Con­tex­tu­al­is­ing the agrar­ian

The na­ture of In­dia’s in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion needs to be syn­chro­nised with its agri­cul­tural pro­file

Governance Now - - AGRICULTURE - Shiva­lika Gupta Gupta is a Young Pro­fes­sional at NITI Aayog. Views are per­sonal.

In­dia is look­ing at a twin set of de­vel­op­men­tal chal­lenges. First is the sus­tain­abil­ity of the ru­ral ecosys­tems for lo­cal pros­per­ity in­clud­ing en­hanc­ing farmer in­comes. sec­ond is the sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of ur­ban spa­ces in the face of fast-grow­ing bur­den on them. These twin set of chal­lenges, how­ever, are not di­choto­mous.

Pol­icy an­a­lysts have long fo­cussed on a struc­tural change the­ory where an econ­omy moves from agri­cul­ture (ru­ral) to in­dus­try (ur­ban) at the ex­pense of the for­mer as it be­comes more de­vel­oped. In prac­tice, this gives birth to a mind­set is­sue where de­vel­op­ment of ru­ral and ur­ban seems like a bi­nary choice. In our so­cio-po­lit­i­cal par­a­digm, the ur­ban is as­sumed to drive the as­pi­ra­tions for the rest of the coun­try, and farm­ing is con­sid­ered a do­main of the ru­ral; while in fact both ru­ral and ur­ban are rooted in a sys­tem that is fun­da­men­tally agri­cul­tural. The na­ture of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion can also be aligned to this agri­cul­tural na­ture. But be­fore any such pre­scrip­tion, this ar­ti­cle en­gages with the mind­set is­sue. Why is agri­cul­ture so rel­e­vant for the In­dian growth story? Why are ex­perts rais­ing con­cerns over a seem­ing ne­glect of this sec­tor? more im­por­tantly, why should you, an ur­ban reader of this jour­nal, be con­cerned about agri­cul­ture at all?

Be­cause agri­cul­ture is ex­is­ten­tial

agri­cul­ture is the ba­sis of all set­tled civil­i­sa­tion. The rel­e­vance of agri­cul­tural up­heaval as an is­sue is not just for the ru­ral, but the ur­ban as well – across re­gions, reli­gions, castes and ge­ogra­phies. equally im­por­tant is to recog­nise that ru­ral and ur­ban are part of the same con­tin­uum with farm­ing at their base, rather than bi­nary. Imag­ine a to­mor­row when the whole world be­comes ur­ban; at least some dwellers of such de­mog­ra­phy will es­sen­tially be­come farm­ers to grow food. even to­day, an es­ti­mated 194 mil­lion peo­ple live in star­va­tion in In­dia; the fig­ure is 795 mil­lion for the en­tire globe. Agri­cul­ture is also the sin­gle big­gest an­thro­pogenic in­ter­ven­tion that draws most heav­ily on nat­u­ral re­sources.

Yet the in­ad­e­quacy of struc­tures to pro­vide food for all re­mains un­ad­dressed; as is the in­ad­e­quacy of the struc­tures to pro­vide enough in­come for the pro­duc­ers of food. add to it the in­creas­ing chem­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence with food pro­duc­tion, proven to up­set soil ecosys­tem as well as dam­age hu­man health. dis­rup­tions in nat­u­ral ecosys­tems such as van­ish­ing bees are a threat to ef­fi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity in agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, and hence to food se­cu­rity. Is it merely a de­liv­ery fail­ure? Is it the farm­ers’ re­luc­tance to adopt new prac­tices? Is it be­cause of the pop­u­la­tion boom and emerg­ing land use pat­terns? Is mod­ern-day com­mer­cial econ­omy con­ducive (or not) to healthy, ful­fill­ing agri­cul­ture? do we recog­nise that sow­ing as a hu­man ac­tiv­ity is ex­ter­nal to na­ture?

We have elim­i­nated Vena’s ig­no­rance with con­scious recog­ni­tion of food se­cu­rity and en­vi­ron­men­tal threats as mat­ters of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance. We have turned to mim­ick­ing the na­ture for sus­tain­able so­lu­tions to hu­man engi­neer­ing prob­lems through bio-mimicry. But are we still liv­ing in the age of Prithu’s anger?

