Agriculture Sector- Some Critical Issues-1

Over the years, the agriculture sector contribution in GDP has reduced to only 18.6 per cent. However, as reported, Agriculture employs 60 per cent of the workforce. The number may be debatable and doubted. However, many of issues reflected in data require actions without political sloganeering.

Over 114 million of India’s 127 million farmers operate small farms. Frankly, they are farmers by default with almost no serious education of agricultural science and techniques. Strangely, agriculture is the only sector that is manned mostly by the workforce with almost no formal education about farming. It is all inherited, if at all. The farmers have hardly the desired skills in agriculture to enable them to look at farming scientifically and commercially. They hardly know when and how to move away from the production of low value cereals and pulses to other high value agri-products to make a better living for the family. The 59th NSSO survey states that the farmer is mostly dependent on informal and often unreliable sources of information: “Only 18 per cent of the farmers across the country were aware of things like bio-fertilizers. Only 29 per cent knew about the minimum support price.”

Why can’t the imparting of knowledge regarding farming in simplest possible language be made compulsory in curricula in rural schools along with training in at least one useful skill?

Vernacular newspapers, magazines, radio and TV channels that reach rural must get at least somewhat farmers-oriented.

The universities and colleges of the states teaching agricultural related subjects in higher education must establish extension centres in villages or set up call centers that can answer the queries of the farmers in their language and if necessary visit them to demonstrate. The students and faculty must get them involve with actual problems of the farmers as much as possible to make their knowledge useful.

India has all that could make India’s agriculture a great contributor to its economic strength, may be better than other countries:

· India has the world’s second largest area of arable land of 161 million hectares, more than China and only marginally smaller than that of the United States (176 million hectares).
· India has the highest area of irrigated land (55.8 million hectares, compared the China’s 54.5 million and the US’s 22.4 million hectares).
· India is also one of the world’s largest users of artificial fertilisers (11 per cent of world usage, up from 5 per cent in 1980).
· Use of tractors in India is higher than China or Australia. And it has an innovative tractor and agricultural equipment and implement manufacturing industry.

However, India’s agricultural productivity remains lower than that of China, the US and many other countries.

· For almost all crops, Indian yields are lower compared to other major growing countries.
· India’s wheat yield per acre in 2003-05 was 2,688, compared to 6,499 for the top five countries with the highest yields after excluding China.
· India has the largest cultivated area under pulses in the world, but production has decreased from 14.26 million tonnes in 1990-91 to 13.38 million tonnes in 2004-05. India would need to import an estimated three-five million tonnes in the next five years to meet domestic demand.
According to the 11th Five Year Plan targets, by 2012, food grain production should reach 337 million tonnes from 208 million in 2005-06. It means a greater than 200 per cent increase, in some cases, of production of the principal crops, with no increase in net cultivable area. Pulses production would need to more than double, to 30 million tonnes. Oilseed production is envisaged as increasing from 16 million to 58 million tonnes.

It can happen only with some extraordinary innovations from the scientists in the field to improve productivity. New plant varieties with higher yields would be the answer that can happen only through better research and technology. After all, China increased rice production from 160 to 180 million tonnes in just three years from 2003 to 2005, through intensive reforms in agricultural research. As per the China Agricultural Yearbook 2005, 2,046 new plant varieties were submitted for registration. Seed quality is tested using molecular DNA technologies.

India’s performance in this area has been miserable in comparison with China. Indian farmers still predominantly use rice varieties developed 20 years ago. India’s rate of growth of rice production is the lowest in Asia, lower than even Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In 1997, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (Icar) developed 72 new varieties of field crops that reduced to 35 by 2001.

It is unfortunate, but perhaps the scientists are neither motivated nor capable enough to take up the task before them. And that requires actions to make a breakthrough for the India’s farming bottlenecks.

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