The Centre seems to have been rattled by surging food inflation — such that the Economic Survey has taken a close look at the pattern of food production during the past decade. Not just that, it has drawn a comparison with the 1980s (see table).
In the last few years, there has been little to link the intentions spelt out in the Economic Survey with proposals in the Budget. If the Union Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, and his team of officials break that trend, we could see significant steps to raise production in agriculture, particularly food-grain.
Nothing illustrates this better than the Survey stating that the need of the hour is for 8.5 per cent growth in agriculture during the next fiscal. This is necessary to meet the current Plan's growth target of four per cent. Including the 5.84 per cent growth projected this year, growth in agriculture in the first four years of the current Plan period will be 2.87 per cent.
The problem with Indian agriculture is that its share in gross domestic product (GDP) is declining. From contributing 19 per cent to GDP in 2004-05, it dropped to 14.2 per cent during 2009-10 (at constant prices of 2004-05).
Though GDP has increased by an average 8.62 per cent, agriculture's share in it has increased by 3.46 per cent only.
Another Green Revolution
Recalling the pioneering work done by agriculture scientists that helped achieve a breakthrough in the 1960s leading to the ‘Green revolution', the survey says that since then, the country has not witnessed any big technological breakthroughs.
With the food requirement rising, the survey says there is need for enhanced agricultural production and productivity in the form of a Second Green Revolution. Further, it draws attention to achieving higher production and productivity levels in pulses, oilseeds, fruits, and vegetables that have remained untouched in the First Green Revolution but are essential for nutritional security.
It also says that achieving high production in poultry, meat and fisheries is also essential.
Supply chain management
The relatively weak supply responses to price hikes in agricultural commodities, especially food articles, in the recent past brings back into focus the central question of efficient supply chain management and the need for sustained levels of growth in agriculture and allied sectors.
The choice before the nation is clear — to invest more in agriculture and allied sectors with the right strategies, policies, and interventions. This is also a ‘necessary' condition for ‘inclusive growth' and for ensuring that the benefits of growth reach a larger number of people, the survey says.
It talks of renewed research as a way to boost production and productivity in rice and wheat after their yield reaches a plateau. A similar approach is advocated for coarse cereals too, while stressing on a technological breakthrough in pulses.
In sum, the survey calls for
A holistic approach, simultaneously working on agricultural research, development, dissemination of technology, and provision of agricultural inputs such as quality seed, fertilisers, pesticides, and irrigation to achieve the critical levels of productivity needed.
Sustained capital investment in the sector by the public and private sector.
Prioritising the targeted development of rain-fed areas.
Following the experience of cooperatives in the milk sector in managing the supply chain and providing remunerative prices to producers for agricultural products.
Investment in food processing, cold chains, handling, and packaging of processed food needs to be encouraged
A thrust on horticulture products is needed to raise the per capita availability and ensure nutritional security.
Public Private Partnership models for transport, storage and distribution to improve infrastructure.
Tackling on a war footing the issue of efficient food stocks management and offloading stocks in time.