Let us begin with positive news: around one-third of the world’s farms have adopted more environment-friendly practices while continuing to be productive, according to a very recent global assessment by 17 scientists in five countries. For arriving at the result the researchers analysed various practices, including organic farming, that uses land, water, biodiversity, labour, knowledge and technology to both grow crops and reduce environmental impacts like pesticide pollution, soil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Side by side the stern reality: In many developing economies, government after government tumble down, presidents / prime ministers succeed presidents / prime ministers, but the state of agriculture changes at a snail’s pace! So, Five Year Plans came and went away / NITI Ayog replaced raising further hopes.
The grey area, as usual, has still been the farm sector, where the uncoordinated efforts still continue to exist in spite of the GDP drum beating. It is crystal clear that tinkering around the ongoing weapons cannot help reach the target. Had we been one of the leading farm output holders, the world market could have been explored in a much better way!
The purpose here is not to belittle the results achieved, but to flash the point that we deserve better and have the ability to forge ahead. Reaching a target of 280 million tonnes+ of foodgrain output, in India, for example, [up from 51 million tonnes in 1951 when the first Five Year Plan was taken up], does not necessarily allow to be complacent!
The point here is that had we, the developing zone, have been one of the grain bowls [still the scope remains] – by now we could have reaped large benefits from the rising international prices of the agri-commodities. The most important factor on this score is that demand for such commodities – especially the food grains- 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.
Clearly, if the current trends are of any indication, the food and agricultural policy system is in disarray. The symptoms of such a disarray are not difficult to locate – incoherent / inadequate response to exploding food prices; slowdown in agricultural productivity growth; water problems; a disorderly response to continuously disturbing energy prices; rapid concentration in multinational agri-business corporations without adequate institutional innovation aiming at properly guiding them; lack of progress in addressing scarcity; widespread nutritional problems [hunger / obesity / chronic diseases ] plus agriculture-related health hazards [avian influenza, etc] and adverse impacts on climatic fluctuations.
Underinvestment in areas related to food, nutrition / agriculture [research / infrastructure / rural institutions] invite spillover effect /global impacts, among others. It is high time sincere collaborative programmes were resumed among the countries in order to adequately address opportunities and challenges.
Positive points do exist. The ongoing trend is steadily moving in terms of registering quicker growth in agricultural productivity. Good going – growth and modern farm practices and inclusive technologies are being implemented in order to foster the rural growth process. It is also a fact that cellular technologies, wireless communication networks as well as GIS-based agro-software technologies are reaching rural India to disseminate vital information and updates on weather, farming technologies, fertilizers, livestock, commodity prices as well as stock markets. Still, a huge number of villages do not have access to advanced farming technologies and interactive communication networks, not to speak of the pace of rural electrification and clean drinking water availability.
Is it not the appropriate time to broaden the sight and look at vital aspects – re-identifying policy dimensions and initiatives; capacity building through PPP, individual initiatives and joint ventures; boosting agri-business and agri-marketing; GIS mapping and harvesting trends; mitigating climatic change hazards; precision farming – optimum utilization of resources; leaning heavily on most modern agri-practises; micro-finance and microcredit and attaching top importance to food security? Needless to say the responsibilities are to be shouldered not only by banks but also Government Departments; NGOs, Commodity Exchanges; agri-marketing and State Marketing Boards and of course the Extension Departments of various States.
Time is ripe for more well-knitted coordinated actions so as to: initiate inter-sectoral-linkages; progressive decision making, information sharing and performance improvement; capacity building; creating more opportunities for partnership building, development reorganization and capacity enhancement for the rural stakeholders.
In fact, the problems are so vast that every aspect requires individual care. Fortunately, 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 management is something that we have to learn from them, among others, for example.
Clearly, agricultural modernization has no alternatives. Area under cultivation cannot be raised continuously even if the fallow land is brought within cultivation [that too not more than 10 per cent in a year]. The question is regarding the availability of quality seeds, bio-fertilizers’ applications, and finally technological consolidation of holdings. The 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.
The urgent need is there to go for overall farm development efforts. For that matter needless to say the infrastructure holds the key. The loss incurred during the entire production process inclusive of the damage done in the unscientific threshing, rat menace, field loss, can be minimized. Without proper training imparted to the 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.
The specific point here is that whichever country had not attached enough of importance on this score had to bear the brunt. 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 real decision making on this score. Economic factors alone cannot give a full-fledged guidance as the strength of non-economic factors count for no less. There is always the gap between the cup and the leap. Initiating change has never been an easy matter and change resisting factors count for.
A lot thus depends on formulating realistic policies, proper implementation and then regular practical follow up and supervision.