Two respected figures from the world of business have suggested a five-pronged approach, similar to the one adopted for industrialisation after 1947, to bring Indian agriculture out of its current morass.
The two are Y S P Thorat and R Gopalakrishnan. The former is an ex-head of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and is now a director of Tata Sons. The other, also a Tata Sons director, was chairman of Honeywell and Rallis India, among other top positions.
A holistic plan, encompassing the five pillars of technology, risk, institutions, policy and skills (TRIPS), will form part of a forward looking scheme, termed Sarthak Krishi Yojana (Meaningful Agriculture Scheme), they say in a book, What India can do differently in agriculture. The book is being shared with policymakers, thinkers and academicians, for feedback.
India's annual farm sector growth in the first three years of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-13 to 2016-17) is expected to be less than two per cent, much below the targeted four per cent, with droughts and falling prices for produce.
"To ensure the success of Sarthak Krishi Yojana, it should be a collaboratively driven project with the states, similar to the Jan Dhan Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan," the book says.
Gopalakrishnan and Thorat say Prime Minister Narendra Modi should consider setting up a high-level task force, maybe a Krishi Aayog on the lines of the NITI Aayog. This would articulate the features and components that would constitute these five pillars, seek a consensus with states and implement as a comprehensive National Agriculture Mission.
The journey towards India's industrialisation, argue the authors, was also based on five pillars, of which the first two were technology and risk & financing (which included the banking and insurance sectors). A third pillar was setting up of institutions of governance, such as with the Companies Act. The fourth was a comprehensive industrial policy and the fifth was training and skill development. Similarly, the authors say, the first pillar, technology incubation, should include an outcome-based policy, encouraging research, innovation and incubation on soil, water, pest and nutrient management, seeds and biotechnology.
"Key features should be promoting innovative research, funding projects and capacity building, focus on products or solutions for specific agricultural problems, thrust on networking and meaningful collaborations, between the public and private institutions, outcome-oriented, coupled with measurable milestones, leveraging the state's extension machinery to promote modern technologies and streamlining of current responsibilities."
Finance & other issues
They warn, though, that rules and regulations governing the exchange of plant parts and tissues, and export of research material, including seeds, need to be clear.
Their second pillar is 'agriculture financing and risk institutions'. This should include banking and financing in farming, and channelised to promote technology infusion, insurance and mechanisation.
In insurance, the authors say, there is a need to create new products like the Suraksha Bima Yojana or Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana. And, should be based on a higher insured area, from 15 to 100 million hectares, quick assessment and payment of compensation - not more than two weeks.
The new crop insurance scheme should be based on a financially sustainable model. It should gain farmers' trust through science-based, fast and affordable crop insurance. For this to be effective, farmers' land records should be digitised through handheld GPS, leveraging technologies like drones, radar-based sensing and low earth orbits to monitor and assess crop damage in real-time, plus crop modelling for each block on the basis of weather parameters. The insurance product should cover market risks for all crops.
The authors also advocate a National Agriculture Policy, with a focus on productivity-linked growth. It should propagate a new approach to all areas - fertiliser, pesticides, marketing, mechanisation, extension services, foodgrain management and so forth. A national agriculture market would be there, guaranteeing unfettered access to an integrated, regulated and transparent pan-India market. All wholesale markets would be linked through national commodity exchanges, via electronic platforms.
The authors also advocate improving the access to institutional credit. "In 2003, of the 89.35 million farmer households, 48.6 per cent were reported to indebted, with the average amount of outstanding loans per household being Rs 12,585 at the all-India level," they said.
An important pillar is governance and institutions. There is an urgent need to actively promote farmer-producer organisations or FPOs and start a concept of Agriculture Technical Training Institutions on the lines of Industrial training Institutes (it is) to train rural youth in modern practices and in entrepreneurship.
"When industry faced such a problem (of skill shortage) in the 1950s, ITIs were set up. They played a valuable role at the time. Can India now implement ATTIs?" asks Gopalakrishnan.
ATTIs could be set up by the private sector in rural and semi-urban areas, offering certified courses covering modern agronomy, mechanised farming, soil, water and pest management, farm equipment operations, etc. "Food production will receive a boost through dedicated focus on skill building…but this requires a major policy shift, which facilitates direct support to the beneficiary by cutting the bureaucratic hurdles," the authors say.
PILLARS of GROWTH
R Gopalakrishnan & Y S P Thorat's suggestions to revive farming
Clear policy with regard to new technologies in seeds, crop nutrition and protection; promote innovative research
Use IT for agriculture, wider dissemination of crop insurance, rapid financial inclusion
INSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNANCE:
Better farmer-producer organisations; improved access to market
Centre and state must collaborate; increase rural infrastructure
Set up agri-tech institutes; improve employability