What India can do differently in agriculture

A griculture will surely be of great importance in the coming years. It is crucial to appreciate this reality. Although agricultural growth has been excellent since 2000, over the past two years, it has slowed. Back-to-back below-average monsoons during the past two years have strongly affected the Indian economy.

A griculture will surely be of great importance in the coming years. It is crucial to appreciate this reality. Although agricultural growth has been excellent since 2000, over the past two years, it has slowed. Back-to-back below-average monsoons during the past two years have strongly affected the Indian economy. It is fair to say urgent attention is required in this sector. After all, the agriculture and allied sectors account for a
major share of employment. Positive agricultural growth is also linked to positive politics, as is suggested by experiences of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

We both come from very different professional backgrounds. We have had a common interest in agriculture, farmers and rural India. Between us we share many years of rural exposure and luckily have experienced complementary facets. We have had a common association working on corporate boards. Our exposure of several years to Indian agriculture has enabled us to share perspectives about issues facing Indian agriculture and what India can do about
them.

Certain questions on agriculture arise naturally. First, more than half the workforce — 260 million people — is deployed in agriculture and allied sectors. There is an urgent need to upgrade skills in agronomic practices, soil / water / pest / nutrient management and post-harvest technologies. Yet, in the national discourse on skill uilding we hear very little about upgrading agricultural skills. Second, India’s agricultural exports account for about USD40 billion, which is 12-13% of India’s exports. It surely has potential to increase if we can improve roductivity and management systems. Yet, there is very little talk about agricultural production in the Make in India programme. Third, there is urgent need to expand financial inclusion in India. This can be significantly advanced if the farmer awareness is increased to form farmer producer organisations (FPOs) under the Companies Act. Such organisations can also become employers of trained and skilled agriculture workers. Yet, the drive to increase
FPOs in India is not clearly visible.

Such questions generated much discussion between us. We have been struck by the fact that India has outstanding experts in all aspects of agriculture – farm economics, agricultural markets, finance and risk management, marketing of input and output, as well as science and technology. Agriculture and farming are connected to livelihood and social mores, which makes them very complex, with interconnections among various constituents.

Together we tried to answer three questions –

  1. Although the past couple of years have been difficult for Indian agriculture, has it performed well in this millennium?
  2. Indian agriculture productivity does not compare well with other countries. What is the problem with Indian agriculture?
  3. In agriculture we must do things differently. What can be a national framework to execute a “mindful agriculture“ programme (Sarthak Krishi Yojana) by better co-ordination among independent agencies and institutions?

Our conclusion is that agriculture does not suffer from a lack of ideas, funds or government initiatives. Current initiatives and institutions are fragmented and work in silos. There is need to work together, do things differently and get centres of expertise in credit, rural development, risk management, technology and training to work together. What could be strengthened is an integrated and holistic framework, which provides a managerial
way of implementing changes.

We’ve tried to articulate an integrated framework in this paper and summarise key pillars of the framework. Many details remain, about which much has been written by experts. If the framework is worthy, then the details can be worked out and an implementation plan can be made.

To ensure the success of Sarthak Krishi Yojana, it should be a collaboratively driven project with the states, like Jan-Dhan Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The nation may benefit by having a high level, collaborative organisation, like a Krishi Aayog, to articulate features and components of the pillars, seek consensus with states and implement them as a comprehensive National Agricultural Mission. Such a move may instil enthusiasm in the sector and may invite participation.

implement them as a comprehensive National Agricultural Mission. Such a move may instil enthusiasm in the sector and may invite participation.

We are grateful to several experts for contributions to this paper. To mention a few, we acknowledge the influence of Dr YK Alagh’s book, The future of Indian Agriculture, the significant contribution of experience by V Shankar (MD and CEO, Rallis India), KR Venkatadri (COO, Rallis India), Dr KK Narayanan (MD and CEO, Metahelix Life Sciences), Dr Siddhartha Roy (economic advisor, Tata group), and the research assistance of Aruna Parimi (Tata
Services) and Rajiv Desai (Tata Sons).

R Gopalakrishnan, Dr YSP Thorat
Mumbai
October, 2015

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