Broad-Based Vision for Agriculture Development

Declining public investment, slow pace of irrigation development, weak infrastructure and extension services, ineffective price policy, and lack of technology, marketing and export orientation are some of the major constraints in the agricultural sector. We need to urgently adopt a broad-based vision to stimulate agriculture and develop a prosperous, democratic, egalitarian, cohesive rural society, says B Yerram Raju

01 July, 2012 Agriculture, Opinion
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At present, the agricultural sector presents a mixed picture of stagnation and dynamism across regions and crops. The share of agriculture in GDP was around 15 per cent in 2011-12 while 60 per cent of the population still depends on this sector. There are several structural weaknesses that need to be addressed to make our agriculture more competitive, domestically and globally. Policy interventions are needed that are crop-specific and region-specific and ensure appropriate support from the stage of crop production to marketing and export. The National Agricultural Policy has set out a comprehensive framework, which emphasises sustainable land and water resource management through ecologically-sound agricultural practices, efficient input use, infrastructure development and appropriate pre-and post-harvest technologies.

Agricultural growth is targeted at 4 per cent in the Twelfth Plan. How the Indian farmer responds to achieve this will depend crucially on his ability to access information, respond quickly to market signals and manage risk efficiently. Much will depend on the type of strategies that are adopted for increasing the capabilities of farmers to exploit the advantages of open markets. Policies required to influence the decision-making of millions of individual farmers must take note of the fact that over 80 per cent are small and marginal farmers operating farms of less than 2 hectares. They face severe problems in accessing credit, getting remunerative prices and marketing their produce. About two-thirds of India’s cropped area – producing coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds, cotton and rice – is rain-fed, making the farmers in these areas highly vulnerable to drought and resource constraints. Productivity for major crops in India is low. Availability of certified seed is limited; spurious seeds and pesticides have become a serious problem. Extension services reach only 25 to 30 per cent of farmers. Against this backdrop, what should be the vision for agriculture in this country for the next decade, to realise the goal of a prosperous, democratic, egalitarian and cohesive rural society?

Envisioning Agricultural Development

There is need for a paradigm shift in thinking, approach and policy to have a broad-based vision for agricultural development. This is crucial for achieving the projected annual growth of 9 per cent in the Twelfth Plan. We can’t afford to have policies that lead to farmers’ suicides in advanced states like Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra and at the same time ask farmers to go in for improved technologies. Interventions are required in policy reform, institutional changes, adoption of technology, availability of extension services, credit, market information and rural infrastructure, and even agricultural budget making.

The Vision:

  • Food security for all
  • High growth trajectory
  • Shift to high value crops
  • Grow into a major exporter
  • Reduce overcrowding in agriculture
  • Enhance people’s participation, particularly of women
  • Human resource development of agricultural population

