Cooperative system is the only way to resist farm distress, says agro economist Sukhpal Singh

Cooperative system is the only way to resist farm distress, says agro economist Sukhpal Singh


The new Chairman of the Punjab State Farmers’ and Farm Workers’ Commission says farming can be made a profitable vocation with a little help from the government

The new Chairman of the Punjab State Farmers’ and Farm Workers’ Commission says farming can be made a profitable vocation with a little help from the government

Eminent agro economist Sukhpal Singh, who has conducted detailed studies on Punjab’s agricultural systems, will take charge as the new Chairman of the Punjab State Farmers’ and Farm Workers’ Commission on Monday. Talking to The Hindu’s A.M. Jigeeshfrom his office at the Punjab Agricultural University, where he is a principal agro economist, Dr. Singh said only the cooperative system can save India’s agriculture and the economy. Dr. Singh, who believes that farming can be made a profitable vocation with a little help from the government, said crop diversification is a priority for him and for that both the Centre and the State should frame policies. Excerpts from the interview:

There is a new government in Punjab. So what is the mandate of the Commission when it’s being reorganised now?

Our mandate is yet to be prepared, but certainly there is a need to develop the agriculture policy of the State. It should be a long-term policy consisting the various long-term aspects on income behaviour, natural resources management, marketing policy, expenditure patterns, and profitability of farmers. It should be also about the value addition process of Punjab’s agricultural economy. Trade is also important here. International trade is the mandate of the Union government. We are a border State. We need opportunities to seek avenues to improve our trade with neighbouring countries, too. Punjab is an agricultural State producing for the market. We produce mostly food grains which are not perishable. Considering the international ecosystem and international economic scenario, we must produce food grains.

You have worked in detail on farmers’ suicide in Punjab. Do you have any alternative to help farmers to fight indebtedness?

Punjab is a land of small peasants. Average land holding in Punjab is higher than the national average, but farmers are facing problems, committing suicide. Farming gives income and there is profitability. But due to liberalisation, all the social sectors such as health and education are now privatised. Farmers, as a result, are not entitled to get income from their work.

We will frame a strategy in discussion with the State government and the Punjab Agricultural University to see that the share of an agricultural producer in the consumer’s Rupee should be increased. Cooperative system is the way for it. We should develop a cooperative system for production and for marketing. Cooperative system is the only solution for the economic problems. We should develop cooperatives, not corporates. Cooperatives will help to develop backward and forward linkages in agriculture. Cooperatives will also help MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) to face the crisis they face now.

Crop diversification is an issue in Punjab. Both the Centre and the State promote crop diversification but farmers do not have much choice. What’s your view?

Crop diversification is very important from the farmers’ and the natural resources management angles. The problem here is economics. Farmers are tied up to wheat and paddy cultivation. They don’t see any chances of diversification. Both the Centre and the States should help farmers to grow crops that are suitable for both the consumers and the ecology. We have to have policies from the States and the Centre to diversify crops. The State has resource issues. Centre should help the State and farmers with advice from experts to diversify crops. The Commission will actively consider ways to develop methods for diversification.

Natural farming is the new slogan of the Centre. Can Punjab turn to natural farming?

In certain clusters and crop combinations in some belts, we can try organic and natural farming. I personally think natural farming has no scope in Punjab considering its productivity level. Land rents are high here. There is nothing called zero budgeting. Everything has a budget. One cannot do farming in zero budgeting. There is no two opinions that we should reduce the use of chemicals in farming. Precision farming will help us here. It can be applicable in high value crops. We will face problems in both production and in marketing if we shift to methods of natural production.