India is the second largest producer of wheat, rice, vegetables, fruits and sugarcane. More than 65% of our population is still, directly or indirectly, dependent on Agriculture. This being said, it accounts only for 18% of total exports and less than 2% of world food trade. Clearly, these are disturbing figures for an agrarian developing economy, like ours. If we are to alleviate the living standards of the rural population in the coming decades and want to create better job opportunities in Rural India, then we need to have an agenda for change in agriculture, there cannot be more apt time for it, than an election year of 2014, to have a healthy debate, talk, demand and perhaps lobby for a national agriculture agenda for 2014.
Last week there was an article in a leading economic daily, which talked about India’s demographic dividend, (i.e. 65% of population below 35 yrs. of age) which talked about, significant part of this chunk is heading back to villages, as the urban economy becomes weaker, inflation and cost of living in all cities across India keep skyrocketing and urban employment opportunities start dimming.
All are largely the indicators of bad economic environment prevailing in the country today. Experts have started to argue that these trends, if true, could be disappointing, and have come up with a new term that India’s demographic dividendis fast turning into its demographic liability. Well, I personally, have a very different take on the issue, and strongly believe that this defining moment could be a God sent blessing in disguise, and an opportunity to turn the game around. I will try to justify why I believe so, with some hard facts and figures.
Today, more than 30% of the fresh vegetables and fruits produced in India are wasted due to lack of supply chain infrastructure and high end logistics that areincapable to directly connect our Kisan to kitchen. This is one of the many areas, that needs to be addressed, not only by the direct involvement of government but also the private sector, and there are success stories, for example, the Samruddhi model run by IIM-A alumnus, Kaushilandra Kumar in Bihar or the e-choupal scheme run by ITC in most states of central and eastern India to name a few or the HOPCOMS run by the Karnataka Government.
Agriculture in India, should be given a strong policy priority and suitable growth environment mainlyby the central government, the agriculture sector the ability to register double digit growth, like several states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, which have shown us in recent decades that turnaround is very much possible and that not only manufacturing but also agriculture can create mass jobs and bring in economic prosperity.
The electoral success of the governments in these states, particularly in rural areas, to a large extent, depends on their innovative and creative agriculture policies and initiatives. Due to their astounding success and popularity, I have to name some of them, like the Electronic Soil Health Card, Animal Hostel, KrishiRath programs in Gujarat and Yantradoot, SurajDhara and Annapurna Schemes in Madhya Pradesh. These schemes have contributed hugely towards the impressive, once perceived to be impossible, double digit agriculture growth which is now being witnessed in these states.
Now, there are few important things that need to be done on an urgent basis by the newincoming government in 2014, like giving more teeth to the Forward Markets Commission and making it more efficient, setting up of a National electronic commodity pricing exchange, repealing the archaic APMC Act and replacing it with a more free market kind of policy, investing more in R&D in the several of agricultural universities across the nation, which today face a serious lack of funds. We also need to tackle the skilled agricultural human resource deficit that is persisting in India, when it comes to agriculture, we need to build from scratch several reputed schools and course that best complement the domestic agricultural scenario. Of late, more youth are enrolling in agriculture and allied degrees, at least this is trend in my home state of Karnataka, but the numbers need to grow rapidly. Improving both skilled and unskilled work force in agriculture is the need of the hour, in order to keep feeding our growing population.
The time has come for the government to look beyond, the regular subsidy- kind of populist approach, and take bold and substantive measures, that are needed for some serious course correction. This will not only take care of the short term problem of food inflationbut also fix our long term social problems like hunger, poverty and malnutrition. We in India, unlike most countries in the West, UK and USA to name a few, have a favorable climate, where the sun shines for all the 12 months and are also blessed with adequate water resources. We have some of the best fruit brands like the Apples of the north-east and the Alphanso Mangoes of Maharashtra. The demand for high quality fruits in the global market is huge and will only continue to rapidly grow in the coming days. Why not leverage these and make them sort of made in India brands that can open us the window to the world food markets.
So it is very much possible to getout of the present day agricultural crisis and mismanagement and become a global agricultural super power, only if the people of India demand a futuristic and robust agriculture agenda from all political parties and its leaders for 2014 and beyond. And to achieve the results, we need a visionary leader in the next Prime Minister, who better understands the latter part of the iconic slogan; ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ and that leader need not necessarily have to emerge from the Congress Party.