From Mandsaur to Mumbai, farmer agitations have repeatedly invoked recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission to press their demands, including waiver of loans. Political leadership across states — Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab — have come out with their versions of farm loan waivers to stop unrest among farmers from turning into an electoral backlash.
Yet Professor M S Swaminathan, author of the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) which is better known as his panel, does not see farm loan waiver as a solution to challenges being faced by farmers.
“The demand for loan waiver is indicative of non-viability of farm economics. Every step should be taken to make farming economically viable,” Swaminathan told The Indian Express over phone from Chennai before chastising “short-term strategies” like loan waivers.
“I am sorry to say that very simple and short-term strategies like loan waiver are adopted. Writing off the loan is not the best way to tackle the distress in the farming sector,” he said, adding, “loan waiver is only an easy way to get a new farm loan. But writing off does not guarantee repayment of the next loan unless farming is made viable.”
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“I am not against loan waiver. But loan waiver is not a solution to the problem. I am all for loan waiver if it is part of a strategy to revive the economic health of farming,” Swaminathan said, suggesting that “apart from writing off loans, the focus should be to ensure how the loan is repaid. For this, farming economics needs to be fixed.”
The agriculture expert underlined the need for sustained attention towards technology, trade and training-related requirements of the sector to shield farmers from the grim situation they face.
“In particular, aspects related to technology, trade and training in the farming sector needs to be attended in a much deeper way. Say, we need to train farmers for climate-smart farming now on,” he said, making the point that “from farm to fork, the farming sector should be looked at in an integrated and holistic fashion. We need a new agriculture, based on ecology and economics.”
He emphasised the need for strategies beyond short-term measures like loan waiver to ensure farmers do not need palliatives like loan waivers time and again.
“There may be short-term steps needed. But more important are medium and long term steps to ensure farming is economically attractive,” Swaminathan said, advocating the need for land use planning well in advance of every crop cycle to wean them away from the traps of excess production that lead to crash in prices, resulting in lower realisations that create distress.
“Farmers should be advised on land use planning. For want of proper land use planning, they end up sowing more than the demand. This leads to price crash of their produce. Land use planning has to be before sowing. Say, it should begin for March for the Kharif season (starting June),” Swaminathan said, citing examples of how farmers of different produce have suffered over the years for excess acreage of their crops than the demand of their produce.
Distress in the farm sector led to agitations across different parts of the country, starting from Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh last summer. Worried that unrest among farmers may spill into an election year, the BJP-led government at the Centre, in its last full Budget in February, announced implementation of a version of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendation on fixing minimum support price for almost two dozen commodities on the cost plus 50 per cent basis. Additionally, the central government tasked the NITI Aayog to frame a mechanism to ensure farmers get minimum support price in the eventuality of prices crashing.