THE Prime Minister of India has rightly made a clarion call to all those engaged in the agriculture sector to focus their energy and efforts on doubling farmer’s income. To my mind, there can be no two-ways about this, it is indeed the most important and critical area if India is to achieve the status of a developed nation. India has a population of 1.34 billion (2017) and according to the official census figures of 2011, 83.37 crore (68.84 per cent) live in rural areas while 37.71 crore live in urban areas. Despite urbanisation, rural markets still account for half of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is estimated to be $2.848 trillion (nominal) and $10.385 trillion (PPP) for the year 2018. The contribution of agriculture to GDP is 17.32 per cent, industry 29.02 per cent and services 53.66 per cent.
Doubling of farmer’s income doesn’t mean that the farmers are paid double the price for their produce or their yield has to double, it means that this has to be increased using multiple ways which will result in better utilisation of resources that are at the farmer’s disposal. Focus has to be on how the land can be made more productive and how the farmer can achieve more crop per drop, which is basically less water more yield that can be achieved through methods like drip irrigation. Encouraging and promoting no-till farming also called zero tillage will increase the amount of water in the soil, make the soil more fertile and resilient and also halt soil erosion.
In addition, various private-public agencies have to develop infrastructure to facilitate credit along with providing equipment on hire. This equipment must be easily available and modern so that the farmer can extract the maximum benefit from his limited resources. Here, it is pertinent to state that many farmers are not rich and don’t have the capability to buy equipment. This results in a vicious cycle, where they have to take loan thereby getting caught in a debt trap. In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau of India reported 5,650 farmer suicides. The highest farmer suicide was recorded in 2004 (18,241). This rate has ranged between 1.4 to 1.8 per 100,000 total population, over a 10-year period through 2005.
Multi-cropping in another sure shot way of boosting farmer’s income. It includes different types like inter-cropping (where the farmer grows two or more crops in the same field in a year, a classic example is sugarcane along with oilseeds, also called companion crops), mixed cropping (where two or more crops are grown simultaneously in the same field and at the same time, (here crops that have same sowing and harvesting times are chosen), relay cropping (here the farmer grows two or more crops in the same field and they enjoy the association of each other for a period of time).
Cash crop farming also called commercial farming has multiple benefits for the farmer and can be another option that can bolster farmer income. It has the potential to maximise the farmer’s profits, promote economic diversification and also earn revenue for the government. Cotton, jute, tea, tobacco, coffee and oilseeds all have tremendous potential and this needs to be looked at as a top priority, especially as most farmers in India have small tracts of land and are looking to get the maximum out of them.
Horticulture (fruits, vegetables, spices and plantation crops), is another useful activity that is yet to achieve its true potential. Though India is heading in the right direction with the agriculture ministry in its advance estimate for 2017-18 putting the total production at 305.4 million tonnes, nearly 5 million tonnes more than 2016-17.
BEEKEEPING has been pointed out by the Prime Minister as another way of contributing towards doubling farmer’s income. Since cooperatives are mainly present in the sugar and dairy sectors, there is a need to explore new sectors like beekeeping through which the farmers could bring about a ‘Sweet Revolution’ to the cooperative movement. India produces 7,000 million tonnes of honey a year, out of which 50 per cent is exported annually. However, declining bee population is a matter of grave concern for scientists in India. Nevertheless, more and more farmers need to be informed and educated about the benefits of beekeeping as this will result in greater production of honey which has an ever increasing market and will contribute in enhancing farmer’s income.
The farmer also has to be taught on how the animals (cattle, goat, sheep) at his disposal can be made more productive (through superior animal husbandry techniques) and the government needs to ensure that markets are created for the surplus that is generated from the additional yields from the animals.
While increasing food production through various means is one aspect, food wastage is another area we cannot afford to ignore. In India, 62,000 tonnes of foodgrains, mainly rice and wheat, have been damaged in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) over the past six years. Only 10 per cent of the foods get cold storage facility in our country. Therefore, to maximise the produce of the farmer, it is critical that cold chain facilities and food processing industry are focused on a priority basis as this will reduce wastage and enhance food value. There should simply be ‘no tax’ on food, irrespective of whether it is processed, sold through modern retail or the predominantly unorganised channels. Additionally, more and more people should be encouraged to invest in creating infrastructure in food processing so that the processing facilities are within reach of the maximum number of farmers. We should also not focus on very large processing units, the aim should be to have small and medium scale processing units and in large numbers.
I have no doubt that the several initiatives taken by the Government will finally deliver on the objectives set out by the Prime Minister and the farmers will see prosperity in the coming years.
The writer is Senior Vice President, ITC Ltd. The views expressed are personal.