Have you ever wondered why agriculture sector in India faces a paradoxical situation? On one hand today India is the net exporter of food grains, yet its own population faces the triple burden of under nutrition, mal nutrition and over nutrition. While agricultural exports are rising, yet people in farm sector account for around 7% suicides, around 28 people dependent on farming die by suicide everyday in India (NCRB). The famous green revolution has ensured food security, yet there is so much disparity amongst farmers (big & small), regions (Northern states vs Eastern states), crops (wheat & rice vs the rest).
To find what has led the agricultural sector into such disarray, we must look into it more deeply and understand its issues holistically. In order to help you to do so I will be comprehensively writing about it in series of 2 articles.
In the first article we will understand the importance of agriculture as you are investing time to read about it. Then we will see how agriculture in India has evolved over centuries, especially its deterioration during British raj and the steps taken by governments after independence.
In the second article we will start by looking at the positive and negative impact of the much hyped green revolution as well issues with respect to various inputs and supply chain along with government measures and suggested reforms. We will finally end by looking at the need for unconventional agenda for agriculture.
IMPORTANCE OF AGRICULTURE
“Agriculture is the foundation of civilization and any stable economy.” – Allan Savory
As Allan Savory calls agriculture the foundation of civilization, it itself shows that agriculture impacts various spheres of our society as discussed ahead.
· Social importance – Agriculture forms the very basis of rural life, penetrating into every aspect of social and cultural life. It influences food, festivals, dressing among others. Increasing agricultural production and productivity directly improves social welfare.
· Economic importance – It is an employment intensive sector in which around 44% of the population is dependent but it is suffering from the problem of disguised unemployment. It also supplies raw material for other industries. It is emerging as a hub for entrepreneurship.
· Political importance – Forms the largest vote bank and major part of manifesto of every party. Peasant and farmer movements impact policies and politics as seen from Champaran and Bardoli satyagrah in British raj to repeal of farm laws in present times.
· Security and strategic importance – Food is an important for security of nation evident from attacks on ships carrying food during world wars as a potent tool for winning wars as well as food price hike proving to be the final nail in the coffin for regimes in Middle-east during Arab Spring. In India, the issue of Left Wing Extremism/naxalism, called the gravest internal security threat by Dr. Manmohan Singh, can be attributed to the unresolved agenda of land reforms.
· Ecological importance – Agriculture combined with forestry and other land use is the second biggest contributor to Green House Gas emissions. The prospects of future intensification of agriculture will have major detrimental impacts on the non-agricultural terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the world.
Now that we have seen how multifaceted the importance of agriculture is, we will now see how agriculture has evolved in India since thousands of years.
EVOLUTION OF AGRICULTURE
Evidence of settled agriculture can be found as far back as in Indus Valley Civilization. Then, in the later Vedic texts cultivation of a wide range of cereals, vegetables and fruits is described along with plowing soil, irrigation practices among others. There was slow and steady progress in the agriculture till the British colonization when the downward spiral began.
The new methods of land revenue system introduced by the British led to massive agrarian distress and poverty. In addition, deliberate de-industrialisation led to massive pressure of land leading to further poverty. The emphasis on commercial crops over food crops led to series of famines, the most infamous being the Bengal famine of 1943.
After independence the leaders were aware of the various problems being faced by India in the form of food shortage, primitive agricultural techniques, high population pressure on land, small and fragmented land holdings as well as the exploitation of landless farmers and tenants by zamindars/landlords. This led to the introduction of many reforms.
REFORMS IN AGRICULTURE AFTER INDEPENDENCE
“Most things, except agriculture, can wait.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
The above statement by the first Prime Minister of India reflects the urgency that was required to address the issues in the agricultural sector.
Till 1960’s the government undertook socialistic solutions. One of the major steps was the agenda of land reforms under which zamnidari abolishen, tenancy reforms, land ceiling, promotion of cooperatives etc was undertaken. Agriculture was the focus area in 1st Five Year Plan. Government undertook many multipurpose projects like Damodar Valley Corporation, Bhakra Nangal Project among other as dams were touted as “temples of modern India”. There were also individual efforts by leaders like Vinoba Bhave who led Bhoodan-Gramdaan andolan/movement.
However, these efforts were not very successful as the condition of the farmers did not improve much. India still had to import food grains on unfair terms. US even suspended PL 480 or Food for Peace program when India was facing severe drought condition and was not self-sufficient in food. Thus, there was a realization that we have to become self reliant in food grain production.
In 1960s under the leadership of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and guidance of scientists like M.S. Swaminathan India adopted capitalistic and technological transformation of agriculture. Institutional support to farmers was provided through Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) among others. There were series of production revolutions launched like Green Revolution, Yellow Revolution (oilseeds), Operation Flood (milk), Blue Revolution (fisheries) etc. The most important among these has been the Green Revolution.
Continued in Part II
P.S.- P.S. To know why you are reading this topic on os.me, you can read my post “For Myself, You All and Vikrant”.