[Opinion] Indian agriculture prepares itself for new phase

Saturday, May 26, 2012
By Prabeer Kumar Basu*

Indian agriculture is on a long-term growth path. Not only is it growing steadily, it has become more diverse and resilient as compared to the past. This despite many challenges such as high dependence on monsoon rains, pressure on cultivable land and water resources, and climate change.

As per the latest crop production data available, India produced a record 252.56 million tonnes of foodgrains in 2011-12. Many major food crops such as rice, wheat and urad have seen record levels of production. Among non-food crops, cotton production too has crossed the earlier record. The production of fruits and vegetables also has seen significant rise in production.

While this rise in production of various crops has been helped by a favourable monsoon, it would not have been possible without the many new initiatives taken by the Central Government, the support given by State Governments to agriculture, and positive response from the farming community.

Focused Approach Pays

During the last five years, the Central Government has initiated a number of new schemes with focus on crops and areas with potential for high productivity. The approach has been to harness the unutilized potential by encouraging best practices, distributing quality inputs, bridging   gaps   and    -   no   less   important   -   constantly   monitoring implementation.

One of the major focused interventions for increasing the production of rice, wheat and pulses in a time-bound manner is the National Food Security Mission (NFSM). This mega scheme is in operation in 480 districts in 18 states. The targets for enhanced production of rice by 10 million tonnes, wheat by 8 million tonnes and pulses by 2 million tonnes by 2012 with NFSM interventions have already been achieved.

An area focused scheme, Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India, was started two years back to give a boost to foodgrain production in the eastern parts of the country, which remained untouched by the Green Revolution of ‘60s and ‘70s. This scheme is in operation in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The production figures of the last two seasons from this area show that the scheme is helping in fast rise in production of crops, especially rice.

Since pulses are a very important source of protein and India has to import a large part of its pulses requirement, a series of steps have been taken in the recent years to promote production of these crops. While pulses have been integral to the NFSM scheme, a new programme of Integrated Development of 60,000 Pulses Village in Rainfed Areas is being implemented in 11 major pulses growing States, specifically to promote pulses production in rainfed area. So as to intensify the effort, villages have been selected and locally suitable practices are promoted in these villages.

New crop specific initiatives include setting up of a National Mission to promote saffron cultivation in Jammu & Kashmir and a National Bamboo Mission in 27 States. Specific programmes are in operation to promote vegetable cultivation near cities, oilpalm, other oilseeds, maize, millets and fodder crops.

Encouraging States to Invest in Agriculture

A Rs. 25,000 crore scheme, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), was launched five years ago to incentivizing States to invest more in agriculture. The structure of the scheme is such that States have complete flexibility in use of funds for any activity that supports farming and allied activities. States are also given awards for their achievements. Planning for RKVY projects starts at district level to cater to local needs. This single scheme has resulted in significant rise in investments coming from States towards agriculture, and it will have a long term impact towards invigorating the entire agriculture sector. In the last five years, States have used RKVY funds and supplemented these with their own funds for projects in areas ranging from land reclamation, micro-irrigation, organic farming, mechanization, creation of storage facilities and seed farms to dairy development and fisheries.

Rising Investment in Agriculture

The growth of Indian agriculture remained stagnant after the green revolution mainly due to low level of investment. The trend, however, has reversed in the last few years, especially after launch of RKVY and government's high focus on food security. The Gross Capital Formation (GCF) - a measure of investment - in agriculture sector has risen from about Rs. 76,000 crore in 2004-05 to over Rs. 142,000 crore in 2010-11. While GCF was 13.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in agriculture in 2004-05, it is over 20% now. State Plan expenditure on agriculture has grown substantially since the launch of RKVY. States were allocating about 4.9% of their plan funds to agriculture five years back; in 2010-11 they allocated 6.04% to agriculture.

Farmers Must Get Their Due

So that farmers get remunerative prices for their produce, the Government announces Minimum Support Prices (MSP) of major crops and makes provisions for procurement of the produce at MSP through various agencies. The MSP of major foodgrains, especially pulses, have been raised substantially in the last few years. The rise has been more pronounced in the case of pulses and millets - the protein crops.

Ensuring remunerative prices for major foodgrains is also one of the major planks of the strategy for growing enough foodgrains to meet India's demand and generating surplus. This is perhaps one factor that has contributed in a major way to the record production of a large number of crops in the recent years.

Credit: A Key Input

Farming operations require funds starting from preparing the field for cultivation until the harvest is sold in the market. The farmer also needs money for other operations, purchase of machinery, dairying, animal husbandry and many more activities. Availability of credit, and in right quantity, therefore, is a very critical requirement for various farming operations.

The Government is striving to reach credit in adequate quantity and at low interest to farmers when they need it. There is special emphasis on bringing all farmers, especially small farmers, under institutional credit so that they are not fleeced by moneylenders. The thrust given to institutional credit has resulted in the growth of farm credit from about Rs. 85,000 crore seven years back to above Rs. 5 lakh crore this year. The Government has been paying subsidy (interest subvention) on farm loans to make them affordable. Because of this, farm loans are available at 7% per year and crop loans up to Rs. 3 lakh at 4% per year.

Horticulture and Food Processing : The Sunrise Sectors

For fast growth in horticulture, a National Horticulture Mission has been established. Another similar Mission is in operation to look into the special needs of hilly States with regard to horticulture. These schemes have been giving support to States and individual farmers for a large number of horticulture related activities starting from providing quality planting material to storage, marketing and processing.

The Government is giving incentives to entrepreneurs, farmers and state agencies to create storage and marketing facilities for grains as well as the highly perishable horticultural produce.

For encouraging the food processing sector, Mega Food Parks are being set up throughout the country so that industries get all services at one place.

These and many other initiatives taken in the recent years are bolstering the intrinsic strength of Indian agriculture and making it more productive. These will help it not only face the challenges of deficient monsoon, climate change etc but also keep it on the path of sustainable growth. (PIB Features)

(*Prabeer Kumar Basu is the Secretary, Agriculture & Cooperation, Government of India. The views expressed by the author in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of news.BDTV.in)

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