|AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE||Monday, June 4, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Outdated marketing system and price policy are stumbling blocks
Asia’s useful trees and plants
A burning problem of forest fires
Poor lending to farm sector by most private banks
Outdated marketing system and price policy are stumbling blocks
ON the scales of human needs, food ranks the highest. The other two being clothing and shelter. It has been rightly said, "Want is insatiable and want for food is ever insatiable. It, therefore, becomes incumbent that there should be no shortage of food. The farmer is the producer of food. He is, thus, cannot be ignored. There is, therefore, greater need to give special emphasis on making his economy sustainable.
Farming is the most primitive occupation. There is, therefore, need to give special attention to the development of all factors of food production and improve them from time to time as per the environmental variations and human needs so that there is no shortage of foodgrains in the country. This is a guideline for the governments that the country’s development by industrialisation alone may not pay dividend and food production shall have to be given the first priority.
As per the general opinion of the farmers, the Department of Irrigation in both states should have given equal importance to the drainage system which is an integral part of the irrigation system. But it was not done. The result is before everyone to see. In areas where underground water level was very deep and the quality of water was brackish, it was allowed to rise so rapidly that there has appeared the problem of alkalinity-salinity and waterlogging. The area under commercial crops of cotton and rabi oilseeds has drastically gone done and replaced by paddy. Thousands of valuable trees have started drying up and building structures have developed cracks. On the other hand, in sweet underground water areas where water-table was easily and cheaply exploitable for installation of tubewells, it has gone down too deep and thus made tubewell irrigation very costly. The stabilisation of water-table at reasonably safe depth was necessary. The situation in both cases has now become endemic. The irrigation and drainage are twins and therefore, have always to be linked. As such to maintain a healthy "soil and water regime" the irrigation-cum-drainage was an essential desideratum. Now, there will be unpredictably heavy expenditure to erase the deterioration." Prevention is better than cure" is not being followed.
Many articles have appeared in the press on the diversification of crops. Dr S.S. Johal presented good suggestions in this respect in 1986, but there has been almost no impact of his recommendations. Have we thought of the reasons for it? Giving suggestions and prescribing model cropping schemes as has recently been done by PAU, Ludhiana, is also a good thing but in my opinion, it is not going to help much without analysing the problems properly so as to pinpoint the obstacles which stand in the way, and get them removed. Otherwise, it seems too much to expect diversification being advocated.
Farming is known to be the most compulsive, hazardous and subsistence occupation. There is always a threat to the crops and consequently to the farmers’ economy. This is, in fact, the only occupation where both "short term and long term" strategies have to go side by side. It is a unique situation that the seller, that is; the producer has to take his product for selling to the market, while in all other cases buyers have to go to the sellers.
In 1947 when the country became independent there was a great shortage of foodgrains and as such, these were imported at a heavy cost. The situation started changing in mid-sixties with the introduction of high-yielding varieties of paddy and wheat. The farmers of Punjab and Haryana rose to the clarion call of the governments and took to new seeds and allied technology under the grow more food programme and changed the situation from shortage to surplus foodgrains.
Production and marketing of all products, industrial or agricultural, are linked ones. But in both states this principle vis-a-vis agriculture was not given due consideration and marketing of foodgrains has continued to be quite faulty and outdated. The situation became tricky during the last paddy season when the farmers felt harassed due to payment of almost half the MSP. This is typical ease of neglect of the marketing covering the procurement, transport and storage vis-a-vis production for which the government fixed the targets. This seems to be still haunting the farmers lest they should be sidelined in wheat sale season also. They are worried that the inclement weather, which is giving them sleepless nights, may be attributed for poor quality wheat grain and the procurement agencies may not pay them the MSP.
Outdated marketing system:
It is felt that it is the weakest link in the process of agricultural development. The middlemen (arhtias) continue to flourish while the producer suffers and the consumer does not gain. The farmers have been perpetually fleeced by the unscrupulous traders in the market. The same modus operandi is in vogue. The small farmers who meet their day-to-day needs from the commission agents are compelled to sell even their subsistence produce under stress. They start buying back even the foodgrains at a higher price and pay a high rate of interest on the fast mounting debt. This commercial exploitation is largely responsible for the farmers’ perpetual poverty.
It is felt that the state market boards need to be activated more for replacing the outdated marketing system. To do this, there is need to establish agricultural development and marketing centres in the villages, say one such centre for 1,000 hectares of cultivated area. These will be in addition to the existing grain markets. It may be a centrally sponsored project to be financed by the Government of India and the state on 75:25 basis. The headquarters of local functionaries of the developments of agriculture, cooperative and animal husbandry be located there and besides a grain yard with sets of different sizes of mechanical graders for grading all sorts of agricultural produce, the officials’ residences, cooperative banks, and all other supplementary infrastructure for education and health be located and spacious stores be provided.
