HOPE TAKES ROOT
From a slow, drought-affected start, the Modi government’s initiatives for farmers are finally beginning to show results
OR INDIAN AGRICULTURE, IT is the best of times, it is the worst of times. No central government has passed so many reforms in such short time, be it crop insurance, soil health cards, national markets for agriculture, reviving irrigation projects stuck for the past two decades, new seeds, technology and mechanisation or post-production initiatives.
Yet, average agricultural growth was just 1.7 per cent between 2014 and 2017, compared to 3.6 per cent in the last three years of UPA-II (2011-14). The result has been huge rural indebtedness and rising farmer suicides.
Ask Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh and he attributes it to the back-to-back droughts soon after the NDA government took over. “Since Independence, never have four crops (two Kharif and two Rabi) been destroyed consecutively,” he says. “Despite this, the agricultural growth rate shot up to 4 per cent in 2016-17 after a system was put in place.” Public expenditure by the NDA government on different aspects of agriculture—irrigation, insurance, fisheries, dairy, agricultural education—has been much higher than it was under the previous two UPA governments.
However, the tardy agricultural growth rate of the first three years, according to ICRIER professor Ashok Gulati, is “likely to lead to a failure in doubling of farmer’s [real] incomes (by 2022)— the main aim of the Modi-led NDA government”.
Agriculture ministry officials, however, beg to differ. They claim that states such as Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat show that the right reforms can lead to dramatic improvements in agricultural productivity. “Instead of emphasising food security like the previous UPA regimes,” says Ashok Dalwai, additional secretary in the ministry, “the NDA government has initiated structural reforms—largely technological and market-friendly—aimed at increasing agricultural productivity. Such reforms are bound to double farmer incomes in the long run.”