Business Standard

Harvesting progress for '47: Invest in R&D, address farm political economy

NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand, eminent agriculture economist Ashok Gulati and Chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj Ajay Vir Jakhar were part of the panel

(From left) NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand, Distinguished Professor at Icrier Ashok Gulati, and Bharat Krishak Samaj Chairman Ajay Vir Jakhar discuss ‘Role of Agriculture in a Developed India of 2047’, at  Business Standard Manthan on Thursday   (Pho

(From left) NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand, Distinguished Professor at Icrier Ashok Gulati, and Bharat Krishak Samaj Chairman Ajay Vir Jakhar discuss ‘Role of Agriculture in a Developed India of 2047’, at Business Standard Manthan on Thursday (Pho

BS Reporters New Delhi
This report has been updated

Indian agriculture needs to break out from its current long-term growth trajectory of 4 per cent, invest more in research and development (R&D), and address the political economy of farming if the country wants to become a developed nation by 2047.

Addressing the Business Standard Manthan event here in the national capital, agriculture experts and representatives of farmer groups emphasised the vital fact that agriculture needs to transform itself if farmer incomes are to grow, thereby pushing more people out of poverty.

The theme of the panel discussion was ‘Role of Agriculture in a Developed India of 2047’.

NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand, eminent agriculture economist Ashok Gulati, and Chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj Ajay Vir Jakhar were part of the panel.

“There are studies which show that 1 per cent growth in agriculture is four to five times more powerful in reducing poverty than the manufacturing or overall non-agricultural sectors. Therefore, to achieve inclusive growth, agriculture is important,” said Chand.

Ashok Gulati, distinguished professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, and a well-known agriculture economist, said that the first challenge is not only to feed people but to feed them well.

“I’m not only looking at food security but also nutritional security. Currently, 35 per cent of children below the age of five are stunted. They will become a part of the workforce by 2047. If they are stunted, their earning capacity will be much less. Why are they stunted? There are many reasons for the same. Our soils have become deficient in zinc. Our wheat and rice have become deficient in zinc. This deficiency of zinc is leading to stunting,” Gulati said.

Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, a policy advocacy group, said that despite best efforts, agriculture policy is one big bottleneck which will grind Viksit Bharat (Developed India) to a halt before 2047.

“One of the issues regarding agriculture and where I think the problem lies is in the field of R&D. When we look at 2047, we have to look at what’s happening in the agriculture policy in the last 20-30 years. Investment in agriculture R&D has remained below the inflation levels for the past 20 years,” Jakhar said. He said in states, governments are not investing in agriculture.

“There are 50-60 per cent vacancies in agriculture colleges, universities, researchers, etc. It will take decades to fill these vacancies. I don’t think we are planning to fill these vacancies. States are more interested in giving populist measures,” he said.

Jakhar also highlighted the deficiency in agriculture policy framing in India.

“If you look globally, they constantly revise their agriculture policies to provide relief to their farmers. While in India we have continued with the same policies of subsidy and other issues for decades,” Jakhar said.

He said no political party has farm leaders whom farmers accept as their representatives.

“This creates disagreement with both the state and central governments. Farmers were not consulted for the farm law, nor were they consulted while deciding the minimum support price (MSP),” Jakhar said.

On the tricky question of the slow pace of diversifying farmers from wheat and rice towards high-value crops and livestock sectors, the experts opined that unlike common perception, diversification is happening but to quicken its pace, more value needs to be created for the growers in the sectors to which they will shift.

“I don't think diversification has failed in India. There are variations across the states regarding the success of diversification. There are two kinds of diversification: one is, moving away from rice and wheat to bring in more pulses and oilseeds. This is called field crops. The issue here is that even if you give MSP, their profitability doesn’t come close to rice and wheat,” Chand said.

The other type, according to Chand, is moving towards high-value alternative crops.

“If you diversify towards horticulture, the income on horticulture crops is generally four times that of field crops. So, any state that is diversifying towards high-value crops, that state is having a high growth of agriculture. So, diversification is already happening in a couple of states,” Chand said.

Gulati, on the other hand, felt that diversification is happening towards fisheries and poultry. “Today Indian agriculture has reached a point where the market is operating on its own, it is growing best. Where there is too much interference, they are not growing,” he said.

Jakhar said that farmers don’t grow anything out of choice. They grow out of demand and incentives. To say that growth has happened in those sectors where the government is not interfering is wrong but instead, it is demand which has helped diversification.

“When people aspire for better food, farmers will shift. The government has tried schemes but it will not help until demand rises. We find examples of farmer success but this does not show the entire picture,” Jakhar said.

He said a lot of problems are coming in agriculture because international consultants are helping the government. They have no idea how the ground level works.

On the vexed question of the legalisation of MSP that has roiled the sector for a very long time, the experts felt that it would ruin the sector.

“Farmers want better income and one way to do that is to minimize risk, which is why there is demand for legal MSP. A more than 25 per cent increase in the price of 25 crops will lead to oversupply which, in turn, will leave everything for the government to purchase,” Gulati said.

Chand said that there is no denying the fact that there is a need for MSP. This is because of the nature of the demand for staples in India.

“Small fluctuations in production can lead to huge changes in prices. If you have MSP suggested by an expert, it is welcome but if the farmers ask for 50 per cent more than cost arbitrarily then that needs explanation. There was no justification even from Late Dr M S Swaminathan for this demand. It’s important to find what is logical MSP,” Chand said.

Jakhar said that the whole concept of legal MSP is itself mired in lots of ambiguity. He said no government will give legal MSP.

“Ninety per cent of farmers own less than one hectare of land and raising their incomes isn't the best way to uplift rural masses. And universal basic incomes could be a way to go. The government should focus on education, health, and public transport,” Jakhar said.

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First Published: Mar 28 2024 | 11:55 PM IST

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