Agriculture Sector Deserves Greater Priority, Support

Updated: Jul 1 2004, 04:42am hrs
We are happy to see from recent statements that agriculture is once again being given the highest priority by the government. This sector is important as it determines the employment and incomes of nearly two-thirds of the population, and the production of adequate food in the country. We look forward to seeing a prominent place for agriculture in this budget.

One of the most critical factors in the growth of this sector is water. Various efforts are required for its availability. Among these, water harvesting is important. Investment in water harvesting has already shown promise, and has generated impact in areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat and elsewhere. This needs wider coverage.

It is also necessary to think big of activities which only the central government can lead. Impetus needs to be given to programmes, such as the inter-linking of rivers. There is abundance of water in some parts of the country, such as the north-east and east, whereas other areas such as in the south and the west are seriously water scarce. The programme needs to be taken up on the lines of the National Highways Programme building large-scale infrastructure, inter-linking water resources in different parts of the country. A special legal framework would also be required for this.

Major thrust also needs to be given to research and development so that farmers can be productive, efficient and competitive. Objectives such as doubling of food production and incomes could be used to galvanise efforts and investment in the country. Eventually, one may not actually double production in a short time, but the efforts and policy initiatives would go a long way in overcoming problems and bringing cutting-edge research, technology and systems to our farmers.

Another major problem is risks and fluctuations. This not only affects the farmers well-being and decisions, but also all the sub-systems that are connected with them, including input supply and support systems, and output processing and marketing activities. To alleviate this problem, farm insurance can play a major role and should get government support. A special company called the Agricultural Insurance Company of India (AIC) has been formed for this jointly by GIC, Nabard and the national insurance companies. The company has begun to offer crop insurance and income insurance schemes to the farmers. It should be encouraged to refine the products, extend their coverage, and develop a variety of products for farming and related activities, so that a choice is available to suit different crops, farmers and situations.

There is also need to improve the marketing infrastructure, services and opportunities available to farmers. If their dependence on the public grain marketing and support is to be reduced, it is important to foster the development of a competitive and efficient private marketing system for agricultural products. Co-operatives could also be a part of this.

THE WISH LIST

Impetus should be given to programmes, like river inter-linking
Major thrust needs to be given to R&D
Improve the marketing infrastructure, services and opportunities available to farmers
Indias stand and negotiations on WTO should take care of farmers interests

Finally, Indias stand, approach and negotiations on WTO are of great importance for Indian farmers. The world marketplace for farm products can be highly unfair and has substantial imperfections. Lack of caution and vigilance on this count can result in substantial harm to our agriculture sector, such as loss of employment, and substantial unnecessary distress and loss of opportunity to our farmers.

At the same time, export opportunities would be denied to them. Many developed countries have been clever in using WTO to their advantage. With enough study and caution in determining our WTO negotiation strategies, harm to our agriculture sector can be prevented, and growth and income opportunities significantly increased.

Chairman, Centre for Management in Agriculture, IIM-Ahmedabad