Charting a new course for India’s farm resurgence -G Chandrashekhar

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published Published on Oct 31, 2014   modified Modified on Oct 31, 2014
-The Hindu Business Line

Beefing up input delivery, expanding irrigation facilities & infusing technology are the key

India needs rapid economic growth to lift people out of poverty and meet the basic needs of a growing population. It is well recognised that for growth to be inclusive, it must create adequate livelihood opportunities and add to decent employment commensurate with the expectations of a growing workforce.

Massive growth in information and communication technologies has certainly heightened the expectations of the workforce. Educated youth in much larger numbers are expected to join the labour force in the years to come.

It clearly implies that the pace of job creation and securing existing livelihoods must be accelerated. What would be the role of agriculture in ensuring livelihood security? Admittedly, while agriculture and allied activities contribute to about 15 per cent of the GDP, nearly 50 per cent of the workforce ekes out a living from farm-related work.

In other words, a large number of people are forced to share a small piece of the GDP pie.

It follows that per capita income from agriculture and allied activities is rather low in comparison with the manufacturing and the services sectors.

This must change and such change is possible if the farm sector were to grow consistently in excess of the targeted 4 per cent a year. We need a break from the sector's sluggish growth rates that have consistently fallen below the target for the last 15 years.

Sustaining growth

To sustain an annual growth rate of 4 per cent and more in the farm sector, structural issues that stymie growth need to be addressed with urgency. Here are six mantras for agriculture resurgence: Strengthen the input delivery system; rapidly expand irrigation facilities; improve agronomic practices through extension services; invest in rural infrastructure; infuse technology (infotech, biotech, remote sensing) and build capacity among growers to manage risks.

To be sure, agriculture is a State subject and the primary responsibility for increasing production and productivity, exploiting untapped potential and enhancing incomes of farming community rests with State Governments. Their efforts are supplemented by many centrally sponsored and central sector schemes. That agriculture is a State subject may well be the technical position, but the Centre cannot abdicate its responsibility to ensure that there is sustained and uniform growth in agriculture and allied activities.

Importantly, in addition to annual budgetary outlays for various schemes, this country needs annual monitoring and evaluation report on various agriculture-related schemes, including implementation and key performance indicators.

Heartening performance

In the last five years, the performance of the farm sector in general has been somewhat heartening. According to the Economic Survey 2013-14, the net availability of foodgrains has increased, and specifically, the per capita net availability of food grains increased to 186 kg a year from 164 kg.

The net availability of edible oil increased from 12.7 kg to 15.8 kg. The per capita milk availability at 295 grams a day is higher than the world average. The per capita availability of fruit rose from 114 grams a day 10 years ago to 172 grams in 2011-12; and that of vegetables increased from 236 grams a day to 350 grams.

This performance gains significance as the agri sector is a source of livelihood and food security for a vast majority of low-income and vulnerable sections of the population. While the overall improvement in farm growth and food availability is heartening, yet it must be stated that the per capita numbers mask the reality. There is a disturbing skew in the food consumption pattern. The difference between per capita consumption of the top one-third of the population (able to afford and access foods) and the bottom one-third (the poor with limited affordability) is stark. It is the admitted position that nearly 300 million people still live below the so-called poverty line. It is this deprived one third that is largely nutritionally challenged and deserves to consume nutritious foods.

Our welfare programmes must be designed to ensure not only food security, but also nutrition security. The really needy and poor must get sufficient calories and proteins. It is recognised that pervasive under-nutrition is the result of calorie and protein deficiency. The welfare programmes provide subsidised rice and wheat (and sugar through PDS); but hardly anything that provides proteins. There is a strong case for inclusion of pulses because they are a source of economical vegetable protein.

The Hindu Business Line, 29 October, 2014,

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