversification. Also, some agricultural areas in the country will have to be shifted to organic farming in a phased manner in order to reduce dependence on imported chemical fertilizers. The fertilizer subsidy given by the government should go directly to the farmers’ accounts rather than to the companies. This will give the farmers the freedom to decide which fertilizers to use in their fields.
In view of the supply crisis arising out of the Russian-Ukraine war and the ever-increasing prices in the international market, there is a need for agricultural-zonal planning in the country on the basis of crops. Besides reducing dependence on chemical fertilizers, this will also promote crop diversification. Also, some agricultural areas in the country will have to be shifted to organic farming in a phased manner in order to reduce dependence on imported chemical fertilizers. The fertilizer subsidy given by the government should go directly to the farmers’ accounts rather than to the companies. This will give the farmers the freedom to decide which fertilizers to use in their fields.
These were some of the suggestions given by the officials from farmer organizations across the country in a Roundtable Discussion of “Fertilizers for Farmers: Impact of Ukraine War” organized by Rural Voice and Socratus in New Delhi on May 31. The farmer organizations also came up with suggestions like the formation of an Agricultural Planning Commission and district-level agri zones. This is the first time that farmer leaders from organizations with divergent views were present together on a forum to discuss an issue crucial to the farmers.
The discussion began with a presentation from Socratus that gave facts and figures about the fertilizer situation over the last one year — the chain of events, prices, availability, international market, imports etc. Fertilizer prices have gone up by up to 70 per cent in the international market over the last one year. India imports not only fertilizers but also their raw materials, which too have witnessed a steep rise in prices. The Russia-Ukraine war has also led to an availability crisis. The country does not have sufficient fertilizer stocks at present and neither is the industry going for imports. The farmers may have to face problems in the coming Kharif season. With no signs of the war coming to an end, there is little hope of a fall in the prices of fertilizers and their raw materials. This has led the government to increase the subsidy. While the government had made a provision of Rs 1.05 lakh crore for fertilizer subsidy in the Budget, the actual subsidy is expected to be 2-2.5 times this amount.
Speaking on this occasion, Yudhvir Singh, General Secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said that in order to ensure sustainability, dependence on chemical farming would have to be reduced and methods devised to increase the use of the resources available in the country. It is only farmers from the irrigated area that benefit from the chemical fertilizers; the government does not think of the remaining vast majority. Yudhvir Singh said that self-reliance was necessary in the field of fertilizers; only then could a solution be found. He said that it was a wrong notion that hybrid seeds and fertilizers led to the Green Revolution; rather, it had been achieved through the conventional varieties. He said that there should be reserve zones for farming that should not be put to other uses.
Pramod Choudhary, a member of the national executive of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and All-India General Secretary of the Bharatiya Agro-Economic Research Centre (BARC), said that the fertilizer subsidy was given at present in the name of farmers but, in reality, it went to the industry. He suggested that the farmers be given a subsidy at the rate of Rs 6,000 per acre and allowed the freedom to decide which fertilizer to use. He said that in Madhya Pradesh (MP), the bureaucrats protested direct benefit transfer (DBT) to the farmers. Their plea was that there were several farmers who farmed on leased land and thus the subsidy amount would not reach them. The officers also argued that giving money directly to the farmers might result in their spending it elsewhere.
Raju Shetti, President, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, said that there were several companies committing fraud in the name of organic farming and farmers were getting caught in their traps. Organic farming may lead to a food crisis. Citing his own example, Shetti said that his experimenting with organic farming saw his sugarcane productivity go down from 90 tonnes per acre to 30-35 tonnes. Even the organic sugar didn’t sell. Initially, Shetti had been assured of a price of Rs 70 per kg for organic sugar, but he later found that there were no buyers. As for DBT of the subsidy to the farmers, he said, “Who will keep a check on the government?” He cited the example of how the subsidy on LPG cylinders had been stopped. He said the cost of sugarcane had gone up by Rs 214 per tonne due to a hike in diesel and fertilizer prices while the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) of sugarcane had gone up by only Rs 20.
