It’s time that India initiates a new green revolution with a renewed vision to address these issues by boosting its budgetary support to agriculture. We need to urgently kick start modern water management systems, modern irrigation techniques and rapid increase in farm productivity to revive swiftly the Indian agriculture.
Agriculture in crisis...
The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) report on“Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households” tells us that Indian agriculture is not only in a terrible crisis, but is also fast decaying. Around 42 per cent of farmers want to quit agriculture, if given an opportunity. Census 2011 had already informed us that each day more than 2400 farmers quit agriculture and migrate to the cities looking for manual jobs. The recent NSSO survey also reveals a very high level of rural indebtedness. About 52 per cent of agricultural households in India are indebted. Many independent estimates point to the number of people migrating to the cities, up to 50 lakh a year, which is amongst the highest in the world. Simply put, Indian agriculture is in deep shit except for a few pockets of affluence in some states like Punjab and Haryana.
The survey also points out that only 40 per cent of the rural households are engaged in agricultural activity while the rest derive their income from allied activities like dairy farming, livestock, etc. Even among those who derive income from agriculture, this contributes only 60 per cent of their total income and the rest 40 percent comes from allied activities. Needless to say that agriculture is not an economical vocation anymore. Some of these crises are systemic and others are caused by the vagaries of nature.
Low productivity and small farm holdings
As per data from Ministry of Commerce, 60 per cent of India’s land area is agricultural. India holds the second largest agricultural land, next only to the US. India has more arable land than China, despite its total area being far lesser than the latter. But China produces far more rice and wheat than India does. Its fruit production is 3 to 4 times of Indian production. The problem with poor agricultural production does not lie in the paucity of land, but elsewhere.
One factor responsible for this is the shrinking size of the average landholding contributed by the fragmented nature of farm holdings. As per Agriculture Census 2010-11, small and marginal holdings of less than 2 hectare account for 85 per cent of the total holdings. The average size of holdings has steadily declined over the years for all classes of people since 1970-71. The shrinking size of the average land holding of an Indian farmer has held back agricultural productivity.
Lack of crop insurance
Another interesting information that comes out of the NSSO survey is that merely 4 percent of rural households use crop insurance to secure their crops from crop failures. The survey also found that only a small per cent of rural households went for crop insurance and the key reason being ‘lack of awareness.’ Mark it the farm sector in India has been bearing the brunt of unpredictable weather conditions year after year leading to several crop failures. In a nation like ours, crop insurance can play a vital part in protecting farmers and boosting private investments in farm sectors.
Poor access to irrigation
In country where around 60 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture, it is alarming that 64 per cent of cultivated land is dependent on monsoons. Sadly, access to modern and technological means of irrigation looks a distant dream. The economic significance of irrigation in India is that it will reduce dependence on monsoons, advance agricultural productivity, bringing more land under cultivation, reducing instability in output levels, create job opportunities and lead to prevention of droughts. In India only two states, Punjab and Haryana, have very high levels of cultivated land under irrigation (98 per cent in Punjab and 87 per cent in Haryana). It is no surprise that both these states lead the nation in having the highest productivity per hectare and contribute almost 20 per cent of national production despite their miniscule sizes.
How to bring about a new green revolution?
Do you know that the budgetary support for MGNREGA is greater than budgetary support for agriculture itself? A state entitlement programme is like giving fish to the poor while investment in agricultural infrastructure is like teaching a man to fish. As a state we must choose the latter. Today if over 40 per cent of the farmers are in possession of a MGNREGA job card, it only shows how uneconomical farming has become over the years and progressive dependence of the state subsidy programme. The entitlement mentality must change immediately. Agriculture, and not MGNREGA, is where the state’s money must go into.
We recommend the following steps to usher a new green revolution
1 The most important among the agricultural inputs is the quality of seeds and access to disease resistant variety of seeds. The Indian Agricultural Report says: “the efficacy of other agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation is largely determined by the quality of the seed used. It is estimated that quality of seed accounts for 20-25 per cent of productivity. Hence timely availability of quality seeds at affordable prices to farmers is necessary for achieving higher agricultural productivity and production.” We recommend creation of seed institute at every village level which has ground level access to rural farms and provides services like soil testing and helps in identifying best seeds based on local factors of the place.
2 To solve the problems of low productivity due to fragmented nature of rural lands, we recommend that the co-operative model be tried in farming. In Gujarat, Verghese Kurien’s Operation Flood was hugely successful. The programme led to revival of milk industry in India to the extent that India became the largest producer of milk. We must try the same thing for farming. We must create a co-operative setup with the farmers who will pool their lands and cultivate it in joint manner and share the proceeds of the produce in the proportion of their land contributed. The state can setup special credit schemes to ensure that such co-operative setup works successfully
3 Contract farming is a new corporate-farmer partnership model that has been very successful in Punjab in production of tomatoes. When the global food giant PepsiCo was not able to meet its demand for tomato for its Lays chips, it approached farmers of Punjab and struck a deal under which it would provide all the necessary technological support and modern agricultural inputs in return for an assured supply of tomatoes. The model worked exceedingly well and led to increase in production manifold. The farmers did not have to resort to distress sales as they had a ready buyer and PepsiCo was also able to purchase tomatoes at reasonable prices and was ensured constant supply. It’s time such models are replicated at national level with the support of the state.
4 Rural indebtedness is also a result of weakness of state’s banking infrastructure and its footprints in the countryside. This is where the private moneylenders operate and exploit the rural folk. Endeavour must be made to increase penetration of banking to unbanked areas to ensure that lending at usurious rates of interest is prevented.
5 Next up is crop insurance. For a large agrarian nation like India, the level of crop insurance at 4 per cent is abysmally low. Efforts must be made to spread awareness about crop insurance in the rural areas and remove barriers for its speedy acceptance and implementation.
6 The 11th five-year plan had allocated about 2.1 lakh crore on improving irrigation systems in India. It’s time to ensure that this large investment does not go in waste. A high-powered committee of experts must be setup with the mandate that the investment reaches its desired and targeted areas to improve productivity of Indian agriculture.
7 Agriculture is also constrained by lack of various support infrastructure like quality rural roads to transport the produce to the markets. Endeavour must be made to setup these rural infrastructures to boost agricultural production by providing the much-needed support.
Budgetary support for agriculture has been inadequate. The share of agricultural income of the rural household is shrinking rapidly. The rise of a large segment of humanity of India lies in the rise of Indian agriculture to become profitable. For this we need a new Green Revolution now. Will we be the world’s food bowl?