B Yerram Raju, Fellow Skoch Development Foundation
  • Raising competitiveness through reducing costs and increasing quality levels is central to any future strategy. Farmers need to know the problems and solutions relating to the specific crop grown by them.
  • Better information sharing between providers and users of technology can improve quality of institutional extension services. This requires liberalisation of entry into agricultural research and extension services to strengthen existing institutions. The role of non-governmental organisations in extension, like SRISTI in Gujarat, can help in providing dependable extension services on time and at least cost. Developing innovative extension service support like that unveiled by APNG Ranga Agricultural University using a specially designed user-friendly SIM card at a low cost of Rs 110 is important.
  • The most effective way of achieving increased productivity for major crops will be through better use of inputs and improved crop practices within a sustainable framework of resource management.
  • Emphasis needs to be on sustainable agricultural development through conservation of bio-diversity and existing natural resource base/ecosystems.
  • Diversify agriculture through a combination of crop–livestock activities along with other options to shift farmers away from mono-crop agriculture.
  • Raise cropping intensity through multi-cropping and inter-cropping practices.
  • Strengthen flexible crop patterns to respond to market signals and take advantage of emerging opportunities. For this, awareness of changes in consumption patterns for agricultural commodities in domestic and foreign markets is needed.
  • Raise awareness of price structures for both inputs and outputs.
  • Manage energy efficiently against constricted supply.
  • Access to credit is the main problem faced by farmers. Asymmetry in information enhances the risk of the lender and, therefore, information and enforcement mechanisms, particularly in regard to the titles the farmers hold, would enhance the opportunities for accessing credit markets.
  • Knowledge base has to be developed for farmers’ needs and priorities at every stage of activity from cultivation to marketing and export. Regulations relating to product standards, environment protection, health and safety of citizens of the importing country are extremely important.
  • Farmers need to be made fully aware of the possibilities of bio-technological interventions, the potential benefits of transgenic crops and those with drought-resistant and pest-resistant properties. Awareness of bio-safety risks is also needed.
  • Value addition in the production chain must be an area of special focus. There are several by-products for most agricultural commodities, which can be effectively developed through setting up agro-based and agro-processing industries that will not only raise rural incomes and employment but also create useful linkages between the agricultural and industrial sectors. Such a strategy requires farmer-managed organisations.
  • There is an urgent need for collaboration and co-operation among farmers and farmers’ groups to get the best advantage of inputs (seeds, water, fertilisers, pesticides, etc). Such co-operation presently exists under a political banner, but not under the banner of “production”. Unity among farmers generally comes to the fore in times of natural calamities, widespread pest attacks, holocausts, etc. The State has to re-engineer the insurance mechanisms for timely rejuvenation and risk reduction, deriving advantage from such unity.
  • District farmers’ associations should act as hubs for sharing resources/technologies/marketing information. Role of Krishi Vigyan Kendras needs to be strengthened. District farmers’ associations need to function without political affiliation for all aspects of agricultural production to assist farmers. If the district farmers’ associations federate into a company, the federal body can directly plan for and execute exports and seek infrastructure support.
  • It has been the experience in the agricultural sector that capital formation in the public sector has triggered private capital formation as a sustainable measure and this needs to be continued.
  • Farmers should set up vigilance councils at village/mandal levels to enforce regulation of laws impacting on their future.
  • Linking farmers to markets needs to be a key focus area. “Farmers operate in markets that suffer from problems of information, inadequate competition, and weak enforcement of contracts. Building institutions that reduce transaction costs to farmers, therefore, can greatly improve the way agricultural markets operate.” (World Development Report, 2002, p. 31) Several innovative strategies for effective dissemination of market information have been implemented. For example, the Government of Andhra Pradesh makes prices of produce in different regional markets available on its website which is updated daily.
  • Specific problems in marketing include grading, standardisation, storage and transport. Efforts in the public or private sector to build specific institutions that ease information costs, such as grades and standards or market information systems, can help to increase agricultural production. E-commerce has come of age in agriculture intensive states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana. Setting up cold storage facilities and key infrastructure facilities, including transportation facilities, to strengthen the supply chain for agricultural produce are required to enhance the value management chain.
  • The role of the State in providing credit, infrastructure, free movement of agricultural produce (intra-state and inter-state), updating and consolidation of land records, development of a lease market for land (to promote contract farming and agri-business) cannot be under-emphasised.
  • Crop insurance schemes should be restructured and implemented effectively.
  • Information dissemination through a wide range of channels (print, electronic, etc) is another important area where both the State and farmers’ associations have a crucial role to play.
  • The goalposts, which need to be farm-centric and region-centric, can only be reached with effective collaboration between states and farmers at the district level. States which are agriculture intensive need to prepare separate agriculture budgets preceded by an agro-economic survey ahead of the budget presentation. The central government needs to play a lesser role if the problems of agriculture are to be solved.

Availability of certified seed is limited; spurious seeds and pesticides have become a serious problem. Extension services reach only 25 to 30 per cent of farmers. Against this backdrop, what should be the vision for agriculture in this country for the next decade, to realise the goal of a prosperous, democratic, egalitarian and cohesive rural society?

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