The realities of India’s fields and farms
India’s economy planners when discussing agriculture are no closer to farm and field realities. That much is clear from a reading of the ‘Review of The Indian Economy 2010-11’, by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, released to the public on 2011 February 22.
The document had, I suspect, been finalised and was waiting for the data from the Second Advance Estimates of agricultural production for the 2010-11 year. A cursory analysis of this forms the ‘Agriculture’ section of the ‘Review’ [read the relevant portions of the Review here].
It is in the ‘Concluding Comments’ section concerning agriculture in India that the intent and direction of the current government are underlined. There are a few strong pointers:
* “As against the target of average 4 per cent growth during the Eleventh Plan period, the actual average growth is likely to be slightly less than 3 per cent.” Which only indicates that ‘growth’ in the agricultural sector will continue to be seen as a primary consideration, outweighing the sustainable use of natural resources management. The growth insistence will also mean the continued support of high-input and financially burdensome agricultural methods.
* “Somewhat in parallel, the per capita availability in grams per day has also not gone up in a context where per capita income has been rising quite strongly.” The Economic Advisory Council has not been honest enough to draw the needed connections – between population growth and therefore foodgrain demand, and the need for urgently revisiting the basis for planning agricultural cultivation at the district level.
* “The international prices for grain have been very volatile and much elevated in recent times and therefore higher levels of domestic output is an even more important factor to consider in the context of domestic food security.” This is spot on. Why doesn’t the rest of the Concluding remarks section build on this?
* “Attention must be focused on building rural infrastructure, developing technologies that are appropriate to the region which have to be disseminated – delivered in an efficient fashion. The institutions that are enjoined with this task have to be activated in a more energetic fashion.” The Concluding Remarks does not build on the above point because of such weak, vague and misguided points as this one. ‘Technologies’ and ‘Infrastructure’ for growth at 4%? Or for food security?
* “The liberalization of the economy has benefited the farm sector and as a result the terms of trade for agriculture are no longer adverse.” This is one of the Big Contradictions of the Review. No, the liberalisation of the economy has NOT benefited the farm sector. Has the Government of India and its economic planners so quickly and so completely forgotten that 200,000 farmers have committed suicide over the last decade?
* “Investment in the farm sector has also picked up substantially and capital formation as a percentage of agricultural GDP has more than doubled in the past decade.” To what end? To achieve the 4% growth target which is denominated in ‘technology’ and ‘infrastructure’ in the agri sector? Has there been even 2% annual growth in the incomes of the cultivating households?
* “There seems to be evidence that better quality seeds and superior cultural practices are available, but the delivery system for translating these to the field are lagging.” This is where the threat in the Review lies. What delivery systems and who owns them?
* “A major hurdle in agricultural development is the inefficiency of the delivery systems. There is a plethora of institutions in research, extension, credit and marketing. However, efficacy of these institutions to deliver goods and services to the country’s vast small and marginal farms section is quite limited. This is a serious cause for concern.” True. How to support this point and rescue it from the overall contradictions of the Concluding Remarks?
* “There is need therefore, to attune these various institutions to the emerging agrarian structure, which is progressively identified with the small and marginal farmers.” True.
* “A two-fold strategy is indicated for this purpose. One, to encourage farmer’s collaborative efforts as in cooperatives, or more recently in producers companies, and vertical integration of production and marketing by suitable models of contract farming.” Emphatically NO. This is not the answer.
* “Two, at the institutional level, the organizational changes to cut down the cost of transactions (e.g. through a flexible and inclusive business correspondent model) and the use of information technology for the same purpose needs to be encouraged.” True with reservations. Infotech is a means and not an end.
* “In addition both for purposes of ensuring remunerative prices for farmers as well as an anti-inflationary measure, the strengthening of organized retail, as well as use of these outlets for public distribution along with the strengthening of the existing public distribution networks, are measures that need to be tried out seriously.” This is dreadfully ill-advised and apparently motivated by the FDI-seeking stand of the central government. This point of view must be stopped immediately. Dozens of farmers’ cooperatives and small traders have clearly and vociferously rejected FDI-driven organised retail in India. This point holds the back door open for the entry of corporate retail and will be used to legitimise retail control over access to food to vulnerable rural populations.
* “Local procurement by State Government agencies provides an incentive for farmers to grow grain. Coarse cereals are a varied commodity and tastes differ across States. There is also a problem in handling coarse grains.” Yes, yes and no. This point must be supported and rescued from the other corporate-oriented directions of the Review.