September 20, 2013

AGRICULTURE NEEDS MORE HOLISTIC REFORMS

“While, like last year, I seek the blessings of Lord Indra to bestow on us timely and bountiful monsoons, I would pray to Goddess Lakshmi as well. I think it is a good strategy to diversify one’s risks,” are the words of the ex-finance minister (and now President) Mr. Pranab Mukherjee during his budget speech for the year 2011-12. The statement is symbolic of the unfortunate ways in which our ministers have been keener on invoking Gods and Goddesses rather than depending on science and technology and straight forward ground level solutions to come to the rescue of India’s dwindling agriculture sector, which employs around 50% of India’s workforce, but is decreasing in its contribution to the GDP year aft er year. “As per latest estimates released by Central Statistics Office (CSO) the share of agricultural products/Agriculture and Allied Sectors in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country was 51.9 per cent in 1950-51, which has now come down to 13.7 per cent in 2012-13 at 2004-05 prices...” This statement of Minister of State for Agriculture Tariq Anwar last month in a reply to a query in the Rajya Sabha shows the pathetic downfall of a once glowing sector. Even in absolute terms, India’s foodgrain production declined to 250.14 million tonnes in 2012-13 from 259.32 tonnes in 2011-2012.

What continues rising in this sector is just the number of farmer suicides, which reached a shameful figure of 15,440 in 2012, close to 50 farmer suicides every single day of the year, as per the National Crime Records Bureau. The government itself admits that since 1995, more than 300,000 farmers have committed suicide.

Leaving aside our pseudo-intellectual ministers, it’s more important to understand the real problems of agriculture. At the farm level, the usual suspects are clearly the ones that are addressed the least. The acreage in India has been around 140 million hectares, but with the number of farmers increasing, the divisions in land have resulted in decrease in productivity and diminishing economies of scale, what to say about reduced financing options and killing debt traps. Apart from this, lack of irrigation, warehousing/cold-storage facilities, and an almost non-existent technology support from the government also are critical issues for farmers, pushing them towards destitution.
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