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Is Agri Picture Yet That Rosy?

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  10 May 2016 12:00 AM GMT

By Dr B K Mukhopadhyay

If the recent trends are of any indication growth in cereal yields is slowing down comparatively in both the developed and developing countries and is projected to further slow down in the coming decades. The net cereal imports by the developing countries are forecast to be almost double by 2020, with maximum absolute increase expected in east Asia and the largest relative increase in south Asia intensifying the doubt about the food sufficiency of our country and here comes the crucial role that agricultural sector has been playing over the decades. The expectation is bound to go up if the question of food security is especially kept in view.

Let us have a closer look at the ongoing situation so far as the farm front is concerned. A comparative picture of IBSA economies would reflect the position clearly. The agricultural sector contributes about 18 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in India, 5.5 percent in Brazil and 3 percent in South Africa - consistent with the theory of economic development [in the U S the share hovers around 2 percent], share of agriculture in GDP has been declining in these countries. Agriculture remains an economic sector from the perspective of employment especially in economies of theses economies in particular. The per capita arable land per agricultural person is the lowest in India, followed by Brazil and South Africa. In Brazil about 50 percent farms are of less than 10ha in size (as against average farm size of 68ha) sharing about 3 percent of the land. On the other hand, in India farms of above 10 ha are rare. Almost Over 86 percent of the farms in India are of less than 2 ha in size, controlling around 45 percent of the land.

Obvious enough, agricultural sector’s performance has been satisfactory in India and Brazil. Growth in agricultural sector in Brazil has been largely export-led - share in global agricultural trade increased from 2.3 percent in 1991 to around 5 percent in 2015. India has also consolidated its position by increasing its export share during this period, while the share of South Africa has remained almost unchanged. So the importance of this sector is well understood. But where is the bold realistic policy and square implementation that could have led the rural economy to forge ahead!

Realistically speaking, food Security is one of the important areas which call for immediate attention especially in the background of globalization. It is a fact that in addition to macro-level efforts through production and distribution programmes, micro-level initiatives for food security were also taken up by the Government through Community Grain Banks and many non-governmental organizations have also come forward in the recent past to take up these activities, but the asking rate has been so high that a lot remains to be done before we reach at a satisfactory level.

Not only India but also for every tion adequate production and distribution of food and attaining self-sufficiency in food production have become the priorities – the concern amply spelt out by the FAO at its World Food Summit held as far back in 1996 wherein heads of different tions reaffirmed “the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free of hunger”. As per the Rome Declaration “Food Security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. What is more there was a pledge of political will and commitments to eradicate hunger in all countries with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people by half their present level not later than 2015.

Even a recent estimate made by the FAO, showed that around 826 million people in the developing world do not have enough to eat and a fifth of the world’s population representing almost all these people live in absolute poverty on less than US $ 1 per day.

That is why the question of complacency simply cannot be there, rather attainment of food security has to remain the major objective before the entire tion and a strong political will coupled with appropriate policy interventions and application of new technology could eble the country to achieve further increase in the food grain production keeping in view the huge rise in population growth. It is more so because as per recent projections growing and urbanizing population with rising incomes will increase global demand for cereals by 35 per cent between 1997 and 2020 amounting to 2,497 million tonnes and other types of food will amount to 327 million tonnes.

Side be side: the reality is - market liberalization and globalization have led to significant changes in agriculture and agri-food markets in developing countries including India, Brazil and South Africa where the food basket is changing rapidly [away from staple food grains towards high-value fresh and food commodities with increasing demand for safe and quality food]. In response, the agricultural production portfolio too has to change rapidly - a higher growth in production of high-value processed food products. The changing consumption and production patterns are to be accompanied by changes in agricultural marketing systems too since the traditiol marketing systems [domited by ad hoc transactions and middlemen] are being steadily replaced by coordited, integrated marketing systems [viz. supermarkets, retail chains and contract production]. Added to this, with unfolding of globalization a major shift is to be there in the are of agricultural exports, with increasing share of high-value and processed food products.

It has rightly been viewed by IBSA that ‘though expanding market is an opportunity for farmers to switch from subsistence towards commercial/industrialized agriculture, the transition is unlikely to be smooth. Increasing demand for food safety and quality is compelling retailers and exporters to enforce grades and standards right from genetics to end users. Farmers will be exposed to more global competition; access to global technology will be more difficult than in the past because of increasing privatization of agricultural research and stringent intellectual property regime. The population in developing countries continues to grow, though at a decelerating rate. Most of this growth will occur in urban population, implying an increasing demand for land and water for non-agricultural uses’.

Obvious enough: changing economic environment – driven by both interl and exterl forces – shows and indicates that the agricultural sector in developing countries is very likely to come under significant adjustment pressure. In a fast changing scerio, there is an increasing concern about the likely changes in the livelihoods of farmers especially small-scale farmers who earn their livelihoods by cultivating tiny pieces of land. Strategic intervention for improving efficiency, equity and sustaibility in agricultural production systems needs a holistic approach considering agriculture as a portfolio rather than its sub-components or activities independently. This approach coupled with some assessment of the major driving forces and anticipated changes, e.g. increasing energy demand and water scarcity, and underlying uncertainties like climate change and impact of intertiol trade and other agreements will determine the likely shape of agriculture in future.

Yes, the need is there for another ‘Green Revolution’ to feed the world by 2050,” as also being voiced by John Floros, referring to the development of high-yield, disease-resistant breeds of grain and other agricultural innovations that took root in the 1960s. “That will mean scientific innovations, such as new strains of the big three grains — rice, wheat and corn — adapted for a changing climate and other conditions. It also will require action to reduce a terrible waste of food that gets too little attention”, accordingly.

The ushering in of a second Green Revolution is thus urgently awaited. For example, India, requires in the next Five Year Plan more than 5 percent [as against the 4 percent target set for ongoing Five Year Plan] agri growth as otherwise the position would tantamount to putting the cart before the horse! The upshot : it is high time to examine the status, past trends and the factors underlying growth of agriculture including livestock; map possible futures for agriculture through regiol scerio alysis in terms of its likely outcomes for poverty, equity, trade and sustaibility; draw implications of the possible agricultural futures for agricultural research and development, domestic market and trade policies, institutiol developments, etc. and at the same time identify the areas for mutual cooperation for sustaible agricultural development in developing countries. The strategies for enhancing human resource capabilities among these countries should get priority attention in as much as these countries have developed capabilities in different fields of agriculture and as such the exchange of their expertise and experiences will help in sustaible agricultural development in these countries.

In this context specific need- based training programs [not the casual superficial way as had been the case in a so called high profile (!) wing of a tiol level rural development training institute in the recent past]; organizing productive semirs / workshops [not meant for heavy lunch and wasteful expenditures] on topical issues to be participated by the real experts in the are, would be of use in strengthening the resource development for agriculture sector.

(The Writer, a noted Magement Economist, an Intertiol Commentator on ongoing Business and Economic Affairs, Director Netaji Subhas Institute of Business Magement, Jharkhand, can be reached at m.bibhas@gmail.com.)

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