May 25, 2013

Brains vs Grains!

Was fortunate to listen to an intellectual, Prof C. Rangarajan, recently. I was fascinated at the insights and humorous manner in which he dealt such a dry subject as “Indian Economy – the way forward”, till he started to speak on Agriculture! I was amazed how little the so-called experts know about the challenges in Agriculture and the complete lack of understanding the dynamics of Food Security in a populous country such as ours, which also happens to be an agrarian economy.

While he could rattle off figures and rates of growth in different sectors and also talk on how we can improve our present state of affairs, his total corporate style approach blended with a theoretical /academic knowledge of agriculture left me appalled. The rest of the audience, largely Corporate, being an IIM-A alumni meet, seemed to lap up every word he said and gave him a standing ovation too! He categorically mentioned that growth and development at any cost are important, and if that meant building a road in the middle of the forest, we must do it! I was shocked and totally dismayed. Every economist worth his money ought to know that growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable. Here was a policy maker talking like we can print a forest, just as we print currency notes! God help our country! Does he even understand that forests give us our oxygen and rain without which there is no purpose in having any growth! While I am no green activist, far from that category actually, I do think a balance and a sustainable growth is of paramount importance, and is being considered by every other country.

What finally irked me was the utter contempt with which he dealt with the subject. He said things like the actual number of farmers coming down was fine and that we can import foodgrains. He said we can move to increasing  the growth in the manufacturing and services sectors and forget about growing food. Being in this field and working with the likes of Prof. M. S. Swaminathan, I am sure there is no country with enough land to produce food for us! So, even if we do achieve 10% growth rate and all is well with Corporate India, fact remains that food cannot be imported to feed the entire population.

I seriously wish these decision / policy makers take some lessons from Professor Swaminathan. While, we need to improve the productivity, infrastructure, logistics and modernise agriculture, it is important for these intellectuals to realise that money cannot buy us food, anymore. As professor succinctly puts it, “Future belongs to countries with grains, not guns”. In other words, the wealth of a country needs to be measured by the food it produces. 

I came away home thinking how limiting our intellectual capabilities can be! I also realised how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to understand Agriculture from none other than Prof Swaminathan.

Lesson learnt: Its absolutely of no use to be an intellectual or be professorial in thinking, if its at the cost of common sense!

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