‘We plan to repli­cate the MP model of agri­cul­tural growth’

Union min­is­ter for agri­cul­ture and farmer wel­fare RADHA MOHAN SINGH on how his min­istry coped with two back to back droughts and how the gov­ern­ment in­tends to ad­dress struc­tural prob­lems in agri­cul­ture

India Today - - COVER STORY -

Q. The 1.7 per cent agri­cul­tural growth in the past three years (2014-2017) of the Naren­dra Modi-led NDA gov­ern­ment is much lower than the 3.6 per cent in the last three years of the Man­mo­han Singh gov­ern­ment.

A. I do not agree with this com­par­i­son. We’ve had two back to back droughts—an un­prece­dented four con­sec­u­tive fail­ures of Kharif, Rabi, Kharif, Rabi crop be­tween 2014 and 2016. Yet con­sider the lev­els of pro­duc­tion: 252 mil­lion tonnes of food­grains both in 2014-15 and 2015-16. With one nor­mal mon­soon in 2016-17, the pro­duc­tion of food­grains is al­ready 273 mt and that of fruits and veg­eta­bles 287 mt, sur­pass­ing the ear­lier record pro­duc­tion of 2013-14.

Q. How does your min­istry plan to dou­ble real in­comes in five years when it is usu­ally pos­si­ble only in 20 years? A. Mad­hya Pradesh, un­der a BJP gov­ern­ment, has shown that an agri-GSDP (gross state do­mes­tic prod­uct) growth of 9.7 per cent be­tween 2005-06 and 2014-15—in sharp con­trast to the all-In­dia agri-GDP growth of 3.5 per cent—is pos­si­ble. We plan to repli­cate the MP model of agri­cul­tural growth in the rest of the coun­try.

Q. In­dian agri­cul­ture suf­fers from struc­tural prob­lems, given the tiny size of land hold­ings and low agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity. How will the gov­ern­ment tackle these? A. True, the av­er­age size of In­dian farms is only 1.1 hectare and a ma­jor­ity of our farm­ers are mar­ginal. The re­sult of land be­ing trans­ferred from fa­ther to son over gen­er­a­tions is frag­men­ta­tion of land hold­ings. The NDA gov­ern­ment is work­ing on a Model Con­tract Farm­ing Act in or­der to link farm­ers. The NITI Aayog has shared a model land leas­ing act with the states, which will fa­cil­i­tate land pool­ing.

Q. Over 55 per cent of cul­tivable land has no ac­cess to ir­ri­ga­tion and is, there­fore, mon­soon de­pen­dent even today. A. The NDA gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to ex­pand­ing the area un­der ir­ri­ga­tion from 63 mil­lion hectares to 90 mil­lion hectares over the next five years.

Q. Is farm­ing be­com­ing un­vi­able with mar­ket volatil­ity and price fluc­tu­a­tions?

A. Agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion in In­dia is sea­sonal in na­ture. As it’s dif­fi­cult to strike a bal­ance be­tween sup­ply and de­mand on a macro scale, prices tend to dip im­me­di­ately after har­vest. This can be re­versed through an ef­fi­cient sup­ply chain man­age­ment, con­sist­ing of ap­pro­pri­ate stor­age and trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, which con­nects pro­duc­tion re­gions to con­sump­tion re­gions. More­over, if value is added via mod­ern agro-pro­cess­ing, the shelf life of the pro­duce will im­prove.

Q. What is the long-term so­lu­tion to In­dia’s agri­cul­tural cri­sis?

A. Farm­ing has to be made vi­able by mak­ing net re­turns pos­i­tive. The most im­por­tant pre­con­di­tion is an ef­fi­cient mar­ket­ing sys­tem. Oth­ers in­clude im­prove­ment of ru­ral in­fra­struc­ture, trans­porta­tion sys­tems, cold stor­age ca­pac­i­ties and agro-pro­cess­ing.

for­ward and back­ward link­ages, find ways of min­imis­ing wastage and ex­pand and up­scale food pro­cess­ing in the coun­try. She ex­pects this to be a job mul­ti­plier be­sides cut­ting farm­ers’ losses and re­duc­ing food in­fla­tion. “It is crim­i­nal to let food go waste in a coun­try where so many live below the poverty line,” she said. The NDA gov­ern­ment has also opened up FDI in multi-brand re­tail that sells food pro­cessed in In­dia.

En­cour­age farmer co­op­er­a­tives. Farm­ers have no in­sti­tu­tional sup­port cur­rently ex­cept co­op­er­a­tives in some places in Gu­jarat and the cot­ton­grow­ing re­gion of Ma­ha­rash­tra. “Agri­cul­ture pros­pers with such co­op­er­a­tives, which can be also run pro­fes­sion­ally un­der cor­po­rate prin­ci­ples like in Anand. Skills and tech­nol­ogy must be integrated with the na­tional agri­cul­tural mar­ket,” con­cludes Alagh.

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