India is a country of farmers with very small landholding. With the division in the farming family, the land holding is the first major causality. It gets fractionalized. Over 80% of farm families today account for and cultivate about 40% of the country’s total agricultural land. The agriculture then can sustain the family only by farming for high-value food items, such as vegetables and fruits. Surprisingly, with division of the land in members of the farmer’s family, I observed better yield because of the extra effort or competition between the members of the family. My own family got divided in five units. Today just one unit that is still engaged in farming is producing much more than what was the production when all the five units were together. I discover a similar story of the increased agricultural output in the family of my in-laws. Each of the three brother-in-laws is reaping output more than they used to get in the joint endeavour. Unfortunately, none of them have still switched over to high value agriculture. The farmers in our villages could have gone for some high value agriculture, such as pulses and oilseeds or even sugar cane. But for the reason of security at the time of harvesting due to law and order trouble, the farmers do not go for it. As reported, the small farmers in India accounted for 44% of India’s total agricultural production.
Certain social taboos are also restricting the farmers from switching over to vegetable farming that can have better yield. In good old days only the farmers of specific caste used to cultivate vegetables and sell, and people of a specific caste used to have cows and buffalos with intention of selling milk and milk products. However, the time has changed. Wherever there are facilities to sell milk, most of the families in rural areas are doing that for additional earnings.
The organized retail sector may lead to growth of contract farming. That may bring revolution in farming sector unless the entrepreneurs of retail sectors become too greedy to part with the farmers’ share. Farmers can grow organic food, vegetables, flowers, and even fruits in abundance if they get the technical input to do that. Hardly, a fraction of the country’s potential of production is getting realized as on today.
Retailers can provide the strong market linkages and enabling environment for high value farming.
As reported, Reliance Retails and Bharati have plans for contract farming.
Mahagrapes, the marketing arm of grape-producing cooperatives in Maharashtra, saw a 59% increase in their profits when they forged connections with food processing and retail firms.
For India’s Safal vegetable cooperative, farmers’ profits were nearly 80% higher when they linked to the organised market.
And all these transformation in rural India will be hastened if the educated members of the family take the agriculture with interest and as a commercial business. Education and experience will offer farmers a better chance of success, especially in export markets where compliance with foreign standards requires higher levels of awareness and knowledge. Both farmers and retail firms may gain a more equitable way of doing business with each other. Firms gain an incentive to invest resources in farmer training and capacity building, and farmers face fewer fluctuations in capital and input costs.
However, India is not far behind in adapting to technological changes. In Asia, India has emerged as a leader in genetically modified (GM) crops by tripling its area under Bt cotton to 3.8 million hectare in 2006, surpassing China, which remains at an area coverage of 3.5 million hectare, according to annual report prepared by the US-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Again, could one, ten years ago, think of that one day India will be exporting eggs in million numbers?
Let the government assume the facilitator role and provide the infrastructure such as one through the implementation of long pending irrigation projects, and the rest will be taken care of by the farmers.