It would be no exaggeration to say that in an overall sense, the journey of Indian agriculture since independence has been quite a story. From depravity (resulting in hand-to-mouth existence for a substantial chunk of population post-independence) to self-sufficiency eventually ushered in by the green revolution after 1960’s to the current scenario of surplus production in many crops and India being adjudged as an agriculture powerhouse globally – it might be a story with no parallels in terms of logical progression.
And here one must not forget that the reforms initiated in the early ’90s which arguably changed the fortunes of the Indian economy did not have much focus on agriculture.
In fact, the major emphasis of that process was to shed the image of India over-relying on agriculture and give it the identity of potential services and manufacturing powerhouse to draw investments. In varying degrees, the country has succeeded in that mission to a considerable extent in the past three decades.
Making rapid strides
But even as agriculture was pushed to the back seat (not to be equated with backburner) for quite some time, the sector has made rapid strides in its own way. There has been a consistent increase in foodgrain production and in the last 10-15 years, the country’s agriculture sector has seen a silent revolution unfolding in the area of horticulture (fruits and vegetables).
In a surprising trend that has gone unnoticed by many, horticulture production which traditionally has been playing second fiddle to foodgrains, has registered a quantum leap over the last decade and now has taken the lead in terms of the driving assets of the Indian agriculture basket.
In a cumulative sense (foodgrain and horticulture combined), India today has an agriculture production base in the vicinity of 650 million tonnes – horticulture is around 325 million tonnes and 315 million tonnes for foodgrains – which is mammoth and places India among the leading producers in the world.
In most of the essential foodgrains and now also fruits and vegetable categories, India is among the top three producers.
Agri in a sweet spot
Quite naturally, the consistent surge in production has also given a big boost to the resulting value-addition segments like the food, beverage or FMCG industry.
They have all become businesses of colossal scale and size in the recent decades. Meanwhile, in recent years, emergence of start-ups has been a major positive trend across the economic spectrum.
And this also envelops the agriculture sector. There are a spate of well funded new entities, often referred as agtechs or agri-techs, who are trying to draw the broader contours of a new age agriculture system powered by artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), data analytics, etc.
Much away from the public glare, these new age warriors are striving to redefine Indian agriculture and the preliminary signals suggest the larger changes will become visible in the coming years.
Indian agriculture probably is in a sweet spot today with the traditional strengths and the new evolving streams where sky is the limit. The issue now is to push it to the optimal point both in the qualitative and quantitative sense.
Balanced approach is clearly the need of the day wherein value-addition backed by high-end technological processes should be encouraged. It should be undertaken in a manner that the incremental benefit unquestionably trickles down to the producers and the farmers too.
Having reached a commendable production level, the country should also aspire to become an agro-export powerhouse and this is an apt moment as the world is looking at ‘China plus one’ strategy in agriculture too after Corona.
In fact, India in the last one and half year has witnessed a more than ordinary surge in agri-exports and this needs to be further harnessed to benefit all stakeholders and realise the goal of doubling farmers income in the medium run.
A critical element of a balanced approach would also include taking a judicious call on the use of inputs like agro-chemicals and pesticides. It is no secret to anybody that the cultivable land in India is more than China but the latter has a substantial lead in production quantity.
And that’s primarily because it doesn’t have an unwarranted and sweeping adverse attitude towards chemicals and pesticides. It has made the most of these inputs in augmenting the production level.
With more research, scientific advisories and solutions as well as tax rationalisation on agrochemicals and pesticides, we can also push our quantitative pattern to the optimal level.
The author is Group Chairman, Dhanuka Agritech Ltd