Can India Excel in Agriculture?

Agriculture is a big concern as well an opportunity for India. Unfortunately, while all the ministers holding different portfolios from agriculture to rural development, and naturally the finance, express their concerns. Sometimes, they shed crocodile tears also, particularly when the farmers resort to the extreme step of suicide. The word inclusive growth has become a fashionable expression for politicians too. None comes out with some real sustainable solutions. How does an Indian farmer household with an average of five persons to depend on the revenue of the landholding averaging 1.5 acres or 5 bighas get into affluence compared to even a lower middle class household in urban India with some employment in organized or unorganized sector?

Agriculture might be contributing to the GDP only about 17 per cent, but as per the data appearing everywhere in media, it still employs about 60 per cent of our population. Naturally, this 60% constitutes both agriculture dependent as well as those not dependent on agriculture. May be, half or one third of the 60% are farmers with some landholding of their own that averages 2 acres. Can the government experts guide the farmers to get the best from 2 acre-farm? What maximum can it yield if the best of the inputs, such as the seeds, fertilizers, and insecticides and water, are made available? What can be the best crop combination that provides the maximum revenues from the sale of the produces? Will it be Rs 1, 00, 00 per annum or twice of it? Can it suffice all the basic requirements of a family of five, such as the expenditures for medicines or hospitalization, or for those of festival time or for family functions such as a marriage and even demise in the family for being in line with the neighbourhoods? Can it make the family independent without needing any waivers or other doles? Unfortunately, in India most of these small land holders particularly from some communities of the society will never go to NREGA for adding to their revenues unless it faces a situation of starving.

Most of the farmers have hardly learnt anything in their formal education about farming techniques and practices. They are just following what they picked during their childhood from the parents or they learn from some of the successful farmers in the village or the neighbouring village. In many families, only the one who couldn’t get educated and go out, remains in farming.

However, someone in the government machinery must answer why the yield in two states say, Punjab averages a yield of 4,017 kg per hectare of wheat, whereas the Maharashtra’s yield is only just 940 kg per hectare. I don’t know how India competes with US or China. This inequity requires research, and education of the farmers of the lower yielding states. I had been asking this, whenever I meet my relative farmers in Bihar. Some claimed that they compete in paddy production but in wheat they are behind as they don’t get the seed and the amount of water required. Some even talked about the unaffordable cost of fertilizers that the farmers in Punjab do afford. They also complain about not lifting the produce at the government announced prices. Interestingly, they surprised me by revealing that the farmers from Punjab buy their produce to transport and sell to the government there. My friend in Kichha near Pant Nagar, who had been an agriculture engineer of repute and of my own batch from IIT, Kharagpur, agrees with the issues raised by the farmers of Bihar. West Bengal has been another case. During my school days in the rural areas of the state, the people considered farming as very shameful occupation. Today, the state is one of the surplus food producing states, rice and potatoes as main produces.

For example, as reported, ‘despite India being the largest producer of pulses in the world with 25 per cent of total production, 30 per cent of total consumption and 32 per cent of global acreage under pulses, productivity of pulses in India has been very low at 635 kgs per hectare, compared to best-in-class yields of around 1,900 kgs per hectare in Canada and USA.’ The main intervention is to be in these areas.

And the farmers, particularly the marginal ones, can’t do this improvement of the yield on their own.

I wish the government would have allowed land consolidation where a family of five interested in this profession as occupation can go for ownership of at least 20 acres. With the divisions in the joint families, the landholding goes on reducing with each generation, and that can’t sustain the next generation of farmers for long.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people and as incomes rise.

India has potential to feed the global shortages, but this will require a total change of mindsets of the bureaucrats, scientists, and politicians.

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