With Yogi Adityanath taking over as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, several political pundits were quick to announce that prime minister Narendra Modi had picked “cow over development”. They may soon have to bite the dust, as most economic pundits who had predicted political and economic doom after PM’s de-monetisation move did. It would not be fair to pass judgement on Yogi Adityanath based on pre-conceived notions. We need to wait and watch as his policies and actions unfold.
Adityanath and his team have categorically stated that they are here to fulfil the PM’s vision of “sabka saath, sabka vikas”, with development and good governance being their focal points. If the CM has ordered closure of illegal abattoirs, banned gutka-paan in government offices and cautioned against spit-painting the office premises red, we see nothing wrong there. Also, announcing anti-Romeo squads, and plainclothes women police officers trying to nab such ‘Romeos’ are all steps in the direction of improving governance and trying to change the culture of goondagardi which has been the norm in the state due to poor governance.
But here we focus on sab ka saath, sab ka vikas, which we feel can’t be achieved unless one gets agriculture revving in UP. Agriculture in UP employs the largest proportion (47%) of the workforce (in 2015-16, as per Labour Bureau), and its growth rate has been just 2.5% per annum during 2000-01 to 2014-15 (latest data available). This growth has been lower than the all-India growth rate of agri-GDP of 2.9% during the same period. UP is blessed with the Gangetic plains, which has one of the most fertile soils and best water conditions in the country. Almost 78% of its cropped area is irrigated as against 47% for India—and yet, its performance has been abysmal. Our in-depth research reveals that UP’s agriculture has a potential to grow at a minimum of 5% per annum for at least a decade, if not more. And if the CM and his team puts this on high priority, it will be their biggest step toward achieving sab ka saath, sab ka vikas and it will also give them rich political dividends. Interestingly, our research further points out that this can be achieved by putting the cow (dairy) in the lead role, which gives assured income to farmers, employs female workforce to the tune of 70% or more, and can cut down rural poverty the fastest. So, it can be “development with cow” rather than “cow over development”.
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What the state’s dairy sector urgently needs is more milk processing units. Adityanath should invite Amul and private sector dairies, tapping Nabard’s funds for dairy development, to set up several medium-sized plants to process at least 30% of UP’s milk production in the next five years. Current levels of processing through the organised sector are less than 12%, while Gujarat processes almost half of its milk through organised dairies. Although UP is the largest milk producer of the country with a 17% share (over 25 mt), it has lagged in processing. As a result, farmers don’t get a good price for milk. So, ramping up milk processing with several value-added products can be a game-changer. This should be followed by upgrading the pure breeds of cows for higher productivity. Several indigenous cows in Baba Ramdev’s farms yield 20-30 litres of milk per day, which is at least four to five times what farmers get from their cows in fields. Sex selection in artificial insemination can be next, and so on.
On the crops front, wheat and rice are the backbone of agriculture in UP, occupying 61% of its cropped area. The states accounts for about 30% of the country’s total wheat production and 13% of its rice production. But marketing of wheat and rice in UP is in shambles. Farmers sell their produce at prices that are 10-20% below the MSP in the absence of any robust procurement network in the state. Now that UP and the Centre have BJP-led governments, it should be much easier to erect a sound procurement system, on the lines of what is being done in Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh, or even Punjab-Haryana. When farmers start getting 10-20% higher prices for their main produce of wheat and rice, it is worth imagining how much income augmentation it can bring about in rural areas changing their very landscape.
Sugarcane is another crop where pricing needs to be rationalised by linking prices to sugar prices with provision for a price stabilisation fund. But the first and foremost action should be freeing up of molasses market. Currently, sugarcane farmers actually subsidise the potable liquor industry. This nexus of liquor barons and politicians must be severed by Yogi to get a better price for cane farmers. With UP producing 38% of all-India sugarcane, this reform will go a long way.
UP also has abundant vegetables and fruits, especially potatoes and mangoes. Solar-powered cold-storages for potatoes, harnessing solar power as an additional crop in fields, and solar-powered irrigation pumps can be sustainable solutions to augment farmers’ incomes. Innovative farming techniques such as high-density mango orchards (350 trees per hectare) and even ultra-high-density orchards (1,675 trees per hectare) can increase yields and incomes of farmers manifold.
The measures spelt above, from cow/dairy-led agri-development to erecting a robust procurement system for wheat and rice for ensuring MSP to farmers, rationalising sugarcane pricing and freeing up molasses, and finally making potatoes and mangoes more competitive for augmenting farmers’ incomes, are all doable within the next five years. These are all low-hanging fruits with rich economic and political dividends that Adityanath can easily pluck within his first tenure. If the CM hits the ground running on these lines, he can be assured of serving UP for at least a decade, if not more.
Ashok Gulati is Infosys chair professor for agriculture and Smriti Verma is a consultant, ICRIER