Farmers should feel Agri dept is with them in their fields: Karnataka Minister BC Patil

When I took charge as minister, my priority was to instil confidence in farmers. I wanted to make agriculture an industry. People, especially youths, should come forward to take up agriculture.

Published: 18th December 2022 02:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th December 2022 02:41 AM   |  A+A-

​  Minister for Agriculture BC Patil during an interaction with TNSE editors and journalists at the TNIE office in Bengaluru | Vinod Kumar T  ​

​ Minister for Agriculture BC Patil during an interaction with TNSE editors and journalists at the TNIE office in Bengaluru | Vinod Kumar T ​

Express News Service

The Karnataka government is taking several steps to help farmers increase their income by encouraging them to take up processing, branding and marketing of their produce. During an interaction with editors and staff of The New Sunday Express, Agriculture Minister BC Patil, a police officer-turned-actor-turned-politician, explains the measures taken by the government, and his initiatives to attract youngsters to farming and agriculture. Excerpts:

What are the measures taken to double farmers’ incomes?
We have taken several initiatives. All these years, farmers were only encouraged to grow crops, but now we are also emphasizing on processing, branding and marketing the produce, as well as additional works or sub-professions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to have 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) across the country. Karnataka alone has 1,200 FPOs. About 300 to 1,000 farmers join to create one FPO. We provide them loans and subsidies. We intend to make farmers grow, process, pack, brand and market. This will increase their profit margins substantially. It will also prevent middlemen. Farmers are also trained at Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and they have become entrepreneurs. We are also stressing on reducing the cost of cultivation so that farmers’ incomes increase.
When I took charge as minister, my priority was to instil confidence in farmers. I wanted to make agriculture an industry. People, especially youths, should come forward to take up agriculture.

What were the reasons for farmers’ suicides?
When we started assessing the cause of suicides, we found that Mandya region, which has sufficient water, reported more suicides compared to Kolar, which has less or no water sources. In Mandya, farmers were not adopting comprehensive agriculture, and were mostly growing sugarcane and paddy, while in Kolar, farmers had taken up comprehensive agriculture. They were into growing multiple crops. In 2015, there were 95 farmer suicides in Mandya, and 15 in Kolar. We realised there is a need to create awareness. We started the ‘One Day With Farmers’ initiative to take the department to farmlands. If we go to them, they will come close to us. I started this initiative with Mandya. Farmers should not feel the agriculture department is only at Vidhana Soudha or Vikasa Soudha in Bengaluru, but with them at their farms.

What steps are being taken to help farmers’ children?
We increased reservation for farmers’ children in agriculture colleges to 50% from 40%. With that, we were able to give 433 more seats for children of farmers. The same was announced in the budget. When Basavaraj Bommai became chief minister, the state government initiated ‘Raitha Vidya Nidhi’, the first of its kind in India. This is a programme to give scholarships to children of farmers. Last year, more than 10 lakh students benefited under this scheme. It has been extended to children of agriculture labourers from this year, where an additional 6 lakh students will benefit.

You involved farmers in crop surveys. How did it go?
We started ‘Nannaa Bele, Namma Hakku’ (Our Crops, Our Rights) where farmers were involved in crop surveys. In Karnataka, there are 2.10 crore agriculture plots of various dimensions. In the first year (2020), farmers surveyed 86 lakh plots. Earlier, this was challenged by the e-governance department as they had seen only 3,000 farmers surveyed in 2017. Today, farmers use smartphones. We were successful.

The sale of sub-standard seeds and fertilizers is a major concern. What is being done to tackle it?
Earlier, there were only two vigilance divisions in Karnataka, which we increased to four. We treated it as a police wing. In the last three years, Rs 29.04 crore worth of items, including sub-standard seeds, fertilizers and other items were seized, and is a record so far. Of these, 343 cases are in the courts, and licences of many agencies were cancelled. It is a serious issue as such items come from other states, including Andhra Pradesh. We have collected close to Rs 20 lakh as penalty. This also helped prevent farmers’ suicides. Innocent farmers were cheated with substandard seeds and fertilizers, and would not get yield when they used the seeds.

What about shortage of staff in the department?
There is a shortage of 55 per cent in the agriculture department. Most of them are field-level officers who extend our schemes to beneficiaries. We are taking measures to fill the vacancies. We are taking 6,000 diploma graduates for surveying under contract, one at each gram panchayat.

The year 2023 has been declared ‘International Year for Millets’. What is the role of your department?
We are organising an International Trade Fair in January 2023 to create awareness on growing millets. In the 1960s, we were stressing on food security, now we need nutrition security. Our food is becoming poisonous. To prevent this, we need to bring awareness about millets. We also need to create a market for millets at the international level.

