India’s planners and policy makers have long anticipated a big shift in population from the rural to urban areas, but Sharma notes: “all their efforts to force the farmers to abandon agriculture have not worked so well. They have not been able to meet the economic prescription that the World Bank had prescribed.”
In 1996, the Chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and vice chairman of the World Bank – Dr Ismail Serageldin – reported the World Bank’s estimate that 400 million people, more than the population of United States, would move out of rural areas in India in the next 20 years.
Growth ’involves getting people from agriculture into services and industry’
Reading the 2008 World Development Report, Sharma found that the World Bank was actually asking India to speed up the population transfer by encouraging land rental markets which poor food producers could not afford to enter.
As younger people in rural areas only have farming skills, after displacing them from agriculture, the World Bank advocated setting up a network of training centres where these youngsters could be trained to become industrial workers. Sharma points out that in the 2009 Budget speech, before the elections, the Finance Minister diligently made a budgetary provision for setting up 1,000 industrial training institutes.
Recently Raghuram Rajan, the new governor of the Reserve Bank of India, appears to agree: “In terms of where will growth come from, it doesn’t need to come from fancy stuff like extraordinary innovation of one kind or another. Just getting people from agriculture into services and industry itself is growth.”
Making them ‘agricultural refugees’
Globally it was estimated that in 2011 600 million rural poor depended on livestock for their livelihoods – those who grow crops should be added to this number. Sharma rightly says:
“The challenge is to make them gainfully employed, and not to uproot them and turn them into agricultural refugees. Like the young graduate from a business school, a farmer is also an entrepreneur. He needs improved skills for which he needs training, and also needs a launching pad. If steel tycoon Laxmi Mittal can be advanced Rs 1,250-crore at zero interest for investment in Bathinda refinery, or if Ratan Tata can be provided land at a throwaway price and financial credit at 0.5 per cent rate of interest, I wonder why the poor are penalised.
“Give the farmer a decent monthly assured income, and make appropriate investments in rural infrastructure, and I can tell you he will not only put the country’s economic growth on a much higher pedestal, but ensure that the gains of economic development are distributed widely and equitably.
“Move away from the growth fetish, remove the IMF/World Bank cap, and start looking afresh at economics as if people mattered”.
Source: Tehelka, Vol 10 Issue 38, Sept 21, 2013: http://www.tehelka.com/forsaking-agriculture-is-not-the-right-answer/