By Lata Jha:
Despite the progress we’ve made in industrial and service sectors, there is no doubt that India is still predominantly an agricultural country. We may have come a long way from the days of dependence on US food grain to feed our poor in the 1960’s, thanks to the Green Revolution, but India is severely in need of agricultural reforms today.
Due to a rapidly growing population, rising affordability and now the Food Security ordinance, the demand for food, particularly nutritious food such as milk, eggs and meat is on the rise. Unless productivity is met with particular focus on these areas, high food inflation will be hard to combat.Â The two aspects that need instant policy attention to put Indian agriculture back on track are farm productivity and rural infrastructure. One essential requirement to healthier agricultural growth is water. With water gradually becoming a scarce commodity, we really need to adopt better water management practices like drip irrigation.
This is where the role of public investment becomes crucial. Though having risen in the past decade, private investment cannot be a substitute for public investment done in the nature of public good, such as creating embankments, irrigation networks, etc. In fact, as past experience tells us, private investments, particularly in irrigation, have led to indiscriminate use of ground water.
The second essential to increasing productivity is investing better in research and development efforts to come out with new seed varieties and better agricultural practices aimed at arid and semi-arid regions that have been lagging behind since they missed out on the Green Revolution.Â To develop vibrant, stable and fair agricultural markets, the government has to reduce its intervention in the pricing and movement of agricultural commodities and, instead, focus on developing adequate market infrastructure in rural areas, where farmers can get good prices for their products. In some eastern states, farmers are not even aware of the minimum support price for paddy due to lack of markets.
It is important to realise that improved agricultural efficiency will be tied up to constant attention towards water management, soil conservation, nutrient balance and livelihood. Only a holistic approach can today revive the country’s waning agricultural productivity.