BENGALURU: The National Commission for Farmers (NCF), also known as the Swaminathan Commission, was set – up in 2004 in the light of farmer protests then, to improve farmer conditions in India. Headed by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the NCF filed five reports. The reports suggested reforms for a ‘faster and more inclusive growth of farmers’ as envisioned in the approach to the 11th Five Year Plan.

The fifth and final report submitted in 2006, which has been forgotten and gathering dust is a progressive document which takes a holistic and multi – pronged approach towards addressing farmers’ issues. The report consists of recommendations on food security; preparation for climate change; prevention of farmer suicides and assured access to basic resources such as land, water, bio resources, credit and insurance, technology and knowledge managements and markets. The report also made suggestions to insulate farmers from vagaries of the monsoon and market.

In a recent interview with The Citizen, Dr. Swaminathan said ‘the farmer’s distress has come to a climax’, pointing out that erosion of livelihood and lack of public policy on ‘pricing, procurement and public distribution’ has contributed to the ongoing crisis. Emphasising that the real problem lies in the price of procurement, the NCF in its report recommended that the procurement price must be C2 + 50 percent, with C2 being the selling price. This would assure the farmers a return 1.5 times on the amount invested by them.

It is important, at present, when farmers across the country, Kisan organisations and the opposition are agitating demanding the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report, that the report be re – visited and examined. Not only is the report a holistic and nuanced document, but it also lays forth a road map for improvement of farmer livelihoods, by keeping in mind important factors such as climate change and changing market conditions. The document also takes a rights based perspective, advocating for reforms which would help attain the goal of universal food security and recommends systems of decentralised governance to ensure sustainable agriculture.

At the time of its establishment, the NCF was mandated to make suggestions and recommendations on issues such as:

  • Strategy for food and nutrition security in the country, to move towards the goal of universal food security.
  • Enhancing productivity, profitability, and sustainability of major farming systems.
  • Policy reforms to significantly increase flow of rural credit to farmers.
  • Special programmes for dry land farming in the arid and semi-arid regions, and for farmers in hilly and coastal areas.
  • Enhancing the quality and cost competitiveness of farm commodities so as to make them globally competitive.
  • Protecting farmers from imports when international prices are low.
  • Empowering elected local bodies to effectively conserve and improve the ecological foundations for sustainable agriculture
  • In the key findings of the 2006 report, the NCF concluded that the causes of the ongoing agrarian crisis were the unfinished agenda in land reforms, quantity and quality of water, technology fatigue, access, adequacy and timeliness of institutional credit, and opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing. It also noted that adverse meteorological factors contributed to these problems. Almost a decade later, the recommendations, findings and observations of the commission are still relevant.

Apprehending reduction in farm land over the years, the NCF with regard to land reforms recommended that the diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to the corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes be prevented; and grazing rights, seasonal access to forests for tribal and pastoralists and access to common property resources be ensured.

The commission suggested the setting up of a National Land Use Advisory Service, which would have the capacity to link land use decisions with ecological meteorological and marketing factors on a location and season specific basis; and creation of mechanisms to regulate the sale of agricultural land, based on quantum of land, nature of proposed use and category of buyer.

With regard to Credit and Insurance, the NCF noted that ‘timely and adequate supply of credit is a basic requirement of small farm families.’ It recommended expanding the outreach of the formal credit system to reach the really poor and needy; reduced rate of interest for crop loans to 4 per cent simple, with government support; suspension of debt recovery, including loans from non-institutional sources, and waiver of interest on loans in distress hotspots and during calamities, till capability is restored, and development of an integrated credit-cum-crop-live stock human health insurance package.

It also suggested the expansion of crop cover insurance to the entire country and all crops, and setting up of an Agriculture Risk Fund to provide relief to farmers in the aftermath of successive natural calamities. Furthermore, it recommended promotion of sustainable livelihoods for the poor by improving financial services, building infrastructure, investmenting in human development, agriculture and business development; and institutional development services, such as forming and strengthening producers’ organisations such as self-help groups and water user associations.

Noticing an increased trend in the rate of farmer suicides, the Commission in 2006 emphasised on the need to attend to the matter on a priority basis, also suggesting measures. The suggested measures, approached the issue of farmer suicide from a psycho – social perspective rather than viewing it purely from an economic perspective.

Some of measures suggested included:

  • Providing affordable health insurance, revitalising primary healthcare centres and extending the National Rural Health Mission to suicide hotspot locations on priority basis.
  • Setting up State level Farmers’ Commission with representation of farmers for ensuring dynamic government response to farmers’ problems.
  • Restructuring microfinance policies to serve as Livelihood Finance, i.e. credit coupled with support services in the areas of technology, management and markets.
  • Provision of a social security net which includes old age support and health insurance.
  • Developing low risk and low cost technologies to help provide maximum income to farmers because they cannot cope with the shock of crop failure.
  • Setting up of Village Knowledge Centres (VKCs) or Gyan Chaupals in the farmers’ distress hotspots to provide information on all aspects of agricultural and nonfarm livelihoods, while also serving as guidance centres.
  • Organising public awareness campaigns to help identify early signs of suicidal behaviour.

In 2006, the commission seemed to be ahead of its time in making these suggestions as compared to the present day establishment which pins the blame for farmer suicides on the lack of spirituality, impotency and other absurd causes.

Even though a decade old, the recommendation of the NFC report are very pertinent even today. The implementation of these on the ground would help considerably in improving farmer lives and livelihoods in India.

The current agrarian crisis in the country could perhaps have been averted or better handled had the UPA government of the time taken the report seriously and worked towards implementing its recommendations. It would serve the current crisis and the NDA government, as well as win favours for them, if to implement the recommendations of the report, rather than blaming the UPA government for its failure to so.