Indian agriculture: Maladies and remedies -

Indian agriculture: Maladies and remedies


Since Independence, the agriculture sector has remained the main source
of national income and occupation in India. In 1947, 72 per cent of the
total working population was engaged in agricultural sector, but still a
majority of Indias poor (some 770 million people or about 70 per cent)
inhabit the rural areas.

Though due to the high growth rates of
the industrial and services sectors, the share of agricultural share in
India’s economy has progressively declined to less than 15 per cent, yet
its importance in the country’s economic and social development can’t
be denied.

On road to self-sufficiency

The Green
revolution of the 1960s witnessed a drastic increase in total
agricultural production, particularly wheat and rice. The second phase
of the Green Revolution further boosted it in the 1980s, which was
accelerated further by the liberalisation policy of the late 1990s.

However,
the results of the Green revolution were not uniform over the entire
country. It particularly resulted in enhanced cultivation and production
of wheat and rice in the northern states, and other cash crops such as
cotton and onion in the western and southern states. But it neglected
the cultivation of pulses and other cereals.

Though, India is
considered to be a global agricultural powerhouse, yet the sector
suffers from serious maladies. According a World Bank report of 2010,
India is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses, and spices, and
has the world’s largest cattle herd (buffaloes), as well as the largest
area under wheat, rice and cotton. It is the second largest producer of
rice, wheat, cotton, sugarcane, farmed fish, sheep and goat meat, fruit,
vegetables and tea. But in spite

of this the Indian farmer remains poor, though he contributes a lot to the economy.

As
per experts’ opinion the factors which contribute to the poor
performance of the Indian agricultural sector are multi-dimensional,
such as: poor access to reliable and timely market information to the
farmers, absence of supply and demand forecasting, poorly structured and
inefficient supply chains, inadequate cold storage facilities and
shortage of proper food processing units, large intermediation between
the farmers and the consumers, besides regional disparities are some of
the major causes of the losses for the farmers.

The World Bank
report lists that one of the biggest issues facing the agricultural
sector in India is low yield: India’s farm yield is 30-50 per cent lower
than that of developed nations. Average farm size, poor infrastructure,
low use of farm technologies and better farming techniques, decrease in
soil fertility due to over fertilisation and sustained pesticide use,
are leading contributors to low agricultural productivity.

Thus,
measures to increase productivity will need increasing yields,
diversification to higher value crops, and developing value chains to
reduce marketing costs.

The sharp rise in food-grain production
during India’s Green revolution of the 1970s enabled the country to
achieve self-sufficiency in food-grains and stave off the threat of
famine. Agricultural intensification in the 1970s to 1980s saw an
increased demand for rural labour that raised rural wages and, together
with declining food prices, reduced rural poverty. However agricultural
growth in the 1990s and 2000s slowed down, averaging about 3.5 per cent
per annum, and cereal yields have increased by only 1.4 per cent per
annum in the 2000s. The slow-down in agricultural growth has become a
major cause for concern. India’s rice yields are one-third of China’s
and about half of those in Vietnam and Indonesia. The same is true for
most other agricultural commodities.

Reforming the sector

What
we need is a pragmatic, realistic and holistic approach to be adopted
by the policy makers to address the maladies faced by the Indian
agriculturists. Besides resolving the regional disparities in crop
patterns, the government also needs to promote cultivation and change in
eating habits of the populace. One route to this could be propagating
the inclusion of millets and other high nutritious cereals, in the
eating habits of the populace. This besides increasing the earning
potential of the farmers in the drought prone or less irrigated areas
will also result in making better use of the cultivable area across the
country.

Further action in this regard could be taken by the
government by supporting and collaborating with international
institutions like International Crops Research Institute for the
Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which are engaged in popularising the
cultivation and use of highly nutritious crops like millet and sorghum.

ICRISAT,
as per its mandate strives to be the change catalyst through a
partnership approach to help rural communities develop their own
solutions and engages

with them to bring the vision to reality.
Its inclusive approach ensures participation of women and youth, a must
in finding sustainable and profitable solutions, besides contributing to
several of the UN SDGs.

As ICRISAT’s research area focuses on
the drylands, it has an extra specialisation on crops that survive in
these harsh climates, such as Chickpea and Groundnut, besides
nutri-cereals like Sorghum, Pearl millet and Finger millet. Most of
these crops besides being highly nutritious are also good for the planet
as they have a low water footprint, lowers the carbon footprint, are
good for the soils, use fewer chemicals, etc. Further they are good for
the small farmer as they survive in the harshest climates, have multiple
uses, have potential to significantly increase yield and cater to an
untapped usage and demand.

Last month, the UN General Assembly
unanimously declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets, the
resolution for which was sponsored by India. Prime Minister Narendra
Modi while endorsing this announcement expressed gratitude to all the
nations, which initiated and co-sponsored this resolution. In a tweet,
he said that India is honoured to be at the forefront of popularising
millets, whose consumption furthers nutrition, food security and welfare
of farmers.

Both the cultivation and usage of these cereals and
grain legumes could be achieved by focused efforts initially to
popularise these smart foods to bring them into mainstream food habits.
The strategy adopted to achieve this should involve and ensure that
small farmers and rural communities benefit by receiving on-farm
support, connecting farmers to value chains, linking smart food with
health activities on the ground, and advocacy for policy support,
research and development.

Policy makers will thus need to
initiate and accomplish policy actions and public programmes to shift
the agricultural sector away from the existing policy and institutional
regime that appears to be no longer viable and build a solid foundation
for a much more productive, internationally competitive, and diversified
agricultural sector in the country. In addition, we’ll have to promote
increased cultivation of those crops, which besides being nutritious and
profitable are also able to counter the environmental challenges.

(Asad
Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be
contacted at asad.mirza.nd@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal)





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