Looking at the past few plan documents of our country and GDP’s sectoral composition can, beyond doubt, clarify one thing. There’s a growing negligence in examining the prospective role agriculture can play in accomplishing our cherished long-term goals of inclusive and balanced growth. There has been a proliferation of industries based on the glorious experiences of developed countries without any attempts to understand the institutional framework and the larger picture or the ground reality of our country. There are policies like ‘Make in India’ being implemented today but very few with the same kind of intensity and goodwill are currently trying to boost agricultural productivity.
Several policymakers have labelled Indian agriculture to be a stagnant traditional sector and have, in fact, stressed the need for expanding our manufacturing and service sectors, often, ironically, at the expense of agriculture. Our policies’ exclusive focus and increasingly unbalanced allocation of resources, coupled with unpredictable climate change, has led to a surge in farmer suicides in our country over the past few years.
Generations have gone by with obsessive excuses for the declining share of agriculture in GDP. It is argued that this is an inevitable outcome of the very limited scope for division of labour unlike in the modern sophisticated manufacturing and tertiary sectors of our economy. But what needs to be examined is whether we have really taken any initiative to ensure optimal capitalisation of agriculture with growing opportunities, increased access to markets and timely assistance. This could have been done through effective sales promotion campaigns so that every farmer practising near-subsistence farming could gain better value for his produce in the markets.
No person is arguing that industrialisation isn’t necessary. As countries progress, industrialisation and mechanisation are almost inevitable. What needs to be established is whether agriculture has truly stagnated before we give up entirely on this sector which employs a huge chunk of our population. Closely observing the ground reality, it becomes almost explicitly clear that agriculture is definitely not a stagnated sector. Also, several important studies have to be conducted in rural areas to ensure that all the infrastructural requirements have been met for the agricultural sector to be able to deliver to its full potential.
Of late, policy makers have justified their lack of optimism about agriculture by giving various excuses. For example, it is said that the agricultural sector is unfit to deliver even after several waivers like subsidised electricity and irrigational facilities. There is no attention paid to the fact that in several areas in our country, agriculture is practised more for subsistence than generating tonnes of marketable surplus. On many occasions, farmers are given no guidance on marketing their produce.
Thus, there is an unbalanced rush to revive India’s manufacturing sector without delivering on aspects like cold storage facilities, entitlements for agricultural labourers (not necessarily farmers because government allowances given to farmers may not always trickle down to the landless agricultural labourers who are the actual tillers of the soil). By examining the trajectories of the ‘East Asian Tigers’ (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) for instance, we can understand the centrality of agricultural reform to any country’s sustained economic development.
There is also another fallacy that there is always a surplus of agricultural labourers in the countryside who must be transferred to productive industries in the urban sector. It must be borne in mind that in several areas across the country, there is a serious dearth of agricultural labourers. Furthermore, expecting the agricultural sector to thrive and catch up with the mechanised industrial sector is way too unfair unless we ensure basic facilities like refrigeration, packaging, etc. These become all the more imperative when there is a bumper crop and eventually many tonnes of perished consumables have to be thrown out due to the absence of these facilities.
This negligence can impair our sustainability in the long run because there can be no question about the significance of agriculture on which the majority of our population depends for its livelihood. At least, until the time our industries are developed enough to absorb people who fall out of agriculture. Unfortunately, over the years, there have been very few attempts to create linkages and incorporate our agricultural sector into our broader economic framework. Thus, the agricultural sector should not be considered stagnant without exploring avenues for improving agricultural productivity.