Don't leave farmers to market's mercy

At a time when voices of development drown out all other, two green activists lay down earthy solutions for a better environment.

Minor policy changes that will require nothing but a strong political will go a long way in transforming the environmental health and the lives of the farmer. No earth-shattering deeds that would drain the exchequer are required of the new government, just mere commitment to the cause is enough.

The fundamental job will be to move towards a comprehensive Forest Conservation Plan. And for this, sustaining the existing tree canopy of the Western Ghats is crucial. We just cannot afford to lose any more of the Ghats cover. Along with conservation, the fears of the common man also need to be addressed.

Another thing the new dispensation has to do on an emergency basis is to remove all amendments made to the Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008. All these amendments, including the new deadlines for regularisation of conversions, have virtually undone the Act. Steps should also be taken to prepare a comprehensive paddy databank, and published. Many village offices have already prepared the databank but these are still kept under wraps.

Governments intervene quite eagerly to bring down the prices of agricultural products, not that of other products. But farmers, too, require support. Support prices of agri-produce have to be increased. Like the salaried class, farmers too require an assurance of steady income. It is insensitive to leave them to the mercy of the market and climate. Once this is done, and procurement is streamlined and storage facilities created, farming can be made more remunerative.

We have examples of farmers taking over fallow lands and profitably cultivating on them. There should be a mechanism whereby unused or fallow lands are given on lease to farmers who are in search of lands to conduct farming. We have no compunctions whatsoever when it comes to reclaiming paddy fields or other agricultural lands for technoparks and industrial parks. Why not find fallow lands and hand it over to those who are willing to cultivate?

Common sense and planning are required to re-invigorate vegetable production. Farmers are forced to resort to distress sales mostly as a consequence of inadequate market knowledge and absence of storage facilities. There have been instances where farmers in Palakkad had buried their snake gourd harvest after they found that their produce commanded no value in the market.

Krishi Bhavans can play a big role in managing vegetable production. Besides providing technical support, Krishi Bhavans should help plan production based on the accessible markets. The production decisions should not be made in isolation but on the basis of the production capabilities of other farmers in nearby areas. This is mainly to avoid glut, and to ensure variety in production.

We also need to take decisions that will move the state towards a low-carbon economy. For instance, the shift from centralised waste management to a decentralised one is a low-carbon move. It is estimated that in Thiruvananthapuram, this shift to decentralised solid waste management has generated a saving of over Rs one crore a year by way of reduced transportation costs alone, not to speak of other benefits.

It is also high time we exercised our rights as a consumer state. Being a consumer state does not mean we are at the mercy of others. Instead, it confers immense power on us. We should wield this power to change corporate ways. For instance, we can introduce a new packaging bill, which will prohibit the entry of products without environment-friendly packaging.

The state should demand EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) to hold the manufactures liable to handle the post consumer discards of certain consumer goods which have no options of recycling or safe disposal within the State. Make no mistake, the corporates will willingly do our bidding. Our market is too huge from them to ignore.

(The writer is an environmentalist who is in the forefront of garbage
disposal and organic cultivation)

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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