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Agricultural Growth: Speed, Skill and Stability a Must

Dr B K Mukhopadhyay

Let us begin with positive news: around one-third of the world’s farms have adopted more environmentally 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 he researchers analyzed various practices, including organic farming, that use land, water, biodiversity, labor, knowledge and technology to both grow crops and reduce environmental impacts like pesticide pollution, soil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Side by side the reality: in many developing economies, Government after Government tumble down, President / Prime Ministers succeed President / Prime Minister, but the state of agriculture changes at snails pace! So, another Five Year Plan is going to be over – a mixed performance – giving way to the next one. The major grey area, as usual, has 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 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 milliion tones+ of foodgrains output, in India, for example, [up from 51 million tones 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 reasonably high level.
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 pulses [main protein source for the vegetarians] output hovers [in India] around 12 – 19 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.
Clearly, if the current trends are of any indication, the food and agricultural policy system itself 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 spill over effect / global impacts, among others. It is high time that sincere collaborative programmes are resumed among the countries in order to adequately address opportunities and challenges.
Positive points do exist. 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, fertilisers, 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 micro credit 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 a 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 percent in a year]. The question is regarding availability of quality seeds, bio fertilisers’ applications, and finally technological consolidation of holdings. Best water use process is another area that deserves attention. Here also scientific planning regarding exploration of ground water 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 minimised. 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 realistic 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.
It must be agreed upon that In India’s planning this is nothing uncommon – set the high targets and ultimately become a laggard! Most of the Plans lack the realistic touch in as much as sectoral target fixing cannot ignore the spatial dimensions, regional peculiarities and related other sociological factors. More than often the politics pushes beck the economic positives. Rather economics is used for achieving the political purposes. Not only is this the reality in India but in the entire developing world. 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 – cost escalation is rewarded! What is more projects completed are not subsequently followed up, supervised adequately as a result of which the same assignment is to be repeated within a short span of time involving more expenses.
The potentialities still remain so high. How many countries are there in the world that can produce grapes twice in a year! The quality of many horticultural crops enables countries, like India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, 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 contended with insignificant share in global trade in agri-commodies! Strong cooperation among the developing and developed world is a must, as hunger cannot go on waiting ad infinitum!! Let there be a good inter-regional cooperation in a more practical way.
For example, an economy like India still is counted to be largest reservoir of poverty in the world, with 300 million of people, as per the national poverty line definition, and well above 800 million people just surviving on less than $2 per day! SE Asia requires immediate pep up on this score. Neglecting agriculture results in heavy immediate and future loss. The huge upcoming population in the workable category, in turn, is one of the rare assets that could give rich dividends exactly by the same route as China gained in the previous years.
Whatever is, the lead is to come from the two giants – India and China. As a matter of fact the world would heavily depend on these two regions in the days to come. China has, of late, also has been stressing hard on this sector, clearly realising that those big industries alone or an export-led growth ultimately hinges heavily on how the food factor extends support.
For India, fortunately that severe 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 depend on formulating realistic policies, implementation and then regular practical follow up and supervision.

Dr Mukhopadhyay, a noted Management Economist, an International Commentator on contemporary Business and Economic Affairs can be reached at m.bibhas@gmail.com

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