By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, July 22, 2021: Modern Agriculture is passing through unparalleled changes due to technological revolution, expansive urbanization, sharp rise in middle income groups, fast changing food habits and climate change. These unique changes offer challenges and opportunities to the ruling elites to transform agriculture to be more productive, economically remunerative, socially equitable and inclusive and above all environmentally sustainable.

Agriculture in India, however, remains an enigma and full of paradoxes. During the last five decades, the country has seen the Green Revolution in the mid-1960s followed Rainbow Revolution (White, Yellow and Blue Revolutions), agricultural and food production rose over four-fold, even several major commodities recorded 4 to 10 fold increases, food grains reaching more than 290 million ton (mlt), horticultural produce over 315 mlt, milk production nearly 180 mlt, and fish production approaching 12 mlt. India thus globally ranked among the top two producers of several major commodities and the country emerged as the second largest agrarian economy in the world and became a major agri-food exporter.

The paradox is that India is one of the very few countries in the world where number of malnourished children under five has increased during the past decade, from about 22 million in 2005-06 to over 25 million in 2015-16, being home to 50 per cent of the world’s wasted and stunted children. India will be the most populous country in the world by 2059 with an estimated 1.7 billion by 2050, beyond China’s population by 400 million people. With only 2.3 percent of the world’s land and less than 4 percent of the global fresh water, India has to feed 18 percent of the world’s population. Keeping in mind the need to ensure food security, India pursued high-productivity agriculture with state support, which ironically has been gradually withdrawn leading to agrarian distress.

In most developed countries including Japan and United States, agriculture survives on huge government subsidies due to peculiarities of the sector. Most developed countries of the world and some developing countries provide substantial agricultural subsidy, which has been a bone of contention between India and many developed countries at the World Trade Organization. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) database, while OECD and European countries provided production subsidy in the range between 15% and 20%, Countries like Norway, Japan and South Korea gave subsidy in the range of 40%–60%.

Among the developing countries, China has been able to raise its productivity substantially. It also provides substantial subsidy to agriculture. While agricultural productivity in India is quite low compared to the developed world, it is quite comparable in the case of Punjab in India. This indicates that it is difficult to achieve and sustain high agricultural productivity without state support. But, India’s production subsidy has been consistently in the negative.

No one cane dispute the fact that agriculture in India is undergoing a crisis situation. Agrarian distress has led farmers to commit suicide in recent years. The root cause of the crisis is that agriculture is no more a profitable economic activity when compared to other enterprises. In order to make agriculture a profitable enterprise and attract the farmers to continue the crop production activities, the government should augment its investment and expenditure in the farm sector.

In 2004, the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) was constituted under the chairmanship of Professor M.S. Swaminathan, which clearly identified unfinished agenda in land reform, quantity and quality of water, technology fatigue, access, adequacy and timeliness of institutional credit, and opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing as the major causes of the agrarian crisis. Adverse meteorological factors add to these problems. Farmers need to have assured access and control over basic resources, which include land, water, bio resources, credit and insurance, technology and knowledge management, and markets. Besides, the NCF recommends that “Agriculture” be inserted in the Concurrent List of the Constitution.

Aware of the challenges, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pledged on 15 August 2017 to build a New India by 2022. He envisioned an innovation-driven, vibrant, healthy, prosperous, and peaceful India which must also be free from abject poverty, hunger and under-nutrition. But the Coronavirus outbreak last year has come as a bolt from the blue. All sectors such as manufacturing, mining and quarrying, construction and real estate, trade, electricity, gas and water supply, transport and communication, hotels, finance and insurance, business services, community and social services, went into red in the last fiscal year, except for agriculture. Harvesting season last year saw some difficulty in the form of labor shortage and market closure as most of the migrant workforce chose to leave for their hometowns. With the second wave, spiraling cases, and imminent lock downs, this year too, agriculture may remain the only bright spot in the Indian economy.

Last year, Modi ensured passage of three new farm bills by the Parliament apparently to facilitate the farmers earning higher income. Of the three laws while one – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm services Act and the Amendment to the Essential Commodities Act. The Supreme Court in January this year had put on hold the Centre’s new farm laws.

Meanwhile, continuing their protests for over eight months, on Thursday held demonstrations at Jantar Mantar in Delhi demanding withdrawal of three farm laws and implementation of Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations. In true democratic spirit, the Modi government should break the impasse over the stalemate on the negotiations. It is an irony that the nation does not have an agriculture policy even after more than six decades. One hopes that Modi will take the lead to come out with a national policy on agriculture incorporating the valuable recommendations of Swaminathan Commission.

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