At heart of Swaminathan’s work, dignity of labour, and life, to India’s farmers | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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At the heart of Swaminathan’s work, dignity of labour, and life, to India’s farmers

By, New Delhi
Sep 29, 2023 04:44 AM IST

Swaminathan ushered in India’s Green Revolution in late 1960s by massively ramping up cereal production by collaborating with US farm scientist Norman Borlaug.

The father of India’s Green Revolution, MS Swaminathan, who died in Chennai on Thursday at 98, had made a historic recommendation as the chair of the National Commission on Farmers, set up in 2004 to ensure minimum guaranteed profits to farmers for the first time.

Agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan known as father of India’s Green Revolution died in Chennai at 98 (PTI) PREMIUM
Agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan known as father of India’s Green Revolution died in Chennai at 98 (PTI)

The recommendation was to fix support prices for crops such that farmers got at least 50% returns or 1.5 times the cost of cultivation. This was necessary to give a “bare minimum return” to cultivators to enable them to “continue farming and feeding the nation”, according to the recommendation.

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A geneticist by training, Swaminathan ushered in India’s Green Revolution in the late 1960s by massively ramping up cereal production by collaborating with American farm scientist Norman Borlaug, a Nobel laureate, to create customised varieties of wheat and rice suited to Indian conditions, saving millions from hunger deaths.

Also Read: HT Archives: Keeping the Green Revolution green

In his 2018 Budget speech, the late finance minister Arun Jaitley announced that his government would implement Swaminathan’s landmark recommendation, which was also a promise made by the Bharatiya Janata Party in its 2014 election manifesto. The announcement followed major protests that year by farm unions for better prices. Successive gluts in farm output had led to a collapse in food prices, stoking a rural distress.

Yet, the decision to offer 50% returns to farmers sparked a major debate as farm unions wanted to know how the government would calculate the cost of cultivation of 22 crops for which it fixed minimum support prices (MSP). The yardstick mattered because it would determine the level of profits.

As farm unions accused the government of using a narrower measure to calculate farming costs, Swaminathan, in a rare interview to HT on Feb 18, 2018, said he had intended a broader measure of cost of cultivation than the one eventually adopted by the government.

“When we recommended 50% over costs, we meant complete costs called C2, which includes all assumed costs. In fact, that is what the farmers are also demanding,” Swaminathan told HT at the time. He would often say that farmers’ income should be comparable to that of government servants.

This cleared the air on what Swaminathan meant when he recommended that crop prices should be “at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production”.

The agriculture scientist said in the interview that the federal Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, which recommends MSPs, should fix MSPs for farm produce based on a comprehensive measure of cultivation costs.

The MSP-fixing commission instead uses a narrower measure that takes into account the costs incurred by the farmer and the value of family labour ( known as ‘A2+FL’ ). A2 costs cover actual paid-out expenses incurred by farmers – both in cash and in kind – on seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, hired labour, fuel, irrigation, etc. The A2+FL methodology doesn’t include the assumed cost of capital and land costs.

“Many governments are announcing loan waivers. Instead of spending so much on loan waivers, the government should use the money to give 50% profits based on C2 costs,” Swaminathan said in the HT interview.

In fact, on September 28, 2017, Swaminathan tweeted about how MSPs should be C2+50%, in addition to being accompanied by procurement, storage and distribution.

The Swaminathan commission, set up in November 2004, initially submitted four reports in December 2004, August 2005, December 2005 and April 2006, followed by a fifth and final report in October 2006.

After 2014-15, 10 states announced waivers of agricultural loans, costing tens of thousands of crores due to intensifying protests by farmers over falling incomes. By 2018, these fiscally strained states managed to make budgetary provisions for less than two-thirds of the total loans supposed to be waived, a review by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) showed.

According to the RBI’s calculations, the total amount proposed to be waived accounts for 1.4% of the country’s GDP in 2016-17, calculated at current prices, or prices not adjusted for inflation.

The NSSO’S (National Sample Survey Office) 70th round shows that most farmers have monthly incomes lower than their monthly basic expenses, which roughly refers to what economists call “terms of trade”.

Swaminathan was not just focused on developing agricultural technologies to banish hunger, but he also cared for the well-being of farming communities. In an address to the 2014 Borlaug Dialogue in Iowa, US, he coined the term “evergreen revolution” to mean increasing “agricultural productivity without associated ecological harm”, where he also said “no food security is possible without farmers’ security”.

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