(Disruptive biological and information technologies offer a never-before opportunity for transformation of Bharat).
A cognoscenti used a cricket metaphor for the Indian economy. Of the 22 players, a handful get all the attention, while other players wait patiently for their magic moment. Bowlers account for under half the numbers, they take all the wickets, but account for barely 20 percent of the runs scored—like agriculture, which employs over 50 percent of workers, but accounts for under 20 percent of GDP.
The urban mind-set and frenzy must now reach Bharat. Earlier this month, Narayan Khadke, 78, of Walsawangi returned his 1983 Sheti Nishtha award. Farmers’ leader Kishore Tiwari says that the Maharashtra CM’s plan to tackle the “worst ever agrarian crisis has failed to take off due to rampant corruption and an insensitive bureaucracy.” On the positive side, the PM has unveiled the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and the National Agriculture Market, a digital platform for farmers to sell their produce anywhere in India. FM Jaitley has held out the promise of an agriculture-focused budget. Agriculture has been important enough to be discussed and funded big-time for 60 years, yet has produced inadequate results.
In The Fourth Revolution, authors John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge argue that “dysfunctional government has become a cliché….countries’ success depends overwhelmingly on their ability to reinvent the State….govern the world of Google and Facebook with a quill pen and abacus” In Rebooting India, Nandan Nilekani states “government as an enabler of people’s aspiration ….implies a radical rethink.”
India has no well accepted and consistent National Agricultural Policy. In the first phase from independence till 1965, agriculture lurched amidst multiple pulls and pressures. The food crisis of the mid-sixties led to the second phase, when enormous success was achieved in managing political consensus and in adopting new technologies. The green revolution phase ran its course until 2000 when the third phase began.
In 2000, a new National Agricultural Policy was announced by the Vajpayee government “to achieve an agricultural growth of 4 percent per annum (not achieved), to strengthen the rural infrastructure, to offer a decent standard of living to farmers and to speed up value-added agricultural growth.” The next government of Dr Manmohan Singh received a report from the National Commission on Farmers in 2006. However we still have no National Agricultural Policy—there are bits and pieces with no over-arching framework.
In transformation management, frameworks inspire participants that “they are building a cathedral, not laying bricks.” Dr YK 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.” The country needs an integrated framework to transform agriculture and a version has been suggested in a recent paper. (What India Can Do Differently in Agriculture—Sarthak Krishi by Dr YSP Thorat and R. Gopalakrishnan http://www.tata.com/article/inside/Sarthak-Krishi-Yojana).
What kind of disruptive measures can bring a frenetic energy to the farm sector? Firstly, a Mandela-style initiative for rapprochement and to agree a national agenda for agriculture. It makes good economic and political sense for all parties if the ruling party would initiate with sincerity. If the effort to build consensus for GST had gone into building a consensus on improving farm economics and well-being, it would have a far higher impact!! Managing water, implementing farmer-friendly produce-marketing measures and applying modern science, all are illustrative candidates.
Secondly, reorient the research effort to be market and farmer-led with a scientific approach to experimentation. Bt cotton has disrupted Indian cotton production. New ideas like the nutrient buffer power concept (Dr KP Nair), micro-irrigation and deployment of drones can transform soil management. We need to reimagine a new framework for agriculture and inject technological vibrancy. Thirdly, with all its fabled software skills, India must connect farmers through a taobao-style digital network. Private sector start-ups are already working in this area.
Fourth, agriculture needs the equivalent of SMEs/MSMEs of industry. India needs someone, maybe NABARD, to lead willing farmers to form FPOs under the Companies Act so that farmers will become somewhat bankable. But there is a counter-impactful SARFAESI Act, 2002 (Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest) which deals with the regulation, securitisation and reconstruction of financial assets. However the Act specifically excludes “any security interest in agricultural land.” Fifth, include agriculture in the Skills efforts of the country by launching ATTIs just as ITIs were started for industrialisation. If FPOs are formed, the farmers need management and governance skills. Is there any reason why India needs only defence and aerospace production and not more efficient food production as part of Make in India?
Sixth and last, restore public investment in rural infrastructure–check dams and bunds for water, rural roads, and warehousing. Increase irrigated area from 48 percent to 60 percent over a few years. Revamp the MSP regime, which began as a support but has become a crutch. Rationalise the heavy subsidy regime on fertilisers. The current policy has strangulated the nutrient industry and distorted the national soil map.
Many committees that have suggested what should be done; India needs the framework of a National Agricultural Policy for the how.