Primary Sector: Agriculture (1 of 2)

Few Facts:

  • Today, India ranks second worldwide in farm output and ranked within the world’s five largest producers of over 80% of agricultural produce items, including many cash crops such as coffee and cotton, in 2010
  • Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry and fisheries accounted for 16.6% of the GDP in 2009 and accounted for about 50% of the total workforce. People responsible for our food security are not themselves secured!!

Q. What are the features of agriculture in India? What problems/advantages do these features bring in for agriculture?
These are some characteristics of agriculture in India:

  • Self-Reliance: India has been able to produce sufficient grains (mainly rice and wheat) for its population. Credit for this mainly goes to the Green Revolution. However, it lead to diversion of land to these two crops only which further lead to insufficient production of various other important crops like pulses. India is an importer of pulses.
  • Productivity: Land under cultivation in India is second in the world. This is the primary reason for India’s production. However, India is a consistent worse performer in terms of productivity (harvest/area) in almost all the major crops. The reasons for this are the small size of lands, the lack of technology use, conventional methods for cultivation, bad irrigation practices which results in water wastage and land degradation etc.
  • Subsistence: Majority of households undertake agricultural activities for their own survival. They use their crops to buy essential goods and services. As they do not have enough land and capital and as they constitute the majority of farmers in India, agriculture in India is known as Subsistence Agriculture. In contrast, in USA, practice is of commercial agriculture which involves large lands and capital which results in enhanced productivity and huge profits for relatively small farmer class.
  • Decreasing share in economy: Between 1970 and 2011, the GDP share of agriculture has fallen from 43 to 16%. This isn’t because of reduced importance of agriculture, or a consequence of agricultural policy. This is largely because of the rapid economic growth in services, industrial output, and non-agricultural sectors in India especially from 2000 to 2010. Agriculture grows at a lesser pace than overall growth of Indian economy and hence this downward trajectory will continue at least in near future.
  • Irrigation: India has reached to about 80% of its irrigation potential to reduce its dependence on monsoon. However, irrigation practices in India leads to wastage of water and land degradation.  Moreover, due to excessive use of groundwater using tubewells running on subsidized electricity, water table is increasingly going down and many bore wells have already run dry in last few years.
  • Losses and Middlemen: The Indian farmer receives just 10 to 23% of the price the Indian consumer pays for exactly the same produce, the difference going to losses, inefficiencies and middlemen. Farmers in developed economies of Europe and the United States, in contrast, receive 64 to 81% (according to some reports)
  • Farmer Suicides: Following the economic reforms of 1991 the government withdrew support from the agricultural sector. These reforms, along with other factors, led to a rise in farmer suicides. Various studies identify the important factors as the withdrawal of government support, insufficient or risky credit systems, the difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income, absence of alternative income opportunities, a downturn in the urban economy which forced non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable counseling services.
  • Credit Facilities: Credit availability for farmers remain low and skewed towards particular regions. Bankers sight credit worthiness of farmers as the main reason for this problem. Government, under its mission for financial inclusion, has started various schemes to provide credit facilities at favorable interest rates to farmers. These schemes along with declining poverty should increase credit worthiness of a farmer.
  • Seed: Green Revolution in India involved use of high yielding varieties of seeds in India and thus improved seeds entered into India. The penetration of improved varieties of seeds remains low especially due to the controversy related to Genetically Modified seeds and their potential impacts on environment.
  • Other issues: India has very poor rural roads affecting timely supply of inputs and timely transfer of outputs from Indian farms. Irrigation systems are inadequate leading to crop failures in some parts of the country because of lack of water. In other areas regional floods, poor seed quality and inefficient farming practices, lack of cold storage and harvest spoilage cause over 30% of farmer’s produce going to waste, lack of organized retail and competing buyers thereby limiting Indian farmer’s ability to sell the surplus and commercial crops.

Q. Why should I know about agriculture?
Agriculture is considered an economic activity globally but in India, it is a means for survival of majority of Indian population. Due to rapid urbanization and technology revolution, attention has been diverted from the sector to more attractive service sector. This lack of attention has already deteriorated Indian agriculture and India may face problems of food security in not very distant future.  Youth forms a major electorate and will affect public policy in coming years. If we do not think for our farmers nobody will.

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