‘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
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.