With 41.49% of total workforce of India employed in agriculture and contribution of the sector by 14.65% to GVA the role of agriculture in growth of Indian economy and overall development hardly needs any elaboration. However, this role needs to be re-oriented to meet the new challenges and to harness new opportunities which would require a shift in our approach and thinking towards agriculture from “pushing for incremental change” to “transformational change”. Agriculture has to meet three of the greatest challenges of the 21st century – sustaining food and nutrition security, adaptation and mitigation of climate change, and sustainable use of critical resources such as water, energy and land. While the nation wants higher agricultural growth and production, the farmers want higher profitability with minimum risk. Profitability is a function of higher productivity, reduction of cost of production, high value of produce and marketability.
India transitioned from a food deficit nation to a surplus one, the focus of policy has rightly shifted to surplus management from deficit management. To this end, successive government committees, task forces, reports have all made the same recommendations. Reforms in marketing have been complemented by a commitment to developing rural infrastructure. Government of India is committed to double the farmers’ income by 2022-23 over the base period of 2015-16 for which a 16-point action plan has been developed.
MISSING LINKS :
Farmers are viewed only as job seekers and not as job makers even though agriculture as a sector remains the largest employer in the economy. Government’s key action points for agriculture covered aspects such as markets, credit, insurance, power, inputs, transport and logistics, infrastructure and investments. With the linking of agriculture with rural development one might even hope that closer integration of key schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) with agricultural programmes would be more productive. Historically, rural India has always been more than agriculture, and agrarian India has always gone beyond the rural to extend into commercial, social and political networks of exchange with urban centres of trade and administration. However, it is all too common for us to characterise the agrarian and rural as an exporter of bulk produce, unskilled bodies with little acknowledgement of the diverse ways in which agricultural surplus has also shaped industrial and urban trajectories across Indian regions.
Indian agriculture continues to be dominated by low-tech farm practices, low level of mechanisation and relatively lower yielding cultivars compared to global level. Upgrading farming from low tech to high-tech (green house cultivation, poly houses, tissue culture, precision farming) will reduce average cost, raise farmers income and address some scale disabilities. At the same time knowledge intensive practices like organic farming, ZBNF and sustainable agricultural farming practices would adapt to climate change and ensure resource conservation.
FUTURE REFORM NEEDED:
It is true that there are significant reforms, especially in the domain of agricultural marketing and trade regulation that do not depend on the union budgetary outlays to gather momentum. But as long as our dominant assumptions about agriculture remain, Indian agriculture will not be able to mobilise the public vision, investment, knowledge resources, institutional capacities and partnerships it so deeply needs. All interventions like input and subsidy, infrastructure development, marketing reform will not achieve desired results unless they are supported by a robust extension and advisory system along with tenancy reform. The present extension systems have become pluralistic and the participation of the private sector in the provision of extension services has been increasing during the reform process as the extension systems become more demand-driven. The concentration of the new players in the extension provision has been primarily within the commercialized portion of the agriculture sector.
In the context of Indian agricultural production systems, role of agricultural extension is provision of relevant knowledge to meet the information needs of the farmers and ensuring such information reaches them in a timely manner lies at the crux of the reform efforts in Indian extension reform efforts The orientation of the extension system in India is still largely centred on the production technology-related knowledge sharing. Yet there is great need for a holistic approach to sustainably develop the food systems that goes beyond production technologies. These sources of information tend to compete and create confusion among the farmers about the knowledge most appropriate in their context in their enterprises. In addition, the reforms that have been put in place have not been fully evaluated for their performance and have possible impacts on the income and livelihoods of the farmers.
Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) is the extension platform at the district level which started with introduction of NATP. It was thought that the major pitfalls of T&V System of Extension implemented for 20 years from 1977 to 1997 would be addressed by ATMA system of extension. But various studies on performance assessment of ATMA suggest that further extension reform is needed. ATMA alone cannot be counted on to fully meet the demands for information and advisory services of the marginal, smallholders, women farmers, and farmers in remote areas as it has not been able to attract private sector and NGOs to work together to achieve common goals. Extension workers are still seen as technology transferring group that do not go beyond the problems of technology. Investments in developing their skills are needed to help them provide wide range of activities that can provide holistic set of advisory services. The REF linkage is still weak. Agri-clinics, wherever established, have not been fully successful in sustaining their roles. Most of them will require additional support for enabling them to function as financially viable units. Extension reforms have done little to improve the quality of services provided by the private dealers. Farmers group in ATMA could play this role to keep them more accountable. ATMA approach has an opportunity to bring out farm level innovations and problems solving to benefit large groups of farmers in the districts and the state. However, ATMA remains top-down to take advantages of such innovations and many programmes are given as additional burden to ATMA which requires unproductive paper works. There is a need for a relook at the multiple schemes implemented by various line departments and to integrate them in a way to provide one-stop solution to farmer’s challenges at the village level. The State Agricultural Management, Extension and Training Institute (SAMEI) needs to be held accountable for their contribution to capacity building for extension reforms. But now they are overloaded with other activities as State Nodal Agency. Digital literacy in agriculture can provide much of the solutions. Finally the development of future reforms measures and implementation crucially depend on the innovations in extension education curriculum. A revamp of the agricultural education both in terms of curriculum and methods of learning is badly needed with digital literacy.
- Bidyadhar Maharana, Consultant, Agriculture, NRM and Livelihoods