VM Singh, National Convener, Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (RKMS), advocated the formation of an independent Planning Commission-like body for agriculture. He said that at present the policymakers did not know anything about farming. “The government does not accord priority to organic farming. How long shall we remain dependent on imported fertilizers? Besides, even today majority of the land is not irrigated and it is cow-dung manure that is used in these lands.” He said that there was a need for a gradual reduction of fertilizers in irrigated areas and suggested that the government start organic farming with 10 per cent of the land.
“MSP (Minimum Support Price) is the lifeline for farmers,” said VM Singh. He said that it would matter little to the farmers if the government increased the fertilizer prices but calculated the MSP by including it in the farmers’ costs. He also suggested that if urea was made into a solution and then sprayed instead of applying it the way it was done at present, there would be only 20 per cent of the present urea consumption without making any compromises with the productivity.
Yogendra Yadav, leader of the Jai Kisan Andolan, categorized his solutions as immediate, medium- and long-term. He said that there was little that could be done for the coming Kharif season and the government would have to go for immediate solutions. It will have to buy the fertilizers from the various sources available in the international market. As a medium-term solution, he suggested that the government should stop giving subsidies to fertilizer companies. Rather, it should be given to the farmers as DBT on a per-acre basis. He also questioned the way MSP was calculated on three-year-old costs using an inflator. He wanted this to be changed to using the current costs as the base every year. On the issue of diversification in agriculture, he said farmers should be given incentives for this. As a long-term solution, he proposed linking MSP to district-wise production. MSP should not be universal; rather, it should be given for particular crops in a particular district or region.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait suggested that hill states could switch to organic farming first as they produced fruits and vegetables. He said that he had proposed the formation of a Bundelkhand Organic Board, but no step was being taken in this direction. He said that the management of agri waste, which was burnt at present, could be a major source of manure. “We shall have to move to farming that consumes less water and fertilizers.”
Senior Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Atul Anjan, who is the General Secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), said that the fertilizer industry did not want to promote organic farming. No government wants any serious discussion about this matter because the interests of the industry were involved. But the government, which at present has allocated only Rs 750 crore for organic farming in 28 states, will have to promote it. It is necessary to transform agriculture to attract the youth. Calling the NITI Aayog “debris of confusion”, he supported the idea of an Agricultural Planning Commission that should hold state-wise meetings.
Dr Rajaram Tripathi, National Convener, Alliance of Indian Farmers’ Association, said that the Indian farmers were practising organic farming in their own way. The farmer from Chhattisgarh said, “The Ukraine war will have no impact on us (as far as fertilizers are concerned). We have been doing certified organic farming for 15 years.” He criticized the government’s double standards: it gives subsidies to fertilizers while it holds seminars on organic farming. Instead of supporting the organic farmers in expenditures on infrastructure etc., it talks of zero-budget farming. The government, he said, had no holistic approach to organic farming. Besides, the government data were mostly incorrect. He said, “We are sitting on a pyramid of false data.”
Nachiket from Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said that India imported not only fertilizers but also their raw materials. Thus, in a way, our import dependence was 70 per cent in the case of urea, 95 per cent for phosphate and 100 per cent for MOP. He said, “If we had a ship-to-mouth existence before Green Revolution, it has now changed only to ship-to-farm-to-mouth existence.” Besides, he said, natural gas (the feedstock for urea) and phosphate (which is used to make DAP) would come to an end one day. It was, therefore, imperative for us to look for a substitute.
Yawar Mir, a former MLA from the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party, was also present at the discussion. He said that Kashmir was known for its horticulture. The Sopore fruit mandi is Asia’s largest. And yet there is little representation from Jammu and Kashmir in any horticulture discussion by the government. There is a wide gap between the government schemes and the grassroots problems, Mir said. The officials decide on their own and often these decisions give rise to problems. Mir said that the government policies were not for the farmers, but for the traders. The situation is such that the farmers do not even have money to repay their Kisan Credit Card (KCC) debts.
Rampal Jat, National President, Kisan Mahapanchayat, said that the government policies affected the pulses farmers the most. For example, the government did announce that it would procure pulses but then followed it up with the rider that not more than 25 per cent of the produce would be eligible for procurement. Besides, daily ceilings were imposed. Rampal Jat said that crop diversification and crop rotation came to Indian farmers naturally. But the government policies that came from the 1960s onwards ruined this. He took a dig at the bureaucratic interference in farming, “Those who never swam became swimming coaches.”