Dr BK Mukhopadhyay
The Agriculture sector has been showing a topsy-turvy rate of growth over the years. Which is to be blamed – planning methods, implementation or both?
No doubt, over the last decade, Indian agriculture has become more robust with record production of foodgrains and oilseeds. Increased procurement, consequently, has added huge stocks of foodgrains in the graries. India is one of the world’s top producers of rice, wheat, milk, fruits, and vegetables. However, given that India is still home to a quarter of all undernourished people in the world and since on an average almost half the total expenditure of about half the households is on food, increasing the efficiency of the farm-to-fork value chain is crucial for elimiting poverty and malnutrition
Let us go deeper. The reality is - In India’s planning this is nothing uncommon – set high targets and become a laggard ultimately! Most of the plans lack the realistic touch in as much as sectoral target fixing cannot ignore the spatial dimensions, regiol peculiarities and related other sociological factors. More often the politics pushes back the economic positives. Rather economics is used for achieving political purposes. Not only is this a reality in India, but in the entire developing world. Either projects are not taken up or even when the same is taken up, the rate of progress remains at a palpably low level – cost escalation is rewarded! What is more, projects completed are not subsequently followed up or supervised adequately, as a result of which the same assignment is repeated within a short span of time involving more expense.
This is a reality for the farm sector as well. Target for 12th Five year Plan has been, no doubt, nicely placed. But the rate of growth remains the same traditiol in ture and there has not been much achievement as a result. Can it be said with confidence that another big setback will not to be there again by March 2017, so far as achieving the target!
The potentialities are still so high – neighbours’ envy. How many countries are there in the world that can produce grapes twice in a year! The quality of many horticultural crops ebles India to remain largely unbeatable in the global market. In spite of competition becoming intense we are able to retain the markets for many agri-commodities. The flip side – we have to remain contented with less than 1 percent share in global trade in agri-commodies.
So there is no ground for complacency, rather the time is ripe for looking at inhibiting factors. It is very difficult to understand why the pulses [main protein source for vegetarians] output hovers around 13–18 million tonnes since the 1960’s. Among crops, it is still considered a second class citizen – though there is no doubt that a number of programmes have been taken by the Government to grow pulses. But poor implementation continues to hit hard.
The point here is that had we been one of the grain bowls [still the scope remains], by now we could have reaped large benefits from rising intertiol prices of the agri-commodities. The most important factor on this score is that demand for such commodities – especially foodgrains – will never come down. Rather it is all set to go up over time. Population explosion, coupled with growing demand from industrial sectors, could keep the demand at reasobly high level.
Be as it may, the lead is to come from the two giants – India and Chi. As a matter of fact the world has to depend on these two countries in the days to come. Chi has, of late, also been stressing hard on this sector, clearly realising that big industries alone or an export-led growth ultimately hinges heavily on how the food factor extends support. For India, fortutely that sort of negligence has not been there – the missing factor remained at not properly exploring the resources at a quicker pace. Had it been so, by now we could have ruled the world so far as many such commodities are concerned. A lot thus depend on realistic assumptions / projections.
One has to become a dependent supplier so as to retain the market entry gained - sometimes exporting cotton in a bigger way, while in the subsequent years almost aloof from exporting, catering to only mills’ demand. For onion too, the same thing happened.
Most of the least developed economies depend on a handful of such agri-commodities, and any way, if the export market is hit [like the recent recession], the export earnings suffer.
Agricultural risks magement has thus now emerged as the key are. Food security is such an area where no compromise can simply be made. Either one becomes self-sufficient in vital areas or suffers.
That is why there is the urgent need to go for overall farm development efforts. For that matter, needless to say infrastructure holds the key. The loss incurred during the entire production process inclusive of the damage done in unscientific threshing, rat mece, field loss - can be minimised. Without proper training imparted to farmers as regards post harvest technology, not much can be expected on this score. Connectivity between the producing zone and the selling zones calls for immediate reinforcing. Buy-back arrangement is obviously a good process, provided the actual producer receives the legitimate benefit in due course.
That is why agricultural modernization has no altertives. Area under cultivation cannot be raised continuously even if the fallow land is brought within cultivation [not more than 10 percent in a year]. The question is regarding availability of quality seeds, bio fertiliser application, and filly technological consolidation of holdings. Best water use process is another area that deserves attention. Here also, scientific planning regarding exploration of ground water holds the key as indiscrimite use gives rise to other problems. Surface water utilization has also not been optimally done.
In fact the problems are so vast that every aspect requires individual care. Fortutely India is blessed with a number of good agricultural universities, personnel having the necessary knowledge, backed by Government encouragement plus skilled farmers. But where is the harm to learn more from the rich experiences in the West and countries like Israel? Water magement is something that we have to learn from them, among others, for example.
The upshot is that whichever country that did not attach enough importance on this score had to bear the brunt. It is also a fact that overnight success is not more than wishful thinking. Systematic planning is the only way out. And for that matter, the tools of regiol planning can be readily made use of. Regiol peculiarities must be the starting point of any realistic decision making on this score. Economic factors alone cannot give full-fledged guidance as the strength of non-economic factors count for no less. There is always a gap between the cup and the lip. Initiating change has never been an easy matter and change resisting factors must be counted for.
It is crystal clear that to become a strong force in intertiol markets, a good production base is a must. if the produced items cannot be stored as per requirement, and then the stored items are not timely made use of [agri-goods are perishable in ture], lots of potentialities would get lost inclusive of the huge investment incurred.
Revamp the training systems and procedures – punish the culprits who squandered people’s money! Let us keep our hopes alive!!
(The Writer, a noted Magement Economist and an Intertiol Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs, can be reached at email@example.com)