Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Agriculture sector neglect

In his historic ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on the eve of India’s independence from British regime, Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru said, “Everything can wait, but not agriculture.” Though Indian economy has grown by leaps and bounds, agriculture still remains an Achilles’ heel. There is a wide disparity between the producer and consumer. Farming has largely become an un-remunerative occupation. However success we may achieve, the ground reality remains that India has failed to bring its farmers to the mainstream. We have become oblivious of our villages. Can we expect a booming economy without inclusion of agriculture? In fact, this is one of the reasons why India is still a developing nation. The condition has worsened to such an extent that nobody likes to pursue farming. The NSSO estimates that 40% of farmers would like to quit farming if they had the option to do so. There are a plethora of reasons for this widespread deprivation and disenchantment. Low public investment, inadequate irrigation facilities, fragmented land holdings, low technology application and debt on farmers have spelt doom for this sector that is supposed to be the lifeline of our economy. Banks shy away from lending to farmers who have to depend mainly on the village money-lender notorious for usury and virtually looting the farmers. In fact a double-digit growth would forever elude India without a dramatic turnaround of the rural landscape. Government investment in agriculture continues to fall and whatever substantial is allotted for the farmers becomes the morsel of our corrupt politicians. One of the reasons for backwardness of Indian agriculture is its dependence on monsoons, which are largely erratic in nature. The problem of fragmented land holdings makes it inept for the use of modern machines and techniques. Farm input costs continue to rise but the output prices remain stagnant; debts are mounting but support systems are nowhere to be seen. Lack of institutional credit is the major cause of rising debts among farmers. As a result marginal farmers turn to private moneylenders for loans at high interest rates to purchase seeds, fertilizers and other agricultural inputs. The MS Swaminathan recommendation has stated the need to bridge the knowledge deficit in India’s farm sector, and without a doubt there is an urgent need for investment in research and development in agriculture. It is not that the governments have been mute spectators all these years. Still majority of farmers in India are following the out-dated farming methods due to ignorance and indifference towards the agricultural extension services. Crop selections followed in a cropping pattern or sequence are averse to the market needs and principles of farm economics. The vicious cycle of rice-wheat mono cropping is ruining the Indian soils of the precious water resources and fertility resulting in gradual barrening of the land and lowering of underground water levels. Such effects have been found more pronounced in Haryana, Punjab, Western UP, Rajasthan and central states. The effect of the legendary Green Revolution is visible only in few agriculturally rich states and upon selective crops exclusive of oilseeds and pulses. The hope that the impact of Green Revolution shall materialize as an ever Green Revolution is a distant dream. Whatever self-sufficiency we have achieved in food grain production is because of the prudent measures by past governments. Today it is a fact that Indian agriculture is in a quandary. The acquisition of farmland for industrial purposes has opened a can of worms for farmers. Privatization of farming sector is a doubled edged dagger which cannot be a remedy to the ills of this sector. The ideal step would be the use of barren land, proper compensation and industry-farmer partnership. India certainly needs a second green revolution and to usher that we will have to look back at the first green revolution model which involved collaboration between central and state governments, agricultural universities and research institutions.