Reorganization of extension services
Advances in information technology also provide opportunities for farm graduates to establish computer-aided and internet connected Rural Knowledge Centres. These centers should help to convert generic into location specific information. The present extension service has outlived its utility. It can be replaced over time by farmer owned and operated knowledge centers. A virtual college linking such village knowledge centers to agricultural universities and research institutions can be established, so that farm women and men are able to get up-to-date and authentic technical advice. Nearly a million farm graduates (both men and women) can be involved in establishing and operating such Rural Knowledge Centres based on modern information and communication technology. Such centers can also operate local community radio stations. Such a restructuring and retooling of extension services will help to provide demand driven and environment and farming systems specific advice to farmers. They will trigger a knowledge revolution in agriculture and will lead to an efficient and eco-sensitive precision farming movement. This great opportunity for achieving a transition from unskilled to skilled work and for designing a new extension service for the new economy should not be missed.
Linking food and ecological Security
The provisional census 2001 figures reveal that our population is higher by nearly 20 million than expected and that sex ratio continues to be adverse to women (933 women per 1000 males). The sex ratio is even more adverse in the 0-6 age group, suggesting the possibility of increasing female foeticide. Fortunately, female literacy is improving and Madhya Pradesh has shown the way for achieving a quantum jump both in male and female literacy through its education guarantee program. While we must relentlessly pursue the goals of literacy and health for all and gender justice and equity, we should take advantage of a rare and unique opportunity in the history of independent India provided by the growing grain stocks in Government godowns to leapfrog in our efforts to realize Gandhiji’s vision of a hunger-free India.
Current government stocks of wheat, rice and other grains exceed 45 million tons. Government may have to purchase another 15 to 20 million tons of wheat and rice during the next few months. A considerable proportion of these stocks remains in gunny bags and temporary storage structures. The Government of India has announced a scheme for the construction of large numbers of rural godowns. Severe drought in several parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and other States is compounding the problems of poverty-induced endemic hunger and drinking water scarcity.
The time is therefore opportune to launch an imaginative Community Grain Bank movement. On an average, 1 ton of wheat or rice supports the food needs of 5 individuals in our country. Community Grain Banks each with 200 t of wheat or rice or other locally acceptable staples like ragi, jowar, bajra, and maize could be established, to begin with, in "hunger hot spot" villages. Remote areas with poor communication as the desert areas of Rajasthan and hill, tribal and drought affected areas, can be given priority in starting the Community Grain Bank movement. 25,000 Grain Banks can be established during the next few months if the Government of India will approve immediately the release of 5 million tons of grains for this purpose. Because large quantities of Government stocks are in gunny bags, it is easy to move them to the Community Grain Banks, where they can be stored using the low cost technology standardized by the Food Corporation of India. It will be sad if Government sits over 60 million tons of food grains, allowing some of it to rot, rather than take them to places where, in Gandhiji’s words "God is Bread".
Based on the experience of the initial 25000 village level grain banks, another 25,000 can be established later this year thus using 10 million tons of the surplus stock in a socially meaningful manner.. Let the first year of the new millennium be a year of decisive action in our resolve to provide every individual in the country an opportunity for a productive and healthy life.