By Dr. Parveen Kumar
The country’s transition from a food deficient to a food surplus country has been achieved through a mix of technological interventions, appropriate planning and a policy back up that the farmers of the country took just like the fish takes it to water. Now country is the largest producer and exporter of many commodities. But, unfortunately despite all this, the sector still is confronted with some serious challenges. These include non remunerativeness, degradation of natural resources, climate change, low adoption rates and technology diffusion, very less percentage of processing and value addition, lack of adequate infrastructure and many other associated problems. All these challenges can be attributed to lack of adequate investments in agriculture sector.
The country has the largest network of agricultural research and extension system comprising of 102 ICAR institutes, 74 State Agricultural Universities (SAUs), 722 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) comprising of huge strength of human resources both scientific and technical. There is no dearth of technology generation in the country; the problem lies in the dissemination of such technology to the ultimate end users. As a result of this the adoption rate in the country is not up to the mark. The public extension system in the country which has been entrusted with the technology dissemination and adoption among the end users faces some inherent defects. These services are criticized for poor show in terms of making available the technology to the farming community both in terms of time as well as relevance. The public extension system in the country has already been crippled in the country due to lack of financial resources, adequate men power, lack of necessary skills, inadequate farmer research extension and market linkages, lack of convergence among the parallel stakeholders, top down approach without the participation of farming community in planning and implementation of its various programmes. Agriculture sector in the country also needs huge investment.
Consequent to some inherent defects in the public extension system, last few decades have witnessed the emergence of pluralistic extension system in the country with the involvement of some private players, NGOs, business houses, agribusiness companies, producer organizations and the corporates. All these are strengthening agriculture extension system in the country with their additional human and financial resources, expertise and infrastructure.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSE):
CSR is a concept where businesses take responsibility for their impacts on the environment and the society, in which they are embedded, beyond their economic impacts. CSR may be looked in terms of ‘Creating Shared Value’ wherein, business can help progress of agriculture and agriculture sector can help business to improve and flourish. According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Corporate Social Responsibility is defined as a business management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.
CSR is generally understood as being the way through which a company achieves a balance of economic, environmental and social imperatives, while at the same time addressing the expectations of shareholders and stakeholders. On April 1, 2014, India became the first country to legally mandate corporate social responsibility. The new rules in Section 135 of India’s Companies Act make it mandatory for companies of a certain turnover and profitability to spend two percent of their average net profit for the past three years on CSR. The law, which stipulates that CSR activities should be undertaken only in ‘project/program’ mode, provides detailed guidelines regarding what kinds of activities are eligible across several categories.
This includes hunger and poverty, education, health, gender equality and women empowerment, skills training, environment, social enterprise projects and promotion of rural and national sports. The CSR law or more popularly known as the CSR mandate applies to every company registered under the Companies Act, 2013, and any other previous companies law qualifying having a net worth of rupees five hundred crores or more or having a turnover of rupees one thousand crores or more or having a net profit of rupees five crores or more during a financial year.
CSR initiatives in Agriculture:
Various industrialists and corporates in the country have also come forward for the socio-economic upliftment of poor farmers in the country by way of initiating various projects for their benefit under the broad ambit of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In this regard private gaint Mahindra & Mahindra, with the help of Swades Foundation, BAIF Development Research Foundation and Dr Punjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth has launched the Krishi Mitra project where it is helping small and marginal farmers by educating them in updated techniques in farming like soil health, crop planning, creating model farms with bio-dynamic farming practices, infrastructure development and capacity building resulting in improvement in agricultural productivity, for the benefit of the farmers. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) in partnership with UDAY a skill development Organization has also started a project Mooo, a first of its kind holistic AgTech solution that aims to tackle milk deficit, traceability and private extension issue through dairy farm management and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) training.
The project was launched at Mohi Khurd Village in Rajpura, Punjab, aimed at creating sustainable livelihoods for farmers by imparting dairy skills to rural farmers, including women dairy farmers. Similarly the Adani led Adani Foundation has been engaged in betterment of rural areas through its CSR initiatives. Under this program, Adani Foundation has collaborated with the KVK in Gujarat taking farmers to exposure visits, effectively implementing resource conservation techniques like SRI under its SLD (Sustainable Livelihood Development) programme. Adani Foundation also supported farmers by providing each with five kilograms of paddy (Siri NP – 405) seeds and 50 kilograms of vermicompost for taking up SRI.
The SRI method assisted 1,000 farmers in reducing their cultivation costs by 33% and increasing their crop productivities by 51%. The Tata consulting services through its m-Krishi, a customizable Mobile Agro Advisory System have enabled farmers’ to send queries specific to their land crop and receive personalised replies from agricultural experts. The m-Krishi service provides information in local languages on weather, soil conditions, fertilizer and pesticides, the price of grains, and other agriculture-related advice. Since 2008, more than 20,000 farmers in 400 villages have subscribed to this service.
Many large corporates are also investing in the Government’s priorities such as building toilets as part of Modi’s ‘Clean India Mission’ (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan), adopting local villages or pumping money into the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund .
The concept of CSR is nothing but looking beyond profits. However, the data shows that, very meager amount only 3% of CSR fund has been spent in the agricultural sector by the companies though there is huge potential for investment in the sector. The CSSR spending in agriculture is far less in comparison to many sectors such as education, healthcare, art and culture etc. Also, there is need to put a mechanism to avoid overlap of different schemes by the Governments as well as CSR projects for the benefit of the different segments of the society.
The provision of mandatory CSR expenditure on agriculture sector may be helpful to bring farm sector out of distress by way of building and operating large projects to tackle to problem of bottlenecks like cold storage and logistic infrastructure in agriculture. At the same time, tax exemptions to those involved in operating such agriculture projects will help increase economic activities in rural areas. More funding to agriculture sector through CSR has all the potential to address many challenges of the farm sector.
(The author is a Scientist at SKUAST-K)