Self-reliance in agricultural development was the stipulated target of the First Five Year Plan 1951-56. This is in stark contrast to the dismal condition of farming in India due to the shifting paradigm of development which focuses on the growth of the service sector. Has this tremendous shift rendered farming ineffectual?
Farmers and agricultural labourers toil day and night but are unable to reap the benefits of the crops sown. According to the Census 2011, 54.6% of the total workforce is engaged in agricultural and allied sector activities. Despite constituting a majority of the workforce, they have scarce and limited means to sustain themselves. A complete transformation of the agricultural sector has become a necessity in order to realize the goal of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat. Other than doling out subsidies, alternate employment opportunities need to be generated. Encouraging setting up of MSMEs with widespread rural-urban participation would go a long way in ameliorating the present condition of the farmers.
INFUSION OF TECHNOLOGY
The PM Bima Fasal Yojana is a shot in the arm for the farming sector as it encourages sustainable and inclusive agricultural practices along with credit incentives and enhanced social security. This initiative should be effectively implemented along with the integration of advanced technological innovations like those in developed countries like Canada, New Zealand, Australia etc. In order to mitigate the problems arising out of unpredictable weather phenomena, indoor greenhouses or farms can be developed. Sony, Toshiba and Fujitsu are all using former clean-room facilities at semiconductor plants across Japan for lettuce production. India has the potential to reap the desired benefits from the use of such new-age technology which requires incorporating myriad out of the box perspectives within agriculture policymaking.
LOCAL STARTUPS AND INVESTMENT
The NABARD plays an integral role in stepping up investment opportunities in the agricultural arena. Its Off Farm Sector Scheme has catered to rural development through a unique blend of partnership with cooperative societies, Krishi Vigyan Kendras and SHGs among other grassroot level institutions to set up skilling centres to promote marketing strategies within Agri Business. This worked hand in glove with the Startup India Scheme to build an inclusive, local startup ecosystem.
Research and development is being brought to the forefront which could encompass incorporating various geospatial strategies by mapping cropping patterns. This could ensure the revival of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana which would require collaboration with prominent international researchers spearheaded by organizations like the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Discussions and debates with fellow researchers and scientists will further strengthen policy initiatives advocated by the government. Summits and conferences with various countries can broaden the horizon for a revitalized farming sector. A huge step in this direction is the recently launched BRICS Agricultural Research platform in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare which seeks to address the issues of food security and nutrition by ramping up ventures and opportunities in Agro Biodiversity.
Successful application of irrigation facilities is the backbone of a diverse agricultural sector. Keeping the PM Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) in view, irrigation can receive a significant boost with the heli-borne survey technology which facilitates groundwater management and it’s sustainable utilization which has become a prerequisite due to the rapidly depleting groundwater table. The infusion of technology within government schemes as suggested above can produce groundbreaking results in the gradually withering field of agritech.
The introduction of KISAN drones as mentioned in the recent budget 2022-23 has the potential to bring about unbridled economic growth. They fly over fields to capture images that range from simple visible-light photographs to multispectral imagery which helps in the crop, soil, and field analysis. The input of the drones can be harnessed to ensure efficient outputs with the involvement of the farming community. A bottom-up approach with decentralized governance needs to be adopted.
SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT
With the impending doom of unprecedented climate change, climate resilient crops should be combined with practices like zero tillage which is a strategy which helps to retain the natural fertility of the soil. The debates and discussions regarding fostering sustainable agricultural practices at the COP-26 is an exemplary step towards the efficacious implementation of the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture which seeks to tread on a sustainable development pathway to bring about sustained agricultural productivity.
Revival of the weakening farming sector is also an essential component of ensuring food security in India which is a much discussed concept. According to UN-India, there are nearly 195 million undernourished people in India, which is a quarter of the world’s hunger burden. Growth of the primary sector, particularly agriculture, will bolster food production, thereby paving the path towards ensuring food security in tandem with the National Food Security Act 2013. Partnering with global institutions like the International Fund for Agricultural Development can help infuse new perspectives and broaden the scope for a flourishing agricultural sector in India.
GROWTH OF ALLIED SECTOR ACTIVITIES
Development of allied sector activities like animal husbandry, fisheries and dairy farming can boost the productivity of the primary sector, thereby shifting the burden of economic growth from farming. An interconnected policymaking grid system with welfare distribution mechanisms could be devised with the help of the National Livestock Mission, Animal Husbandry and Dairy Infrastructure Development Fund and the PM Matsya Sampada Yojana. This can create umpteen employment opportunities within rural enterprises and small scale industries and set an example of decentralized economic growth.
To encapsulate, farming can be revitalized with a global public-private partnership model along with the invaluable inputs given by the agricultural workers. M.S. Swaminathan rightly said, “If agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right”. Keeping this in mind, India should strive for an inclusive agricultural ecosystem with a mix of traditional as well as novel agricultural techniques against the backdrop of a dynamic environment.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.