Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, speaking at the Niti Aayog, New Delhi, last Saturday, presented a much-needed strategy to combat agrarian distress and increase agricultural productivity in the country.
India’s agricultural sector is in deep crisis and reports of farmers committing suicide and resorting to persistent protests have become increasingly recurrent. While in many years, drought kills the yield, in some cases, bumper crops lead to distress selling.
In a country where agriculture and related activities still provide nearly 60% of the total employment, agriculture has simply not been getting the required attention, especially after the days of the Green Revolution.
The farmer isn’t ‘fashionable’ for our policymakers, and resultantly, the best they have been able to come up with in recent times is farm-loan waivers, which are no more than just first-aid kits. It’s a grim scenario for the agricultural sector and it badly needs a revival strategy.
Drawing the attention of the key policy makers of the country, including the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister presented a plan to revive the agriculture sector and double farmers’ income in five years.
He proposed that the entire country be divided into crop colonies for specific crops, based on agro-climatic regions, so that the Minimum Support Price can be ensured for the benefit of farmers by preventing avoidable glut of certain commodities in the market.
Stress was also on the expeditious completion of all ongoing irrigation projects by providing the required support to the State governments; supply of adequate and quality power to the farm sector at affordable rates; reforming the existing insurance schemes by removing operational difficulties; encouraging agro-based industries to facilitate value addition and increasing farmers’ income; exempting allied activities such as dairying, sheep rearing, fisheries, poultry and farm forestry from income tax and undertaking a review on import of foodgrains, oilseeds, oil products and textiles so as to ensure that the farmers do not have to face undue competition.
To address the scarcity of labour for agricultural work, he proposed linking MGNREGA to agricultural operations by suggesting that 50% of the unskilled wages be paid under MGNREGA and the remaining by the farmers concerned. The process of consultation and drafting of rules under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016, also needs to be speeded up for effective utilisation of these funds.
Agriculture is the mainstay of Telangana, as more than half of the State’s population depends on it for their livelihood. The State is a significant contributor of mango, red chilli, turmeric, vegetables, milk and poultry products, and a substantial area of the State cultivates paddy, maize, pulses and oilseeds like soybean castor and groundnut.
According to the Socio-Economic Survey 2016, agriculture and allied sector’s contribution to gross value added (GVA) at current prices for 2015-16 (AE) is about 14%, which is a decline from 16.1% in 2011-12. The agriculture and allied sector during 2015-16 is likely to record a negative growth of -1.1%.
The agriculture sector in the State has been experiencing negative growth during the last two years, owing to consecutive drought and structural rigidity. So, more than half of the State’s population is experiencing reduced income and the deceleration in agriculture growth is a worrying sign.
The share of the agriculture sector in total GSDP has been declining steeply, compared with a decline in employment in the agriculture sector. According to the 2011-12 prices, the share of agriculture and allied activities in total GVA was 12.9%, whereas about 55.6% of total workforce was dependent on it. The share of services sector in total GVA was 60.5%, but it was providing employment to 26.6% workforce only. The industry sector, which was contributing about 26.7% to the GVA of the State provided employment to 17.8% of the total workforce.
Though the urban areas have seen a greater diversification in terms of employment over a period of time, the majority of the rural areas still rely heavily on agriculture, it said.
For the sector, 2015-16 proved to be a difficult year, as this was the second consecutive year of deficient rainfall. There was a decline in area under foodgrains from 26.13 lakh hectares in 2014-15 to 20.46 lakh hectares in 2015-16.
Around 63% of the crop in the State is rainfed, and therefore a hostile climate can be disastrous. The pressure on underground water too is alarming as 84% of the irrigated area is fed through borewells and dug wells, resulting in the constant depletion of groundwater.
The First Step
Considering that 85% of farmers of Telangana are either marginal or small, the World Bank last year signed a $75-million project to target small and marginal farmers in the 150 most backward mandals of the State, covering 5,000 villages. This is aimed at enhancing their agricultural incomes and ensuring increased access to services related to health, nutrition, sanitation and social entitlements.
The project will help poor farmers’ access to economic opportunities through value chain development and better market access. In addition, it will establish a facility to improve service deliveries for people with disabilities and women.
Developing crop colonies, as suggested by the Chief Minister, can help improve the situation. The plan entails dividing farm lands into crop colonies based on the nature of the soil, size of land holdings, fertility, cultivable area, region’s rainfall, weather conditions and existing population. Agriculture officers and agronomists will then advise the farmers on the selection of right crops for that area.
Such an approach is expected to resolve the big problem of crop failure because the best crop suited for the climatic conditions would be chosen. Thereafter, the eco-system for getting a good price for the farmer, like processing units, storage facility, marketing support, etc., also needs to be created. This will increase productivity significantly.
Apart from foodgrains, based on feasibility, crop colonies will also focus on horticulture crops such as vegetables, fruits, flowers and spices. While we move ahead on crop colonies, we should ensure that there is no mono-culture and bio-diversity is not adversely affected.