69 years after Independence Where is our farm sector?
Agriculture plays an essential role in the process of economic development of less developed countries like India. Besides providing food to nation, agriculture releases labour, provides saving, contributes to market of industrial goods and earns foreign exchange. Agricultural development is an integral part of overall economic development. In India, agriculture was the main source of national income and occupation at the time of Independence. Agriculture and allied activities contributed nearly 50 per cent to India’s national income. Around 72 per cent of total working population was engaged in agriculture. These confirm that Indian economy was a backward and agricultural-based economy at the time of Independence. After 69 year of Independence, the share of agriculture in total national income declined from 50 per cent in 1950 to 18 per cent in 2015-16. But even today more than 60 per cent of workforce is engaged in agriculture.
A reference to agriculture’s performance in the pre-Independence period (approx. 1901-1950) may not be considered quite relevant, but legacies do matter and the state of agriculture as inherited from the colonial days in India is not quite irrelevant for the assessment of the post-Independence performance. George Blyn’s study has revealed that between 1891 and 1947, aggregate grain output in British India increased at an average rate of 0.11 per cent per year. In fact, in the latter half of the period, the growth rate was a negligible 0.03 per cent. This was from where agriculture in independent India took off.
“Post-1947 agricultural policies are the root of India’s farm crises”
“Alexander Walker, a British historian had come to India in 1860 and had written that ‘History of India means agricultural history of India’. In Vedic times, people of Bharat used to connect agriculture with culture that is ‘Krishi samskriti, but now-a-days it has become ‘Krishi Niti’. Time has changed, so did discussions on farming activities, which have been stopped in India. The prevailing agrarian crisis has its origin in the policies adopted in the post independence period,” said Bhaiyyaji Joshi, Sarkaryavah, RSS, while presenting his critical assessment of the practices followed during the Green Revolution to ascertain if those actually benefited people on the occasion of release of the Agricultural Atlas of Madhya Pradesh on June 1, 2016 at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) auditorium in Delhi recently. “We need to ponder over if agricultural practices adopted in the name of Green Revolution actually benefited us. This needs to be reviewed honestly and needs to be studied, based on which our policies for the future can be drafted.”
He said the agricultural policies adopted after 1947 were ‘different from the country’s psyche’ leading to current problems. “I won’t raise questions on the honesty of the leadership then but their thinking though is questionable. The policies drafted in a bid to take the country forward were different from the original psyche of the country, following
which we are faced with current problems,” he said. These policies ended the freedom farmers enjoyed and made them dependent on big companies for seeds, fertilisers and other input aspects.
Data published by agriculture department has various loopholes. Collection of data at grass roots levels is not authentic, so how can farmers expect best of agrarian polices from government, Bhaiyyaji Joshi asked. India is an agricultural economic dependant country; also in India demography and agriculture are inter connected. Agriculture contributes only about 14 per cent to the overall GDP but its impact is felt in the manufacturing sector as well as the services sector as the rural population has become a significant consumer of goods and services in the last couple of decades. “All the cultural aspects relating to agriculture have vanished, only physical indicators like how much production is taking place have become important. If this is the parameter, then I believe we have somewhere compromised with our psyche,” he said. The RSS leader made a strong pitch for adopting agricultural policies “which are in sync with the country’s culture”. “It is a big challenge to bring about a change in the practices. We need to develop a psyche to accept the challenge,” he said and insisted that the diversity in the country’s agriculture sector needs to be maintained.
Veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi insisted on collection of accurate data for framing “right agricultural policies” and suggested studying the social changes agricultural practices have caused. “The country’s agricultural production has gone up but people are leaving villages. Such scenario needs to be studied before drafting socio-economic policies for future,” he said.