The graded and bagged produce of each farmer be duly recorded in the farmer name by the in charge of the grading yard. A receipt be given to him and a copy of the same sent direct to the cooperative bank where the farmers’ savings bank accounts will be maintained. It should be optional for the farmers to sell their whole produce or part of it at that very time or sometime later when the market rates are higher by paying storage charges for the intervening period. Establishment of such marketing centres will generate good employment potential for lakhs of villagers for handing of the produce working of graders, etc. It is learnt that the Delhi Government is establishing such a centre near Narela.
Farmers welfare funds:
With the replacement of the present marketing system as suggested above and the introduction of dovetailed well-implemented system of linking the farmers assets and liabilities with the cooperative banks, there will be a huge build up of domestic savings with the cooperative banks. The investment of these savings in industrial pursuits at the present rate of interest will generate significant capital with these banks which can be earmarked for starting a farmer’s welfare fund. This fund can be utilised for assistance to the small and marginal farmers in all eventualities. Another big advantage in the proposed marketing system will be that the farmers’ debt problems will be solved satisfactorily which is the major cause of their perpetual poverty.
For safeguarding the interests of the farming community, the Central Government had adopted the procedure of fixing the minimum support price of foodgrains. This was extended to cash crops and pulses subsequently. The timing of declaration of this is, however, erratic. The announcement of wheat price is made in March when the crop is near harvesting. It will hardly work as an incentive. It is therefore, necessary that the MSP be announced for all the crops in January as a "forward price policy". It will enable the farmers to prepare their cropping scheme for the whole year for both kharif and rabi crops well in advance.
Secondly, no farmer is attracted to switching over to another crop if the net returns from the latter are not more than that from the existing one. On the basis of past trends, when the production is more the market prices have been going down heavily. The farmers have not forgotten slump in the prices of potatoes and onions. Some years back the cotton price in off season was quite high but when the produce started coming it came down almost to half.
The government should devise ways and means to protect the interest of the small farmers numbering about 80 per cent whose land holdings are continuously being fragmented and are now too small to sustain their economy.
Asia’s useful trees and plants
Mango is a large evergreen tree found growing luxuriantly in the plains and sub-mountainous tracts of Asia from the level of sea up to nearly 800 m thereabove. A very important fruit tree of the Asian subcontinent, it is a member of the plant family anacardiaceae and is called mangifera indica in scientific (Latin) language. In local dialects and languages in various countries of its habitat, it is named as amb, ambi, bacho, ama, baigas, etc.
Mango is considered to be a native of Burma and there are several legends as to how it got introduced into the Indian subcontinent. One such legend has it that more than 4000 years ago Lord Hanumana had brought its seed to India from Lanka where he had gone to look for Maa Sita in the era of Ramayana.
Though mango tree grows naturally all over the Asia continent in wild as well as cultivated form, it is subject to continuous and intensive research and is cultivated as a major cash fruit crop (fruit) of India. Its natural habitat in Asia starts from Burma and extends westwards covering entire India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.
As mango is one of the most popular trees, it is grown and cared not only for its fruits and shade but also for ornamenting roadside avenues. Also all kinds of vacant plots and patches of land. Nevertheless a brief description of the plant as such is desirable.
The common variety of mango tree has a rough and thick dark grey bark. Its leaves are simple, alternate and crowded towards end of the branches. An individual leave on the average is nearly 15 to 25 cm long and 4 to 10 cm wide, oblong, obovate lanciolate, entire, carriaceous and dark green in colour. The species flowers during February-March. Small fruit start showing up during April which ripens between mid-June and mid-July. The cultivated varieties of the fruit are a subject of intense trade both within India as well as abroad. Its export earns a lot of foreign exchange for India.
Mango is a highly revered plant as per Hindu culture and rites. The leaves are used for essential decoration and sanctification of venue of all kinds of Hindu worship, especially for decorating entrance gates. Its dried wood is considered essential for litting yajna and havan fire.
The motif of mango leaf is extensively used as a symbol auspicious decorating on the walls of common dwellings as well as religious premises.
The mango tree is fairly fast growing. Its wild and ordinary varieties grow to massive dimensions. It generally matures in about 70 to 80 years by when it gains a girth of nearly 2 to 3 metres and a height of about 20 to 30 metres. Its bole and thick branches constitute an important though less durable timber. Its wood is grey to light brown in colour. Is is light in structure, weighing nearly 20 kg to a cubic foot and is generally used for making packing cases and cheap furniture. The branches and waste wood also makes good fuel for domestic heating as well as for baking bricks in kilns.
Depending upon the variety of a mango tree, the fruit is quite a favourite table dish for eating as such or a variety of preparation or for sucking. Called as the king of fruit, it is very popular among common people as well as royal houses.
