EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

India Today - - NEWS -

The big­gest prob­lem of the In­dian econ­omy is its lop­sided struc­ture. More than 50 per cent of the coun­try’s work­force is em­ployed in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, most of them un­der­em­ployed, while it con­sti­tutes only 17 per cent of our GDP. The coun­try will never de­velop un­less a large part of this work­force is gain­fully em­ployed in other sec­tors. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi re­alised this at the be­gin­ning of his premier­ship and this is the core from which all his poli­cies and schemes flow. Skill In­dia was in­tro­duced to equip this work­force for other jobs; other schemes like Make in In­dia, Startup In­dia and Mu­dra will cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties in other sec­tors.

Many schemes have been launched to im­prove the ap­palling in­ef­fi­ciency in agri­cul­ture, but it is a her­culean task. In the last five years, agri­cul­ture has had an av­er­age an­nual growth rate of 2 per cent while the econ­omy grew at above 7 per cent. This is be­cause lit­tle has changed in agri­cul­ture for nearly half a cen­tury since the Green Rev­o­lu­tion of the 1960s which achieved the very com­mend­able goal of feed­ing the coun­try’s huge pop­u­la­tion. Over 50 years later, food­grains pro­duc­tion is the only thing look­ing up—In­dia har­vested 273 mil­lion tonnes of ce­re­als this year, its high­est yield ever. The para­dox is that ev­ery vari­able in­volved in the pur­suit of push­ing up food­grains yields, from land hold­ings, soil, wa­ter, farm­ing tech­nol­ogy and mar­kets, is in cri­sis. An es­ti­mated 3.18 lakh farm­ers com­mit­ted sui­cide be­tween 1995 and 2015, vir­tu­ally a sui­cide ev­ery half-hour. Over 55 per cent of agri­cul­ture in In­dia is still mon­soon-de­pen­dent. Droughts of­ten lead to farmer sui­cides as sub­sis­tence cul­ti­va­tors do not have the sav­ings to cush­ion them from failed mon­soons and the clutches of loan sharks.

If that wasn’t hor­ri­ble enough, a plethora of in­ter-de­pen­dent prob­lems are gnaw­ing into the ru­ral vi­tals of the world’s fastest grow­ing econ­omy. Nearly 60 per cent of over­all ir­ri­gated land is from ground­wa­ter and wa­ter ef­fi­ciency is abysmal. Our farm­ers use 2-3 times more wa­ter to pro­duce one tonne of grains than their coun­ter­parts in Brazil, China and the US. Yet, our fix­a­tion with large canals and big dams en­sures ground­wa­ter gets just 5 to 7 per cent of ir­ri­ga­tion funds.

Mean­while, av­er­age plot sizes in the coun­try have halved, from 2.3 hectares in 1970 to 1.2 hectares today. Nearly half of the total land hold­ings are rav­aged by ero­sion or al­ka­lin­ity. Al­lo­ca­tions for fer­tiliser sub­si­dies are gal­lop­ing at over 11 per cent per year. Farm mech­a­ni­sa­tion will make agri­cul­ture more cost­ef­fi­cient—the labour com­po­nent makes up as much as 40 per cent of the total cost of in­puts now. Farm­ers don’t have ac­cess to cold stor­age fa­cil­i­ties to store ex­cess pro­duce. And athough the gov­ern­ment has opened food pro­cess­ing to FDI, the in­dus­try re­mains in its in­fancy.

Trag­i­cally, no gov­ern­ment so far has tried to ad­dress the struc­tural fault­lines in agri­cul­ture, re­sort­ing in­stead to bandaid so­lu­tions like loan waivers. Ut­tar Pradesh be­came the lat­est to waive farm loans of over Rs 36,000 crore in March. It threat­ens to spark off com­pet­i­tive loan waivers in other agri-stressed states like Pun­jab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Te­lan­gana and Andhra Pradesh.

Our cover story, put to­gether by Editor (Spe­cial Projects) Ajit Jha, looks at what ails our farm­ers and also a raft of so­lu­tions, from land banks to cold chains and a shift from flood to drip ir­ri­ga­tion. It also as­sesses the for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge agri­cul­ture poses for the Modi gov­ern­ment. The prime min­is­ter has set an am­bi­tious tar­get for dou­bling farm in­comes by 2022. This presently looks like a wild prom­ise be­cause just to re­alise this, the agri­cul­ture sec­tor will have to grow at nearly three times the present rate, from 4.1 per cent to over 14 per cent. The coun­try des­per­ately needs an­other rev­o­lu­tion in agri­cul­ture for the farmer to break out of his vi­cious cy­cle of mis­ery and for us to be­come a mod­ern econ­omy.

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