NEW DELHI: “It is so very unfortunate that farming that is life-giving has become life-taking now,” said Dr MS Swaminathan to The Citizen in an interview from London. He was , expressing concern about the deepening agrarian unrest in India that has triggered an unending spate of farmers suicides and protests by farmers across India.

“It is so important to bring the farmers out of the poverty line by ensuring proper pricing and procurement. To make farming economically viable, so that it will also attract the younger generation, this is very important,” Dr Swaminathan added.

It has been a long while since one spoke to Professor MS Swaminathan, now 92 years, a fact that he noted as he answered the telephone from The Citizen in London. His voice is frail but his spirit and concen as indefatigable as always. His concern is audible across the distance, and a poor telephone line.

Farmers agitations more than a decade ago had prompted the Congress led UPA government to constitute the National Commission on Farmers in 2004 under Prof Swaminathan renowned for India’s famous Green Revolution.The NCF submitted five reports to the government between December 2004 ( a month after it was set up) and the last in October 2006.

That was it. The UPA forgot about the Reports and the recommendations. The issue was picked up in 2014 by the BJP in its manifesto and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his election campaign. After the BJP swept to power the Report again was forgotten. “The BJP did speak of it but I do not know what happened,” Dr Swaminathan said in passing.

Asked about the current agitation in which nine farmers have died in Madhya Pradesh, Dr Swaminathan said that the “farmers distress has come to a climax” .He said that a large number of factors have contributed to this listing lack of attention to bio diversity, soil erosion, water shortage, Inter State disputes on water, irrigation, pricing and marketing as some that came immediately to mind.

He said that agrarian distress rose “directly from economic distress”, with the costs of production going up over and above the price of produce. Climate change and uncertain monsoons have also contributed to this, he added. All in all making the situation “very unfair” for the farmers, who fall into debt to make ends meet, and have to pay collective dues. Dr Swaminathan said that loan waivers were at best a temporary solution, and could not address the problem in the long term.Loan waivers can be at best an incremental measure that eases the burden on the farmers, and revives farming for them, he said. “It cannot be a solution.”

Dr Swaminathan was categorical that the government has to look for long term measures. The effort has to be to understand the root cause for this distress, and that he said is “ economic non-viability” of farming. The government has to ensure services ---far more than subsidies---to make agriculture viable, and to bring it out of the depths of poverty. The income potential of farming has to improve, he said.

Dr Swaminathan admitted that there was no simple solution. But a major change could be made if the governments made it their business to start implementing the reforms and tackling the root cause of agrarian distress. The economy of farming, he added, has to be looked at in its entirety and measures taken to make it viable and attractive. He said that it was very unfortunate that farmers were taking their own lives, when farming is a life giving profession.

Asked as to what can be done in immediate terms to address the current situation where farmers have come out on the streets in states across India, Dr Swaminathan said immediately:

One the kharif season is upon us. The governments must make a full block by block assessment to ensure the farmers have all that is required for a good season, seeds, fertilizers and so on. And must help wherever required to ensure that the farmers are able to revive agriculture.

Two, it seems as if there is going to be a satisfactory monsoon according to the weather department. It is thus, essential, for the government to ensure that the crops lying unsold with the farmers are procured at a good remunerative price. This is a must.

Three, alongside for the economic revival a produce price must be fixed. We had recommended the cost plus 50 percent, a figure we had come to after careful calculation of the farmers holding capacity. And what it would take to bring the farmers out of the poverty line.

Dr Swaminathan while personally supportive of demonetisation as a tool to end corruption, said this had an adverse impact on the agrarian community that is largely dependent on cash economy. This could have been overcomce by anticipating the problems that would confront the farmers, he said while adding that he himself was happy if demonetisation is able to check the scourge of corruption.

Incidentally the Kisan organisations and Opposition parties are currently demanding the full implementation of the Swaminathan Commission Report.