The raw mango fruit is used as vegetable as well. It is highly favoured for making common mango pickle. The fruit is also considered to be of high medicinal value for a variety of symptoms. The ripe fruit taken in any form is a very good laxative amongst several other good effects. The live bark yields a kind of gum which is used as a light nourishing food for the rejuvenating sick persons. The seed contains gallic acid which again has medicinal value.
One of the important drawbacks of the mango species is that its wood, bark, fruit and flowers are susceptive to insects and bores. The plant is also highly susceptible to snow frost as well. Any unusual fall of snow in plains causes devastation of the mango trees, which then go without flowering and fruiting for a number of years.
About regeneration, the ordinary variety is easy to grow from seed. The nature has made the fruit so succulent and tasty, only to make the man carry and throw its seed far and near to help the species propagate itself abundantly. And once the seed comes in contact with right kind of soil, the germination and growth of the plant are easy. The raising of the improved varieties is, however, highly scientific and technical matter.
A burning problem of forest fires
Come summer and a spate reports start pouring in from various parts of Himachal Pradesh and elsewhere about the forests fires wrecking havoc and causing a Himalayan loss to the fauna and flora, besides corroding the clean, green environs and ecology. The hot spots of such disastrous fire incidents are the lower and midhills of Mandi, Kangra, Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Solan, Sirmaur and Una districts where the impact is more pronounced. A serious analytical study of the reasons leading to such incidents is the need of the hour so as to ferret out a permanent solution to the perennial problem.
Due to the distressing fire incidents caused by either controlled burning, attempted or accidental fires, various pockets of this hill state, which once bragged about their rich forest reserves, have been reduced to mere vast ugly patches of barren land. These segments, which were once dotted with rows of pine trees, have become sparse, with the forest mafia continuing its orchestrated onslaught.
Incredible as it may sound, more than 38 per cent of the total area of this hill heartland was once covered with green forests, which indeed was a strong base of our environment and ecology. Alarmingly, more than 60 per cent of this lush green cover has been devoured by the devastating fires or has fallen prey to the insatiable human greed. A random visit to some of the fire-ravaged areas will tell the true story.
The Union Government allocates grants-in-aid worth lakhs of rupees year after year for the ''controlled burning'' protect in order to save the rare forest wealth and wildlife from the wayward fire flames. Earlier, the routine ''controlled burning'', which continued till December-January, is now carried on till the end of March. This is the time when the pine and other trees doff off the old garb and don the new one.
The dry leaves of pine trees make a thick layer on the unbeaten tracks used by the casual workers. March-April is the peak season for such an exercise. The unmanaged heaps of these leaves pose a potential danger to these casual workers. To pre-empt chances of any mishap, they set ablaze the leaves. In the process, young and not-so-young trees, including certain rare herbs, come in contact with the raging fire. This leaves a trail of devastation with all sorts of flora and fauna, including rare species, some of them on the verge of extinction, and other micro-organism, meeting a fiery end. The wild animals and birds either perish or haunted out of their natural habitat.
This has sounded a virtual wake-up call for the eco-friendly fraternity across the country, serious environmentalists and, of course, NGOs to form a human chain and spearhead a relentless battle against such orchestrated onslaughts as might pose a potential danger to our environment and ecology.
With the human population bursting at the seams, the population of domestic animals, too, has increased substantially, thus exerting enormous pressure on the forests for food, fodder and firewood. To see to it that their livestock may graze in the forests without any fear of being trapped by a wild predator, those living in close proximity of these areas destroy the unwanted growth by setting it on fire, unmindful of the hazards it might wreak in the long run.
Amazing as it may sound the blazing fire is not extinguished for days, with the local folk standing mute witness to such a holocaust. At times, the wayward fires reach the fringes of the smouldering forest areas by engulfing the entire green cover.
The state government has yet to come out with a state-of-the-art fire-fighting mechanism to combat the growing phenomenon. Time is now ripe for the government to evolve a strategy to check recurrence of the burgeoning fire incidents. It should launch a concerted campaign to generate a strong public opinion to save environment and ecology by saving the forests.
Purposeful management of dry pine leaves may also be a wise step in this direction. Services of the casual labourers engaged for resin extraction as also that of the beat guards may be utilised. Being well-conversant with the topography and terrain, they can play an important role in realising a mission.
Poor lending to farm sector by most private banks
During the past few years, most private banks have violated with impunity the RBI’s norms on lending 18 per cent of their net bank credit to the agricultural sector. The average credit flow to the farm sector from private banks has been less than 10 per cent with the new private banks’ contribution less than 5 per cent.