Crop insurance has been an issue as there were allegations that companies were making profit, leaving farmers in the lurch...
Companies made a profit and incurred losses as well. From 2014-15, the release of claims was pending. After I became minister, the agriculture commissioner started holding meetings every Friday. I hold meetings once or twice a month. We have been following up with the companies. In June 2022 alone, Rs 600 crore worth of claims were released, and we managed to trace the farmers who were missing after paying premiums, and ensured that Rs 99 crore, which was in the escrow account, was transferred to farmers.  

There was a proposal to merge the sericulture department with the agriculture department, and also opposition to it. What is your take?
It is a good move, as we can say with pride that agriculture, sericulture and horticulture are all nothing but agriculture. It is good if all are merged. A farmer is a farmer, whatever the crops he cultivates. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when I went around the districts, farmers who produced vegetables, fruits and flowers used to ask for solutions to their problems, and as agriculture minister, I couldn’t say it was none of my business. We cannot bifurcate farmers, so a merger is good. In the Central government, it is under one umbrella as the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, which includes Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees as well. The cabinet sub-committee has been studying the merger in Karnataka.

What is the status of the initiative on natural farming in Karnataka?
We have been implementing the CM’s natural farming scheme, in which every agriculture university will identify 1,000 hectares of land to demonstrate organic farming, with no use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. We cannot straightaway suggest to farmers to switch to natural farming, unless we demonstrate its benefits. During the ‘60s, there was a deficit of food, and developed countries used to send us food. Now after the green revolution, we are exporting produce. So we should look at natural and sustainable farming to reduce chemicals, as some progressive farmers have showcased that it can also be profitable. Farmers should look at long-term instead of short-term goals.

What is being done to provide cold storage facilities to help farmers?
The purpose of the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund is to create infrastructure to store perishable goods, so that farmers can sell them when they get good prices. We have 32 cold storage facilities, and are constructing another 13 such facilities.

The Centre withdrew farm laws a long time back. Will Karnataka follow suit?
See, it has become a prestige issue. Earlier, if farmers took their produce outside APMC markets, a squad used to catch them for eluding tax and slap penalties. Now, it’s One Nation, One Market. Karnataka farmers can sell their produce wherever they want, whether it’s Delhi, Mumbai or Goa, as even the checkposts are freed. No real farmers are staging protests. Some organisations representing them insist on their withdrawal here because the Centre has withdrawn the laws. There is no way of withdrawing them in the state.

What can North Karnataka expect from the legislative session starting in Belagavi from December 19?
Earlier, North Karnataka was neglected. People meeting a minister was rare. Now, after Suvarna Vidhana Soudha came up in Belagavi, people have a sense of belonging to the state. Assembly sessions also give a feeling of oneness. More than the expectations, what the BJP government implemented on the development side will be put forth before people, using the session as a platform.

Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has developed an alternative for cold storage by developing vegetable and fruit dryers. Are you taking help or consulting IISc to use technologies to help farmers?
Yes, we are doing it. Under the RKVY (Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana), we are setting up a Centre of Excellence in Dharwad, by investing Rs 52 crore. Apart from that, we entered into an MoU with a firm last year to set up Centres of Excellence. One such centre will be started at Bengaluru University on a pilot basis. After that, six centres will start to help farmers use technology.

Many professionals are also taking to farming…..
In cities, we have pub culture, and I want to make it agriculture. Now anyone can buy land after our government brought in an amendment to the Land Act. Professionals working in cities can buy two to three acres of land and employ people to do the work. They can visit the place on weekends to get fresh air, and it will also improve their health. We don’t want pub culture… we want agriculture.

Is this idea inspired by a movie?
No, I’m a son of a farmer. I have my own ideas.

Away from agriculture, how are the prospects for BJP in the 2023 assembly elections since BJP is not going to polls under Yediyurappa’s leadership?
Yediyurappa is in the forefront, and we are with him. We are confident of winning over 140 seats in 2023. Development is the major agenda and that is the purpose of the CM’s Jan Sankalpa Yatra. People have been gathering in huge numbers for the Yatra.

BC Patil donned many roles: a real cop, an actor, and now politics. Which one did you like the most?
Only Lord Shiva has three eyes, but for us, two eyes are equally important. I enjoyed my job in the police department. As an artist, the appeal was universal, but there were ups and downs as both loss and profit happened. As a police officer, the jurisdiction of work was a station. After becoming an MLA, the scope to serve people is wider. In a taluk, about 48 government departments come under our purview. Becoming a minister is still a big canvas. But I enjoyed all the fields I ventured into.

Are you happy with the portfolio?
Initially, they had given me the forest portfolio, but I fought with then CM Yediyurappa and got agriculture. As the son of a farmer, I felt I could help farmers.

Do you have a free hand?
Absolutely! Both BS Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai gave me the liberty to function as a minister.

India Matters


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