Be­cause agri­cul­ture drives phi­los­o­phy

The con­tri­bu­tion of agri­cul­ture in our lives is be­yond just food. The agri­cul­tural con­duct shapes our phi­los­o­phy; phi­los­o­phy drives our cul­ture; and cul­ture drives our civil­i­sa­tion. For ex­am­ple, the karmic adage ‘as you sow, so you reap’ that forms the ba­sis of credit and debit of a com­mer­cial econ­omy is rooted in agrar­ian con­duct.

de­mand-driven ex­ter­nal­i­ties in form­ing pro­duc­tion net­works im­pede na­ture from restor­ing it­self from the dis­rup­tion caused by the hu­man act of sow­ing. The deb­its in na­ture have been made, with­out pro­vid­ing much

buffer for cred­it­ing for the same. Na­ture, how­ever, if left alone, main­tains an in­her­ent bal­ance. What grows freely in na­ture may be reaped by any and all. How, then, the rules of trade driven by prin­ci­ples of max­imi­sa­tion im­pact mod­ern agri­cul­ture in spe­cific and na­ture in gen­eral? Has the wheel been re­versed – is the civil­i­sa­tion now driv­ing cul­ture to steer philoso­phies and ul­ti­mately farm­ing?

Let us go back in time to the story of Prithu, a man named in athar­vaveda said to have in­vented plough­ing – mark­ing a shift to­wards set­tled agri­cul­ture since a man could now make fur­rows to cul­ti­vate. an in­ter­pre­ta­tion in later Pu­ranic texts reads that his fa­ther Vena had been elim­i­nated for ex­ploit­ing the earth to an ex­tent that she stopped producing food. When Prithu was crowned king in a drought-hit land, the earth was still eat­ing up seeds with­out producing any­thing in re­turn. Prithu, an­gry at the earth’s in­so­lence, de­cided to ‘kill’ her only to re­alise that he and his sub­jects can­not sur­vive with­out her nour­ish­ment. He is then said to have laid the rules of sus­tain­able con­duct with the earth.

con­sider the story to be a time­line. We have elim­i­nated Vena’s ig­no­rance with con­scious recog­ni­tion of food se­cu­rity and en­vi­ron­men­tal threats as mat­ters of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance. We have turned to mim­ick­ing the na­ture for sus­tain­able so­lu­tions to hu­man engi­neer­ing prob­lems through bio-mimicry. But are we still liv­ing in the age of Prithu’s anger? The ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis loom­ing over hu­man­ity that led to cre­ation of ro­botic pol­li­na­tor bees – has that cri­sis been averted or have we made a move fur­ther closer to it?

Be­cause agri­cul­ture is key for lo­cally ac­ces­si­ble de­vel­op­ment

In­dia’s big­gest strength is the em­bod­i­ment of the triad – suit­able land, weather and in­dige­nous knowl­edge base for farm­ing. The na­ture of In­dia’s in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion needs to be syn­chro­nised with its agrar­ian na­ture. The re­cent farmer ag­i­ta­tions are only symp­to­matic of the man­ner in which agri­cul­ture has been dealt with over a long pe­riod of time, per­haps pre-dat­ing 1947. The sit­u­a­tion is such that a farm­ers’ son does not want to be­come a farmer. There are two felt im­pacts of this sit­u­a­tion: mi­gra­tion to cities for ac­cess­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, and emer­gence of the low-skill low-wage con­struc­tion sec­tor as a ma­jor ru­ral em­ployer. un­sus­tain­able as these are, they add lit­tle to the over­all well-be­ing of our so­ci­ety in the long run. mush­room­ing of lo­cal agribusi­nesses that con­sume in­put nearer to the site of pro­duc­tion, and gen­er­ate sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment at the very grass­roots can off­set the void of gain­ful em­ploy­ment in the ru­ral ar­eas.

Two im­por­tant state de­liv­er­ables are in­vest­ment and skilling. Both these in­stru­ments can be lever­aged to ef­fec­tively trans­form the agri­cul­tur­al­ist into a part­ner in growth rather than a pas­sive ben­e­fi­ciary. In­vest­ing in agri-value chains at lo­cal level con­trib­utes to all three sec­tors of the econ­omy – agri­cul­ture, man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vices. Ini­tia­tives such as mad­hya Pradesh’s cus­tom hir­ing cen­tres have mo­bilised lo­cal in­vest­ment to­wards agri-al­lied ac­tiv­i­ties. Pol­icy an­a­lysts will need to recog­nise that agri­cul­ture is an ed­u­ca­tion, a knowl­edge sys­tem in it­self. The farmer is the ul­ti­mate cus­to­dian of agrar­ian prac­tices, as he/she is the bearer of knowl­edge col­lected through years of agri­cul­tural in­ter­ac­tions with the soil. The onus will also lie on in­di­vid­ual ini­tia­tive to bring about any mean­ing to such strate­gic align­ment. Tes­ti­mony are cases from some of In­dia’s most wa­ter scarce ar­eas such as ahmed­na­gar and ad­join­ing dis­tricts where drought hit, poverty rid­den vil­lages have trans­formed them­selves to cause pros­per­ity driven re­verse mi­gra­tion. It needs to be con­sid­ered if these could de­fine In­dia’s much needed link be­tween global stew­ard­ship and lo­cally distributed sus­tain­able growth.

Arun ku­mar

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