The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government adopted a two-pronged strategy to address the twin challenges of raising agricultural growth and enhancing the welfare of farmers after it came to power in 2014.

Initiatives such as PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, which entail an annual payment of ₹6,000 per farmer in four installments, or the PM Fasal Bima Yojana or aiming to double farmers’ income were good starts.

They are here to stay, though the question is how much has the government succeeded in its efforts to uplift the agriculture sector. Notably, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare did not have a minister exclusively over the last few months and there is a long way to traverse.

Policies of the government included development initiatives and reforms in the agriculture sector, including creating 10,000 farmer-producer organisations (FPOs).

The government’s strategy has been a significant departure from the past when the governments chased only production and related targets and did not explicitly specify any target for farmers’ income. This is one reason why schemes such as PM Kisan Samman Nidhi were introduced.

allied sectors

But there have been slip-ups, here and there, since the Government had to cater to its political interests due to factors such as elections. However, policies in the allied sectors such as dairy and fishing have seen handy results in the form of record production and increased income for the growers.

When India faced the El Nino threat last year, agricultural economist Ashok Gulati said farmers would not worry since livestock income would help them tide over any problem. That was how the allied sectors were developed.

Data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare show that the gross value added (GVA) by economic activity increased to ₹22.02 lakh crore from ₹16.09 lakh crore in 2013-14. The agriculture sector’s share in GVA of all sectors increased to 21.1 per cent from 18.6 per cent during the period. The gross capital formation (GCF) in agriculture, however, dropped to 8 per cent of the economy’s GCF from 9 per cent.

During the current regime, foodgrains production increased by 30 per cent to 329.68 million tonnes (mt) from 250.23 mt between 2014-15 and 2022-23. Production in 2023-24 may be lower than 2022-23 and details of the summer crop production are awaited.

Inland fishing production more than doubled to over 131 lakh tonnes and milk production increased by 58 per cent to 230.58 mt from 146.3 mt during the period. Horticulture output surged by 25 per cent to 355.25 mt against 283.47 mt.

The Modi government is trying to make the best use of agriculture technology, particularly drones, with its subsidies and the Didi Drone scheme - seen as a big game changer. Then farmers were helped through Kisan rail and Udan Air Services schemes.

At the same time, it failed to tap genetic engineering, at least for industrial use. For example, the production of cotton, which picked up after the introduction of Bt technology in 2004-05, almost touched 400 lakh bales (170 kg) in 2013-14. It has dropped to below 325 lakh bales now.

Since 2006, India has not introduced any new Bt cotton variety with the Government fixing the maximum retail price being another dampener. Many global firms have shut their research and development offices in India and the Supreme Court’s approach, too, has not helped.

Crop varieties

This said, however, a lot of new varieties in other crops have been introduced during the BJP regime. The government has also expanded canal irrigation so that agriculture does not depend totally on rains.

It has come up with policies, to increase the production of oilseeds and pulses to cut the dependence on imports. These have begun to pay dividends to some extent. Similarly, it has involved the tyre companies to take part in the scheme to expand natural rubber cultivation in the North-East.

Efforts are now on to cut imports of fertilizers and soon urea shipments into the country could end. The soil health card is another first by this government, while the move to have 10,000 FPOs is a pointer to the cooperatives being prepared to ensure farmers reap more benefits from exports.

MSP challenges

The doubling of farmers’ income is one area that the Centre has not been able to fulfil fully. The efforts are a good initiative, particularly after the United Progressive Alliance government let dust gather on the MS Swaminathan report on minimum support price (MSP).

But with pressure building up on the World Trade Organisation front, the MSP could be challenged. It is also paving the way for inflation. Sooner or later, some solution has to be found to link prices to the market.

The backing down of the government on the farm reforms is another negative. The reforms would have ensured that farmers need not depend on nearby agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) yards for getting remunerative returns and they could opt for contract farming too. Similarly, there are problems with the PM Fasal Bima Yojana on the settlement parts. On all these, probably the Prime Minister could have taken all the stakeholders into confidence and could have ensured better results.

Though a welcome step from the consumer point of view, ad hoc policies such as the ban on exports of wheat and rice are other dampeners in the agriculture sector. Despite curbing rice exports, India continues to be the world’s top rice exporter, though efforts to make it a niche product are lacking.

If the Modi government returns, it will have to carry forward these reforms and overcome the setbacks. More importantly, it will need to carry all the stakeholders along with it. That is the most important takeaway for the government over the past decade.

comment COMMENT NOW