Although agriculture contributes only around 17% to the country’s GDP, nearly half of India’s labour force (47%) works in the agrarian sector. And amongst those living in rural areas, nearly 69% of the workforce operates in the agricultural sector (according to Census 2011). With a predominantly rural backbone of the agrarian economy, efforts to improve agricultural labour productivity are needed to raise the living conditions of the majority of the population. A working paper by ICRIER demonstrates this specific requirement, and analyses the importance of agricultural research and education, along with extension and training (AgRE&XT).
Despite efforts by the government to improve labour productivity, as per 2014-15 levels the total amount spent on AgRE&XT is only 0.7% of the GDP derived from agriculture (GDPA). This is against the minimum level of 2% as proposed by the World Bank. Of this 0.7%, 0.54% alone is spent on agricultural research and education (AgRE) at the all-India level, with a considerable amount of variation between states. Excluding the Northeastern states, the majority of the eastern states spend less than 0.5% of their GDPA on AgRE, while states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and Kerala spend more than 0.8% of their GDPA on the same. Thus, a few of the eastern states, which are also some of the poorest in the country, spend the least on AgRE.
Not only is India not devoting enough resources to AgRE&XT, but the amount it does utilise is being used inefficiently. Of the total amount devoted to AgRE, about 70% is utilised for crop husbandry purposes, and only 10% is used for animal husbandry and dairy development. This is despite the growing importance of animal husbandry and dairy to the Indian masses. According to the 2013-14 data, of the total value of output generated by agriculture and its allied activities, 26% was generated by the livestock segment alone, whereas only 20% and 15% were contributed to by food grains and fruits & vegetables, respectively.
Economies with a developed agrarian structure, such as the US and China, have recently established private extension services for farmers who produce on a commercially-viable and enduring scale. These involve receiving personally-curated information using technology and consultancy services using real-time data and agricultural inputs. Although privatisation on a similar scale is not viable in India, the synergy present between different stakeholders in these developed agricultural economies can be emulated in India, as currently the AgRE&XT sector is plagued by disparate and disjointed entities and players (NGOs, public and private enterprises, and institutional bodies), without any channel of communication or synergy between them. Thus, the first priority of the government towards improving the efficiency of AgRE&XT should be creating a common channel of information-sharing and communication between all the stakeholders in the agricultural space.