Data compiled by the Ministry of Finance have sent alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power and has become a debating point. Various options, including tightening the noose on the private banks to ensure enhanced credit flow to the agricultural sector is being considered. The government is understood to have asked the RBI to ensure compliance of its directive.
Out of the 35 banks whose credit flow has been analysed by the Finance Ministry, barring one, none of them has made the mandatory 18 per cent credit to the agricultural sector. At least in half a dozen cases, the credit flow to farmers directly or under agricultural schemes is less than 5 per cent.
The banks which have a low credit flow include UTI Bank Limited, ICICI Banking Corporation and Global Trust Bank. HDFC Bank is the only bank which has achieved the lending norms.
The banks which have done slightly better are Vysya Bank, J and K Bank, Bank of Madhura, Lord Krishna Bank, Bank of Punjab and IDBI Bank.
The Department of Economic Affairs, which is in the process of updating this data, has concluded that attainment of targets for lending to agriculture under the priority sector lending obligations by private sector commercial banks is nowhere near the prescribed percentage.
Apparently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has shot off an SOS to the Finance Ministry as to why the lending to the agricultural sector is too low vis-a-vis their counterparts in the public sector banks. The Finance Ministry has been asked to apprise the committee as to why no punishment is meted out to those banks which have been continuously lending to agriculture at a far lower percentage than the stipulated one.
It has been felt that due to lack of institutional credit to small and marginal farmers, they have been driven to borrow funds at very high rates from usuaries which in turn resulted in a debt-trap for them.
Farm operations for June
— To nursery sown during middle of May, apply the second dose of nitrogen to get the seedlings ready for transplanting.
— Start transplanting varieties, PR-116, PR-114, PR-111, PR-106, PR-108 and PR-113 from June 10 onward and variety PR-115 from June 20 onward. Variety PR-115 vacates the fields earlier and facilitates timely sowing of potato, peas or berseem crops.
— Paddy seedlings in the nursery, particularly in light-textured soils become yellow or whitish. To check this, spray 0.5 to 1.0 kg ferrous sulphate dissolved in 100 litres of water. Repeat this treatment 3 to 4 times at 4 days’ interval.
— At the time of transplanting, apply 37 kg of urea per acre on medium soils. Phosphorus application may be omitted where paddy is to follow wheat receiving recommended dose of phosphorus. In soil testing low in phosphorus, 75 kg of single superphosphate per acre may also be applied.
— Zinc deficiency is generally noticed in paddy. Therefore, apply 25 kg zinc sulphate per acre at the time of puddling.
— Dhaincha for green manuring be burried at the time of puddling.
— For control of weeds, use 1200 ml of any recommended formulations of Butachlor 50 EC or Thiobencarb 50 EC or 500 ml of Anilofos 30 EC/Pretilachlor 50 EC @ 600 ml or Stomp 30 EC @ 1000-1200 ml/acre by mixing with 60 kg of sand. Broadcast any one of the herbicides uniformly in standing water within 2 to 3 days of transplanting.
Avoid early planting of rice to keep under check the BLB of rice.
Stress should be laid on the proper use of fertiliser as excess use of nitrogen may lead to outbreak of BLB.
Prefer to grow PR-116, PR-114, PR-111/PR-113 varieties in BLB-prone areas.
— Basmati-386 and Basmati-370 are photosensitive and mature late, therefore, nursery of these varieties should be sown in the second fortnight of June.
— Start sowing maize from the beginning of the month in the submontane districts or areas which are prone to damage by water stagnation. If there are no weeds and stubbles of the previous crops then maize can be sown without preparatory cultivation. For weed control, use Atrataf 50 WP (Atrazine) or Tafazine/Hexazine 50 WP @ 800 g/acre in heavy textured soils and 500 g/acre in light soils in 200 litres of water within 2 to 3 days of sowing. Atrazine/Atrataf at the recommended dose can also be used as post-emergence application up to 10 days after sowing.
— Treat the seed with Bavistin/agrozim @ 3 g/kg seed before sowing.
— Maize can be sown in trenches. This practice saves irrigation water and protect the crop from lodging.
— If maize is to follow wheat which received recommended dose of phosphatic and potassic fertilisers, then apply only 37 kg of urea per acre to hybrid maize and 25 kg of urea per acre to local and Megha varieties. If farmyard manure has been applied at the rate of six tonnes per acre, then there is no need to apply the fertiliser at the time of sowing maize crop. Maize responds to organic manures, So farmyard manure or compost may be applied to this crop.
— Maize borer feed on growing point of plant and form dead hearts. Control this pest by spraying 40 ml Sumicidin 20 EC (Fanvalarate)/Ripcord 10 EC (Cypermethrin) or 80 ml Decis 2.8 EC (Deltamethrin) in 50 litres of water per acre. Spray work should be initiated when the crop is 2-3 weeks old.