Even as farmers in the state grapple with sub-normal rainfall, the bigger challenge before the government is to invest in basic rural infrastructure such as roads linking the village to farms, says noted water management expert Madhav Chitale.
In the 40,000 villages that dot the state, nearly half the access roads to agricultural fields will need to be rebuilt to ensure year-round connectivity.
During monsoons, most fields in remote villages remain disconnected due to the poor state of access roads.
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Speaking to The Indian Express, Chitale said, “In a competitive economy, unless we have easy access to farms produce and ready markets the economic prosperity of farmers will remain on paper.”
“The first priority should be to develop agro-infrastructure and second, water conservation to enhance the irrigation potential.”
“What is the use of promoting two or three cycle crops if the produce of rabi or kharif cannot be taken out of the fields into the market? Unfortunately, the focus has always been on short-term loan packages and funds spent on irrigation projects and not rural infrastructure.”
While stressing that a loan waiver cannot be a single solution to tackle the agrarian crisis, Chitale said, “I would say we need to redefine poverty if we have to find a real solution to the crisis. A farmer holding five acres land in dry land cannot be dismissed as rich just because his counterpart operating in fertile land reaps better dividends.”
“At the same time there may be farmers who are financially prosperous and availing the benefits and those deserving being deprived. There should be proper categorisation and one yard stick cannot be adopted for all farmers across the region,” he added.
Chitale called for a holistic approach with both forward and backward linkages for a seamless farm to market supply chain.
“Today, you promote horticulture but where are the assured markets? If the vegetables and fruits are not immediately transported from fields to the market it would perish. Whether it is developing cold storages or creating market centres, large investments are needed.”
At a time when the Congress-NCP have raised the pitch for a loan waiver, and the state government has ushered policy measures to address the root cause of the agrarian crisis, Chitale said, “We have to make hard decisions to develop the agricultural sector. It will have to evolve as agro-industry if farmers’ interests are to be protected. Unless we have access to fields, develop markets or storage facilities how are we going to make agriculture economically feasible?”