A faculty at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) and newly appointed Director of the Institute, Hitesh Bhatt, is a person on a mission to turnaround the fortunes of the institute, which has been the backbone of the rural management ecosystem in the country. It is aiming to play a crucial role in addressing the rural livelihood and resource management. Bhatt tells that the road ahead is clearly charted for IRMA and IRMAns, whose role will be crucial in coming days as Indian farming undergoes stressful days amid pricing challenge.
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India has been facing farm distress for many years now. What do you think is the cause and what measures do you suggest to help farmers?
Farmers in India have a low resource base – about 67 per cent or two-thirds of our farmers own around one acre of land. Most of the input prices are increasing but output prices are not rising, leading to distress.
The MSP is one of the many mechanisms to prevent fall in prices of output, but owing to fiscal and storage constraints, it is not possible to purchase all the output by the government.
Warehouse receipt financing – hedging in the commodity futures introduced to help the farmers – is facing operational issues and hence it has not really helped the farmers.
But initiatives such as eNAM (electronic National Agriculture Market) —connecting the farmers with the traders — are good that need to be operationalised on a larger scale to help farmers get better prices for their produce by eliminating the intermediaries. Diversifying the farm and farm-based activities would also help to address the issue of farm distress. This can be done by developing allied activities such as cattle rearing, poultry, hatchery, piggery or even investing in fruit orchards.
Apparently, all these policies end up helping large holding farmers more as compared to the ones who are marginal and distressed.
Some critics and agri-economists have questioned the government’s target of doubling the farm income by 2022. What is your take on it?
It is erroneous to say ‘doubling the income of a farmer in the next few years’. Instead, we should focus on doubling a farmer’s household income in the next few years and that is possible. We have to identify the bottlenecks or constraints that come in the way of this and remove them systematically. Making the value chains shorter (from farm to consumer) can increase the monetary returns of farmers.
We must also realise that what works in one State may not work in another and what works in one district of a State may not work in another. The goal can be achieved if we look at the rural development sector from a managerial perspective.
What role do you see IRMA playing in the sustenance of the rural economy?
If you look at Gujarat’s milk co-operative model, you will find that it is self-sustainable. If we can replicate something similar to it, in terms of people coming together for a cause, our model will become sustainable. Collective action to achieve scale like Amul had demonstrated that higher percentage of consumer rupee can be given back to the farmers. IRMA has been working on this theme since its inception in 1979.
Several IRMAns have joined co-operatives and Farmers’ Producer Organisations (FPOs) which essentially try to achieve scale to remove some of the intermediaries in the chain to increase farmers’ income. This happens by way of aggregation at the production level in villages and institutional innovations such as encouraging marginal farmers to develop co-operatives or FPOs – who, in turn, will have better negotiation power at the last point in the value chain.
Courtesy: Hindustan Times