Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
(The author is a Professor of Management and Economics, formerly at IIBM (RBI) Guwahati. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
India’s GDP is projected to reach $4.2 trillion in
FY24, with a nominal growth of 10.5 per-cent. However, it still needs to
achieve a 9.1 percent average growth to become the third largest economy by
2027, reaching the $5 trillion mark, and surpassing Japan as the fourth-largest
economy and Germany as the third-largest. This growth is expected to take 3
years plus, as per current goings.
Are we not feeling proud of our overall performance? Bharat is termed by many countries today as the bright spot. We have been able to present the picture before the globe – our performance in dairy, floriculture, viticulture, horticulture and so on. Still a section takes a negative view by wrongly quoting and criticizing the country’s achievements – even during their foreign tours. What harm they are doing for the country they do not care for.
It is a fact that in a number of areas we are lagging behind, and that requires corrections within a short period of time. Efforts are on.
Let us examine the agri-sector on this score.
In India’s Planning, most of the plans lacked the realistic touch, in so much as sectoral target fixing cannot ignore the spatial dimensions, regional peculiarities and related other techno-sociological factors. More than often the politics pushes beck the economic positives. Rather, economics is used for serving the political purposes. Not only this is the reality in India, but in the entire developing world also. Either the projects are not taken up, or, even when the same is taken up, the rate of progress remains at a palpably low level – project implementation delays – cost escalation is rewarded! What is more: Projects completed are not subsequently followed up and supervised adequately, as a result of which the same assignment is to be repeated within a short span of time, inviting more expenses/fund allocation.
Today, not only in Bharat, but in other developing economies also: Not only being a supplier of food, raw materials and employment, the farm sector is expected to contribute to the export wing in a much better manner, considering the need to bolster earnings vitally required for development financing. Side by side, a prominent feature of agricultural commodity exports in many developing countries is that relatively a few commodities account for a large share of total export earnings. Often they depend, and would continue to depend, on a handful of agricultural commodities for their merchandise-export revenues.
So, the importance of the agri-sector remains and would actively remain very much alive in the world during the days to come.
Potentialities no less
The potentiality still is 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 enables India to remain largely unbeatable in the global market. In spite of competition becoming intense – hotter and hotter – we are able to retain the markets for many agri-commodities. The flip side – we have to remain content with less than 1 percent share in global trade in agri-commodities!
So the question of complacency is not at all there – rather the time is ripe for looking at the inhibiting factors. It is very difficult to understand why the pulse’s [main protein source for the vegetarians] output hovers around 12–20 million tonnes since 1960’s! It is still considered as a second grade citizen – though there is no doubt that a number of programmes have been taken by the Government. Poor implementation continues to hit hard.
The point here is, that, had we been one of the grain bowls [still the scope remains], we could have reaped large benefits from the rising international prices of the agri-commodities. The most important factor on this score is that the demand for such commodities – especially the foodgrains – would never come down, rather it is all set to go up over time. Population upsurge coupled with growing demand from industrial sectors could keep the demand factor at a reasonably high level.
Whatever is, the lead is to come from the two giants – India and China. As a matter of fact, the world has to depend on these two regions in the days to come. China 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 the food factor. For India, fortunately, 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 depends on realistic assumptions/projections.
One has to become a dependent supplier so as to retain the market entry gained - sometimes exporting cotton/onion in a bigger way, while in the subsequent years almost remaining aloof from exporting, catering to only mills/domestic demand. For Onion the same thing prevailed.
Agricultural risk management has now thus emerged as the key arena.
Food security is such an area, where no compromise can simply be made. Either one becomes self-sufficient in vital areas or suffers!
Task ahead is not small
That is why the urgent need is there to go for overall farm development efforts. For that matter, needless to say, the infrastructure factor holds the key. The loss incurred during the entire production process, inclusive of the damage done in unscientific threshing, rat menace and field loss, can be minimised. Without proper training imparted to the farmers in 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 the agricultural modernization drive has no alternative. Area under cultivation cannot be raised continuously, even if the fallow land is brought within cultivation [not more than 10 percent in a year cannot be brought under cultivation as such]. The question is regarding availability of quality seeds, biofertilizers’ applications, and finally technological consolidation of holdings. Best-Water-Use-Process is another area that deserves attention. Here also scientific planning regarding exploration of groundwater holds the key, as indiscriminate 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 specific care. Fortunately, India is blessed with a number of good agricultural universities, personnel having the necessary skill/knowledge, backed by Government encouragement, plus talented farmers. But where is the harm to learn more from the rich experiences in the West and countries like Israel? Water management is something that we still have to learn, especially from the latter, among others, for example.
It is also a fact that overnight success is not more than a wishful thinking. Systematic planning is the only way out. And for that matter, the tools of regional planning can be readily made use of. Regional peculiarities must be the starting point of any realistic decision-making on this score. Economic factors alone cannot give a full-fledged guidance, as the strength of non-economic factors counts for no less. There is always the gap between the cup and the leap. Initiating change has never been an easy matter, and strength of change resisting factors count for no less.
The recent budgets, however, show some hopeful signs. At the same time, it is to be seen also, that mere allocation of funds does not serve the purpose. If the overall coordination is not there – between the institutional lenders and other development wings like electrification, irrigation, roads, among others –, not much can be achieved by tinkering around the traditional modes.
It is crystal clear that to become a strong force in the international markets, a good production base is a must. If the produced items cannot be stored as not per requirement, and then the stored items are not timely made use of [agri-goods are perishable in nature], lots of potentialities would get lost, inclusive of the huge investment incurred.