Farm vision statement

14th January 2016, INDIAN EXPRESS

We need a national framework to address agricultural problems. The government must decide that it must do brilliantly with regard to farming. India lacks a focused managerial framework to usher in the transformation that agriculture requires.

14th January 2016, INDIAN EXPRESS

We need a national framework to address agricultural problems.

The government must decide that it must do brilliantly with regard to farming. India lacks a focused managerial framework to usher in the transformation that agriculture requires. That framework is what the Sarthak Krishi Yojana advocates (www.rallis.co.in/sarthakkrishiyojana.html).

Common readers may not have used the word “mathiness”. University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler said that economists increasingly suffer from theory-induced blindness, ignoring real-world phenomena; Paul Romer coined “mathiness” to label the misuse of mathematics in economic analyses. Mathiness is a smokescreen of equations that disguises an ideological agenda through unrealistic assumptions.

And what is “truthiness”? “Truthiness” was coined for truth that comes from the guts, not from books. American comedian and talkshow host Stephen Colbert popularised the word truthiness, thanks to the reach of television. Truthiness presents stories which are consistent with the worldview of the person telling the story. When data manipulation becomes dodgy, truthiness steps in.

If there is one subject in India’s economic agenda that is a victim of mathiness, it is farming and agriculture. My sense of truthiness hollers that India lacks a credible and focused managerial framework to usher in the transformation that agriculture requires. That is why Y.S.P. Thorat, former chairman of Nabard, and I wrote the Sarthak Krishi Yojana, meaning mindful agriculture. A 29-page booklet with appendices is indeed brief for agriculture.

India does brilliantly when the government decides to do brilliantly — green revolution, dairy revolution, Param supercomputer, Mars mission. The time has come for the government to decide that it must do brilliantly with regard to farming. India is faced with a serious crisis in farming. I wonder why our national programmes like Digital India, Skill India and Make in India have so little discourse with respect to farming, considering that over half the working population is employed in agriculture and we have over $40 billion of farm exports.

The Sarthak Krishi Yojana notes the following: One, from 1999 till 2012, India’s farming sector has experienced about the best record of growth, production and farmer income, compared to India’s record in previous comparable periods. Two, India’s “best” records of productivity lag other nations by a large margin. Three, during the last two agricultural seasons, India’s farming (and, therefore, farmers) has been devastated by inclement weather — patchy rains, drought, unseasonal weather, you name it. We, doubtless, have a crisis in a sector that employs more than half of our workforce. Four, India does not lack funds or skills. India needs an integrated, managerial framework for agriculture — state-led entrepreneurial risk-taking with respect to farming (not farmers, please note).

Eleven fine and technically sound players do not make a great cricket team — it requires a great captain, a manager and teamwork. This metaphor illustrates the problem of agriculture.

Notwithstanding the availability of several expert reports, the paper suggests a framework to be populated with expert recommendations.
Unlike industry and telecom, agriculture is a state subject. The solutions as well as actions with regard to agriculture tend to get political and fragmented. They do not lend themselves naturally to a holistic design by a single agency. In this context, it is worth noting what Y.K. Alagh has said: “The future of agriculture is not in the stars, even in a country deeply committed to the inevitability of predictable karmic outcomes… pull together the main analyses and place them in a holistic framework… Indian agriculture responds well to well-thought-out policy stimuli.”

Developing a consensus with the states and executing a national agenda is an urgent option to be exercised by the Central government.

A holistic national framework to address agricultural problems could derive structural lessons from the way India industrialised. There were four pillars on which the industrialisation strategy was based. These played out over 60 years, admittedly with flaws and strengths, but today, India is counted among the top industrial powers in the world.

Putting together a similar set of pillars for agriculture is essential for aggregating the wisdom that already exists and for addressing the development issues that the nation faces. The holistic plan should encompass technology, risk, institutions, policy and skills, and the nation needs a forward-looking Sarthak Krishi Yojana that encompasses five pillars: One, technology incubation — outcome-based technology policy encouraging research, innovation and incubation. Two, risk institutions and financing — banks and financial institutions to help promote technology infusion, insurance and mechanisation. Three, institutions of governance — promote farmer producer organisations to be agri SMEs/ MSMEs. Four, policy for farming — focus on improving human and farm productivity. Five, Skilling — agricultural technical training institutes

To ensure the success of the Sarthak Krishi Yojana, it should be a collaboratively driven project with the states similar to the Jan DhanYojana, Atal Pension Yojana and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The government must articulate the features and components that would constitute these five pillars, seek consensus with states and implement it as a comprehensive national agricultural mission. This has the chance to instil enthusiasm in the agricultural sector and invite wide participation.

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