THERE is popular discontent on the issues of farmers and their lot, land acquisition and proper utilisation of available land. All political parties are anxious to appear as champions of the cause of farmers. The paradox is that none has suggested a concrete solution. The contribution of agriculture to the GDP is approximately 13 per cent, according to data available for 2013, but more than 50 per cent of India’s population is dependent on agriculture. The biggest contribution to the GDP is not from industry (29.1 per cent) but from the human resource of the country-53 per cent. A humongous challenge faces us-how to shift the dependence of 50 per cent of the population away from agriculture. The impact of trade liberalisation on agriculture and the global climate change are new challenges. At the same time, fresh opportunities are emerging for Indian agriculture, such as commercialisation of agriculture, diversification towards high-value commodities, and integration with the global markets. It appears that Indian agriculture, at a crossroads, is currently facing both unprecedented challenges and unparalleled opportunities.
The key challenges are: (i) weakening of input delivery and local agri-governance systems; (ii) increasing risk in agriculture due to fluctuating weather, prices and trade policies, including the impact of globalisation; (iii) small, declining and fragmented holdings; (iv) growing marketing inefficiencies and increasing agri-waste; (v) limited employment opportunities in the non-farm sector; and (vi) innumerable cases of title deeds in various courts. Appropriate policy and institutional responses are needed to address these challenges by up-scaling and out-scaling some of the successful models evolved within and outside the country. On the brighter side, new opportunities are unfolding in the form of increased demand for agricultural commodities in both domestic and global markets as a result of higher economic growth and rising consumer income. The growing international demand for rice, wheat and maize besides that for cotton, soy meal, fish, meat, poultry and so on also opens up enormous opportunities for export. In addition, the increasing demand for high-value commodities such as fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, flowers and the like, and agri-processed products in the domestic markets is pointing towards potential prosperity that can be brought about in the farm sector. The entry of the corporate sector in developing and delivering market-driven technologies, contract farming, processing agri-products, developing organised retailing and exploring markets for exports is providing a new dimension to Indian agriculture.
But the moot question still remains as to how to involve the farming community, especially smallscale farmers, in capitalising markets and sharing the benefits arising from the new opportunities. Failing to address this problem now can lead to exploitation of the farming community, culminating in distress for small holders. Innovative policies, appropriate institutional arrangements and market-driven technologies can, on the contrary, harness the untapped opportunities and benefit the entire farming community.
Modi has to draw up a long-term agriculture governance plan, especially for farmers. Otherwise, India may turn from being a food-surplus to a food-deficit nation and, worse, have the biggest army of unemployed. This would have multiplier repercussions, which could be unmanageable.