The “neglect” of agriculture for which the Indian policy-makers have often been criticised is generally identified with the failure to allocate an adequate share of public expenditure to agriculture. Everyone was happy that agriculture was given pride of place in India’s First Five Year Plan (1951-1956). The share of agriculture and community development in the Public Sector Outlay in the First Five Year Plan was 15.1 per cent, as against 6.3 per cent for industries and minerals. The Second Five Year Plan reversed the ranking by allocating 14.4 per cent to “industries” and 11.8 per cent to “agriculture”. Apart from this, the major sin of the Second Plan was alleged to be its preference for “rapid industrialization with particular emphasis on basic and heavy industries”. We shall not discuss here whether for a country of India’s size and geo-political situation it would have been wiser to ignore the establishment of basic industries. Apart from that, the accent on rapid industrialization does not ipso facto prove neglect of agriculture; modernization of agriculture is incompatible with such a sectoral view. In any case, the importance attached to a sector should not be judged by its share in the public sector outlay. The absolute quantum of public expenditure on agriculture in the Second Plan was raised to Rs 568 crore from Rs 357 crore in the First Plan. Besides, it may as well be argued that the First Plan “neglected” industrial development, as the planners were not yet ready with a plan of industrial development and allocated to it a meagre share of 6 per cent. Had the First Plan provided for a steel mill or better still a few power generation units and fertiliser factories, the allocation to “industries” in the First Plan would have been larger and the appearance of reversal of priorities would have been avoided. Besides, industry-agriculture linkages make it inappropriate to talk in term of “shares” of sectors in public expenditure. What is relevant is investment for agriculture, rather than investment in agriculture.
One of the most persistent criticisms of agricultural policy in India and other poor countries is that they have been deliberately “forcing producers’ prices down”. In 1964, T. W. Schultz, an American economist and Nobel laurate asked: “Why are so many poor countries (including India) placing a low economic value on their farm outputs?” Edward Mason, a ‘noted’ Havard economist wrote that the prices of food grains and some other farm outputs were held down by Government action. Michael Lipton, a British economist asserted : “Farm prices have been systematically kept down since 1960 in India”.
Anyway, during the last five decades, agricultural production has increased at an average annual rate of 2.5-3 per cent. Rigorous statistical testing does not provide strong corroboration of any sustained deceleration over this period taken as a whole. But there are some indications that the growth rates during the 1980s and the 1990s are lower than in the earlier decades, with that since 1991 being somewhat lower than in the 1980s. However, cause for concern is the marked slowing down of growth in States that are highly irrigated, which have shown the greatest dynamism in adopting new technology, and have been a significant factor in sustaining the national growth rate.
Another concern is widening economic disparities between agricultural and non-agricultural sectors and between rural and urban areas. In the early 1950s, GDP per worker in non-agricultural sectors was twice that in agriculture; currently the ratio is over 4:1. Rural-urban disparities in terms of per capita consumption expenditure, though much narrower, have also increased. Based on National Sample Survey estimates, the ratio of urban to rural per capita consumption expenditure has risen progressively from about 1.28:1 in the mid-1970s to 1.47:1 by 1999-00. There is reason to believe the NSS underestimates the extent of rural-urban inequality in consumption as also the extent of its deterioration.
Rural-urban disparities in basic social amenities have also increased in quality though not in quantity. All these have led to resentment among the rural population that the benefits of development have gone to the urban areas. That the response is to offer, assorted, but ill-thought-out, sops without addressing the deeper more basic issues of agricultural growth and rural employment, and governance is the basis for a sense of crisis.
Unfortunately, agriculture has been overtaken by other sectors such as industrial sector over time. The yield per hectare still remains low compared to the international standards, which are a result of various problems. Improper use of water, especially in rice farming areas which use large amounts of water serves as a major problem especially in times of drought and lack of water poses a major issue to the sector. This results in adverse effects during the dry seasons as no or little water is reserved.
The water logging of soil in the rice growing region has over time caused a decline in the soil fertility. The resulting effect is lower yield and a drop in the quality of crops produced. Too little or too much rain in the past seasons has caused havoc in the agricultural situation. The irregular amount of rain received has caused floods in some areas while others experience severe drought which leads to a drop in production. A large percentage of farmers are poor, which limits their ability to access new products or technology that will improve the production. This has limited growth and production in the sector and made the products unable to compete on a global market.
Despite all this, India remains an agri-powerhouse in the global scene leading in the production of rice, wheat, cotton, farmed fish, sugarcane, fruits and vegetables and so many more. To maximize our potential and production, it is imperative to take the necessary steps to combat these obstacles.
For one, reducing reliance on the monsoon will go a long way to maintaining a levelled production that is not affected by unreliable rainfall. By coming up with ways to reserve water and utilizing more responsible water management strategies, food shortages and poor production can be a thing of the past. Combating the fragmentation of productive land and discouraging dividing this land into small sections will also see an improvement in how much we reap from our farms.
Moreover, improving rural infrastructure and improving the use of modern farming methods will see an increase in per hectare production. Furthermore, it is not only up to the government but also up to us to work together to find and implement solutions that will yield globally accepted quality products.
by Sanjay k bissoyi