The men who sow the seeds of development

To acknowledge the services of Chaudhary Charan Singh, remembered for his six-month tenure as Prime Minister, the country celebrates his birth anniversary on December 23 every year as Kisan Day or Farmer’s Day. The late Charan Singh is also remembered for the one and only budget he presented in 1979. That Budget had everything a farmer could dream of in his favour. He also came out with various initiatives in favour of farmers and hence to honour his services, his birth anniversary is observed as Farmer’s Day.

The occasion gives us an opportunity to look at the person who is the backbone of the Indian economy. Agriculture is the sector that provides employment for over 50 per cent of the population.

Though agriculture’s contribution to the nation’s GDP has dropped to 17 per cent now from a high of 55 per cent in the 1950s, it still is the key sector as regards the country’s economy and growth. The country is the leading producer or among the top two producers of at least 50 commodities. However, the high agricultural growth seen during the 1980s has slowed. In the last few years, growth has dropped to less than three per cent causing concern to planners as the population is growing and affordability is also increasing.

In this context, there is an urgent need for a second green revolution – a topic that has been flagged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself. The problem with agriculture currently is dwindling availability of land as agricultural lands give way to industry and housing. Labour availability is also becoming a problem.

On the other hand, the use of machinery and equipment is handicapped by small holdings. Global warming and changing weather patterns have added to the woes of farmers. The Government has been supporting agriculture through various measures by increasing allocation for irrigation, subsidies and increasing minimum support prices. Solutions to help farmers overcome their problems include creating crop varieties that can withstand weather vagaries and yield more. The Government, on the other hand, has to devise more programmes to encourage farmers, including imposition of Customs duty in cases were imports may be undermining farmers’ returns. Loans at lower rates of interest, ways of inculcating group farming practices and getting modern agricultural implements at the right price are other ways through which farmers can benefit.

(This article was published on December 22, 2012)
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