July 14, 2017: Farmer representatives from six states came together for a day-long discussion on how the scientist-farmer interface could be strengthened. The discussion hosted at M S Swaminathan Research Foundation on behalf of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was an opportunity for scientists to listen to the farmers’ perspective on scientific and research agenda in agriculture.
The farmers were from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Their inputs would feed into the report of an ICAR Review Committee chaired by Dr T Ramasami, Former Secretary DST, Government of India.
Prof M S Swaminathan, Founder MSSRF who chaired the sessions and listened to the farmers as they articulated their various views and concerns suggested that ICAR could institutionalize this kind of interaction on a thematic basis. “Some common and some specific problem have been raised, several of them pertaining to policy issues. There is need to strengthen public policy research in agriculture, which is currently weak.” He also suggested that these dialogues could be organized from region to region to overcome language barriers. It would be possible to respond to their real needs he said.
Dr Ramasami, ICAR Review Committee Chair said he had been listening to hundreds of farmers as part of this exercise. He said a portal or a dashboard on agriculture research needs could be created so that any farmer in this country who would like to address any problem on the research front can upload his query and concern.
Farmer Mr Satish Babu from Andhra Pradesh shared his innovation with regard to cattle based agriculture while Mr Diwakaran, from Kerala spoke of the need for campus level interventions. Farmers from Karnataka called for farmers – scientists committees at the village level. In Odisha, the concern was in obtaining inputs for organic farming. Farmers from Tamil Nadu suggested that the research should be directly done in farmers’ fields. Maharashtra farmers expressed concern over the decline of sorghum and suggested that it should be given more attention.
Prof Swaminathan’s suggestions
After attending the meeting and listening to the farmers, Prof Swaminathan has listed 14 suggestions that could be incorporated into this review committee report for their consideration. His suggestions to Dr Ramasami are as follow:
It is said that one ounce of practice is worth tonnes of theory. This is why farmer’s knowledge and wisdom should be fully utilised in developing our research strategies and programmes. I also recall that Mao Tse-tung once told his agricultural officials “please listen to farmers before you advice them”. ICAR and all other institutions should develop this culture.
Some of the important points made by farmers are the following.
- Greater attention should be paid to safeguarding and strengthening the ecological foundations of sustainable agriculture so that goal 2 (“End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”)of the UN Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved
- Soil health care, water harvesting and management, agrobiodiversity conservation and sustainable and equitable use and post-harvest technology require greater attention.
- There is urgent need for developing agricultural implements and machinery for different farming systems. Labour shortage is becoming critical particularly during sowing and harvest seasons because of the demand for employment under MGNREGA.
- Attention to agriculture implements should have a gender dimension, since more than 60 per cent of the work in farming is carried out by women.
- A package of services such as seed production and supply, early warning of pest epidemics and weather, credit and insurance requires much improvement.
- There are number of practises which were adopted in the past for soil health management such as cattle penning. We should therefore catalogue and revive dying wisdom in the case of agriculture.
- In the final analysis, assured and remunerative marketing holds the key to stimulating and sustaining farmer’s interest in scientific agriculture.
- Technological upgradation of farming will be necessary to induce youth to take to farming. At the moment the children of farmers are by and large not interested in farming since it is a very risky profession
- Participatory research with farm families should become a culture with ICAR and agriculture universities. In addition anticipatory research and translational research should receive much more attention.
- Climate risk management will become important in the future. Farmers will have to be prepared to manage more frequent drought, floods, coastal storms etc.
- Farmers – scientist interaction should get institutionalised in all the research institutions so that research priorities take into consideration the voice and genuine needs of farmers.
- Since sea water constitutes 97% of the world water resources more research is needed on sea water farming for coastal area prosperity.
- Organic farming needs more research support particularly in the areas of soil health enhancement and protection against unholy triple alliance of weeds, pests and pathogens.
- Crop-livestock integration is important both for organic farming and for enhancing the income of farmers. India has over 1 billion farm animals and they also require nutrition and health care. Mixed farming practises are also important for successful organic farming.
These could be included along with other more location specific points made by the different participants.