Move Beyond Productivity and Embrace Agroecology: Says NRAS Report

The new rural policies would have to find ways of addressing the issues of these social groups occupying difficult geographies.


Providing a comprehensive and critical overview of the state of contemporary rural India, focusing on the key rural policies and trends that have drivenrural India’s economic and ecological transitions, the Network of Rural and Agrarian Studies (NRAS) has released the “State of Rural and Agrarian India Report 2020”. Releasing the report,in an online webinar, Dr V Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi, said that it isinformative and lucidly written and must be translated into other languages so that itbecomes an important resource for a wide range of stakeholders. He mentioned theimportant role technological solutions can play in addressing crucial rural problems. For example, IIT Delhi has a project in Punjab to recycle agricultural waste so that the problem of stubble burning is reduced.

Dr AR Vasavi, core member of the NRAS, said there is anurgent need to address the extant erasure of rural livelihoods, depletion of natural resources and the pauperization of rural citizens, which misplaced policies and outdated ideas continue to perpetuate. She said that the report highlights the problems with the mainstream model of agriculture and seeks to provide some pathways towards new alternatives. Shri PS Vijayshankar, Samaj Pragati Sahayog, Madhya Pradesh, reiterated the key messages of the report, which is to move beyond approaches based on productivity and populism and embrace agroecology as the core of the new rural policies.

In the panel discussion that followed the report release, Prof Satish Deshpande, Delhi University, said that thecategory of rural needs closer examination. He said the rural is usually seen as a residual, either to be eradicated or as an intermediate stage in transition to something final. Prof Deshpande saidthe report is correct in emphasising the rural as a productive, positive space. He also emphasised the need to question the view of the “farmer” as a homogenous category.

Siraj Hussain, ICRIER, said that for a country like India one type solution is not going to solvethe problem. He said solutions needs to be developed through examination of factors specific to each location. However, he pointed out that the report could be more specific on practical proposals, rather than just principles.

Dr Sudha Narayanan, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), linked the dominant approaches in rural policies to the changes taking place in agricultural markets and specifically to the passage of the three new farm bills. She said that the demand for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all crops and all regions is an untenable agenda. She remarked that there are several examples of decentralised procurement in the country from states like Odisha andChhattisgarh. Moving beyond MSPs or procurement, it is important to talk about the forms of state support that farmers need in our current context and while speaking of marketing, we must include markets for livestock products as well. Srinivasan Iyer, Ford Foundation, spoke about three social groups currently neglected by the dominant approaches – forest dwellers, pastoralists and artisans.

The new rural policies would have to find ways of addressing the issues of these social groups occupying difficult geographies.

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He specifically spoke of the importance of extending the MSP regime to Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFPs) in tribal regions, which potentially has a huge livelihood impact. Usha S spoke of the need to bring agroecology to the core of alternative rural policies and bring the leadership of women at the centre. She said the agricultural universities and their system of knowledge production are not tuned to the needs of rural areas and farming communities.

Bharat Bhushan Tyagi, renowned farmer from Bulandshahr, emphasised the need for changing our mindset towards farming and recognising the need for co-existence with nature. He emphasised that in farming, the labour is itself a value, not just something that generates value.

Farmer income is an important consideration and we cannot discuss anything with farmers if one evades this question.

Dr Richa Kumar, Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi, emphasised the key message of the report, i.e., we cannot make agricultural policies without taking into consideration ecology and equity. Dr Kumar mentioned that NRAS plans to translate the report into several regional languages and also bring out a farmer-friendly version of the report which can bewidely disseminated.

The report is being brought out by the NRAS, which is a pan-India network of scholars, researchers, practitioners, farmers, students, and activists engaged inissues concerning rural and agrarian India since 2010. IIT Delhi has supported the work ofthe NRAS in the past, especially in organising the Second NRAS Policy Conference in 2019which formed the basis of the report.

(Slider Photo credit: Thomas Pallan, Mukkatukara, Thrissur, Kerala)