Beyond Narendra Modi’s TOP: There’s more to the farm sector than tomatoes, onions and potatoes

Special attention must be given to smallholder vegetable growers.

While on a recent tour of Karnataka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his inimitable style stated that TOP is his top priority. He was referring to creating conditions for improving and stabilising the incomes of producers of tomato, onion and potato. As is natural, many people have since been talking about TOP and how critical it is for the farm sector.

It is indeed true that the share of cereals in total agricultural GDP has been falling and no longer contributes to less than half the agricultural economy. Milk production accounts for a huge proportion of the rest, with horticulture coming next. Within the horticulture group, TOP does account for a large proportion. Thus, there is no gainsaying the importance of TOP.

Secondly, given the repeated experience of cycles of shortage and gluts in these commodities caused by counter-cyclic behavior of production and demand, the importance of stabilising economy of TOP crops and hence of TOP growers, too, is convincing. There is convincing circumstantial evidence to indicate that farm sector as a whole is at a disadvantage vis-à-vis services or manufacturing sector. Therefore, the dominance of relatively well-off farmers in cultivation of TOP is a tenable hypothesis that by itself is not a reason for alleging a kulak bias for those who seek to protect the TOP growers.

Don’t dilute focus on the bottom rung

Even so, we believe that a focus on TOP will again dilute the focus on the bottom rung of the farming community. Since the total investible resources are limited, there is the oft-repeated conflict of interest between TOP and bottom. The very small landholders, who achieve a remarkable substitution of labour for land in the production of horticultural crops, represent the bottom.

Some of the most productive horticulture producing regions are around Biharsharif in Bihar, around Ranchi and Patamda in Jharkhand, around Nashik in Maharashtra and in the so-called grey water vegetable clusters downstream of all rivers that drain the large cities like Hyderabad, Nagpur, Pune, Ahmedabad and so on. And then there is a large number of bottom-rung producers in far-flung, rain-fed areas, often tribal or dalit farmers, who see a huge opportunity of supplementing their incomes or become more food secure by growing horticulture produce and selling it in nearby markets.

Who are these people? What do they do? Which crops do they grow? What problems do they face? And to what extent are these problems below the radar of policymakers? These are some important questions that need to be raised. We would like to call them bottom rung partly from driving the point regarding contrast between their crops and TOP, and mainly because they indeed are closer to the bottom rung of farming communities in the country.

Invitation to disaster

A development worker in Nashik area emphatically asserts that trying to scale TOP production is an invitation to disaster. “It is a rare farmer who will grow tomato in five acres who does not incur a loss of Rs 5 lakh in the season,” he told a gathering of development professionals some time ago. His logic is this: A medium or large farmer of TOP commodities will perhaps use relatively more capital-intensive technology and hence is likely to plant his entire land meant for the purpose at the same time.

What this will do is to ensure that all his production comes at a single point in time. This creates a yo-yo like situation in his economy. If the market is starved of TOP when his crop is harvested, he makes a killing, enabling him to buy another tractor or sink another deep tube well in addition to perhaps managing to marry his daughter, etc. If the market is depressed at that time, then his investment goes for a toss and, as our friend says, he will incur a loss of rupees one lakh per acre.

Lowering risk

How does the bottom behave? The small farmer has a strong faith in diversification across time and across crops. Continuing the preaching of our development professional, the bottom rung ought not to plant more than a fortieth of an acre (one guntha) under one crop at one point in time. He may plant one guntha today, another guntha next Tuesday, a third guntha the Tuesday next and so on so long as he is within the broad time window in which such planting makes technical sense. This makes for small production lots and smaller market risks for each harvest and an overall risk diversification over the planting season. Crop diversification automatically diversifies the risk since not each of vegetable will experience a glut at the same time.

Finally, the development professional strongly advises to attempt at least one or two crops on smaller plots before or after the normal season of the crop, assuming quite correctly that off-season vegetables get better prices than in season.

The bottom has never believes in the possibility of any government to come to understand his problems and his ways of coping with them. They often evolve their own ways of maximising their returns from small patches of land by substituting in part land and in part capital by intense labor and farm care.

The bottom needs help

The bottom deserves not only a pat on their back but substantial help. The way to help them is quite different from the way to help the TOP growers. The later involves cold storages, processing facilities, equipment subsidies and possibly price support. The TOP growers obviously have significant pull with politicians. The bottom is voiceless.

But the help that the bottom needs is of a very different order. It requires scaling down of farm implements, scaling down of packing sizes of good quality seeds, simple devices such as Varsha Shalas so thoughtfully created by the Himachal Pradesh government to help farmers protect their produce from getting wet in treacherous rains; subsidies on transport through small transport vehicles; and rayatu bazaars, which Chandrababu Naidu had started implementing long time back in undivided Andhra Pradesh.

However, being used to the neglect from every one, we do not think that the bottom will grudge the attention which the Prime Minister has promised to the TOP. That attention has shifted from six-lane highways to needs of the TOP is a good beginning. At some point in time, hopefully some one somewhere will try to some thing for the bottom as well!

Anish Kumar is part of the lead team at Transform Rural India Foundation. He was earlier a member of the leadership team of Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN). Views are personal.

Sanjiv Phansalkar is associated closely with Transform Rural India Foundation. He was earlier a faculty member at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). Phansalkar is a fellow of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad. Views are personal.

This article first appeared on Village Square.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.