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For the upkeep of our farmers

For the upkeep of our farmers
The World Food Day (WFD) is celebrated on October 16, to commemorate the foundation of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), established in 1945. This is the most celebrated day of the United Nations, as over 150 countries across the world organise events to create awareness on the importance of food security and to achieve Zero Hunger, by 2030. This year the theme is 'Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development'.

The FAO estimates that about 763 million people move within their own countries due to hunger, poverty and the increase in extreme weather-related events linked to climate change. This is compelling the farmers to migrate in search of better livelihood opportunities. Almost a third of India's population, over 300 million, comprises of migrants. The Census of India reports that about 84 per cent migrate within the state and about two per cent are interstate migrants. Huge numbers of people from the Eastern regions and the North East areas have moved to different parts of India in search of work and better employment opportunities. Most of them are seasonal migrants, working for a short period of time and returning to their original state in the months of harvest, to fend the small farms they own.
According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, 45 per cent of the farmers interviewed wanted to quit farming. There are multiple factors, especially the declining productivity and profitability that acts as a disincentive for the younger generation, forcing them to migrate. FAO has called for creating conditions that allow the rural youth to stay at home by providing resilient livelihoods to tackle the challenge of migration. Creating business opportunities that are non-crop based, in food processing and horticultural enterprises, can lead to increased food security. There is an urgent need to build sustainable growth based on the long-term recovery of the rural community.
The National Commission of Farmers called for attracting and retaining the educated youth in the farming sector. Heeding to this advice, the National Policy for Farmers adopted by Parliament in 2007, emphasised the need to involve the youth in agriculture by providing appropriate support measures to retain them in farming and other allied ancillary processing industries.
Since 2014, the NDA led government at the centre has launched several initiatives to address this crisis. The flagship programmes like Soil Health Card, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, are some of the schemes providing support to the farming community. Each of these programmes attempts to provide solutions to reduce and mitigate the crisis, either of climate change or of the failure of crops due to the lack of rainfall. The government has set the ambitious target of doubling the farmer's income by 2022, when the country completes 75 years of Independence. Towards achieving this target, the government is reorienting interventions in the farm and non-farm sectors.
A unique initiative in this regard is ARYA, or Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture. Launched by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, it aims to attract and retain the youth in rural areas by providing sustainable income through value addition and establishing market linkages to make it more attractive for the younger generation to return to their villages. This is being implemented in 25 states through the Krishi Vigyan Kendras, situated in one district of each state. It attempts to showcase the working model that is economically feasible for the youth and which has the potential to attract them.
While launching ARYA, Prof MS Swaminathan said, "Unless agriculture is made remunerative and attractive, it would be difficult to retain the youth in the field. When even existing farmers are moving away from farming, unless agriculture is made remunerative, it is unlikely that educated youngsters would take up this profession that forms the backbone of the Indian economy. Unless productivity or income is increased, farming cannot become an attractive venture for the young."
Another initiative, as a part of the Skill India programme, is supporting the Agriculture Skill Council of India. The main objective is to build the capacity of the agricultural sector and bridge the gap between the labs and the farms. It is being done by upgrading the skills of cultivators, agricultural labourers and those engaged in the allied industry of supporting agricultural activities. It is sincerely hoped that these schemes would attract the youth to farming once again. Otherwise, we have reached a situation when the majority of the youth, even those belonging to farming families, do not want to pursue farming as their vocation. They have experienced the pitfalls of the life of a farmer, where all his efforts to earn a decent income after toiling under the rough sun produces meagre income or even total loss during the time of drought, leaving behind the burden of debt.
The recent initiatives by the government and also the recent leaf forging of technological innovations can help them to resolve the technical crisis and establish a direct linkage with the consumer, providing assured income. In this context, the Centre's initiative eNAM (National Agriculture Market), launched in 2016, is very significant. It is a pan India electronic trading portal which networks the existing Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities.
With 25 per cent of the country's population aged between 18-29 years, it has great potential to entice the youth towards the farming sector. Farming offers the young generation a chance to make a difference by growing food to meet the hunger needs of the countrymen. The government should identify such successful young farmers and provide them with media and policy support to entice the youth with the grand mission of feeding the millions with safe and nutritious food.
Under these circumstances, we need multiple strategies that will enhance the status of the young farmer to retain his livelihood on the farm. Like the slogan, JAI JAWAN, JAI KISAN, we need to coin a slogan that the farmer is also a soldier of Mother Earth, protecting our soils and feeding the countrymen.
(The author is an independent journalist and columnist based in Karnataka. The views are strictly personal.)

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