India's tractor queen
Behind the success of many farmers across 75 countries as varied as the US, India and Yugoslavia is a woman from Chennai. Mallika Srinivasan, India's tractor queen, is CEO and Chairman of TAFE (Tractors and Farm Equipment Limited), the third largest tractor manufacturer in the world.
Under her leadership, the company's revenues grew from Rs 85 crore in 1986 to Rs 9300 crore today. At the heart of TAFE's strengths has been its research and development team, and its relentless efforts to understand the vagaries of weather, labour, economy and soil that make the life of an Indian farmer so unpredictable.
In a conversation with Sarita Ravindranath
ahead of the Union Budget, Mallika Srinivasan
voices her concerns about farmers' problems in India and her industry's expectation from Arun Jaitley's Budget.
India has been in the grip of an agrarian crisis. 3228 farmers ended their lives in 2015 in Maharashtra alone - a scary fact in a country where 54% of the workforce is engaged in farm-related activities. How do you assess the situation on the ground?
There is agrarian discontent in India today and one of the most important issues before the country is rural distress.
Farmers' earnings have come down. The Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) have not gone up in proportion to the incurred cost. Sadly, commodity prices in the open market are often even lower than MSPs and therefore the farmer wants to sell to a government programme.
In addition to low prices, our acreage per farmer is very small (over 60 percent of farms in India are less than three acres). Labour costs have shot up. Even in normal circumstances, a farmer's earning is modest. When a crisis comes, the small farmer gets really squeezed out and that's why you're seeing the spate of suicides.
There is discontent, especially in sectors like sugar, where a lot of restructuring is required.
For two years in a row, we've had really bad monsoons. There is a threat of the winter rabi crop getting damaged because of untimely rains.
Southern India is a ray of hope this year because the rains have been heavy. Water in tanks across the country are low, but if you look at Tamil Nadu, the tanks are brimming. So, the hope for the next six months is that the south will be better
Do you see any signs of hope when it comes to government policies?
We have seen some signs that are encouraging. One is the crop insurance scheme that has been relaunched. One of the big complaints so far about crop insurance has been that the farmer doesn't really get as much as he loses. This time, there has been more attention paid to the formulation of the scheme.
We do see some encouragement in the form of more number of days of employment under MNREGA. MNREGA is now being understood better as a lever that can be used to extend relief in drought areas, etc. You can use labour to focus efforts on creating sustainable assets on the ground like desilting of tanks, clear roads – basically use it to create the infrastructure for farming.
We would like to see more government investment in buying crops. The government must buy and MSP must be linked to a certain quantum of procurement.
Image: Mallika Srinivasan with her father, A Sivasailam, who was Chairman and Managing Director of TAFE until his death in 2011. A well-known philanthropist, Sivasailam established the Paramakalyani group of educational institutions at Alwarkurichi, his native village in Tirunelveli district, and the Institute of Environment Sciences at the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli.
Image Courtesy: TAFE