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Opinion - Editorial


Pump-prime agriculture

IT HAS TAKEN almost six months for the Centre to constitute the National Commission on Farmers (NCF), in deference to the Prime Minister's Independence Day address last year. But the timing of the announcement is intriguing given that at this stage the impending general election and its politics would take precedence over anything else. Is this, then, a strong political message to the country's farming community that constitutes two-third of the population? Even if it were so, it is most unlikely that anyone engaged in farming for livelihood would be impressed. As to who will form the next government is anybody's guess; and therefore, the purpose and life expectancy of the NCF must remain uncertain for the time being.

Interestingly, much of what the Commission would seek to review and examine over the next two years is already common knowledge. The status of Indian agriculture and the conditions of different categories of farmers in various regions are not unknown to policymakers. Issues impacting agriculture and rural economy are well-documented in numerous studies. The National Agriculture Policy (NAP) of July 2000 comprehensively captures the areas that need focussed attention. But there is little evidence that the NAP has been acted upon with due seriousness or operationalised effectively. There is no paucity of ideas, but effective action is lacking. The utility of the NCF would stand considerably enhanced if it were not go into known issues. Instead, it should expend its energies and apply its expertise in designing plans that would help raise farm production and productivity, ensure the sustainability of agriculture and environment, manage a more equitable distribution of incomes, and build global competitiveness.

As the agricultural economy of the country is slowly but surely integrating with the global economy, capacity-building amongst farmers must become the primary concern. For implementing a strategic action plan, the Commission needs to assess availability of requisite resources — the magnitude of financial, human and technological resources necessary to strengthen agriculture. A related but equally important question is: How are funds going to be raised? Given the challenges facing agriculture, farm production and supplies respond to prices in a very limited way. Therefore, non-trade and non-price initiatives to deliver economic benefits to growers become important. Input supplies, water management, scientific agronomic practices, marketing infrastructure and timely flow of requisite information are the key areas of attention.

New Delhi has been shouting hoarse over the massive agricultural subsidies being granted by developed countries. But it is worth remembering that 30 per cent of the over $300 billion spent by the OECD countries annually are for what is called "support to general services in agriculture", that is training, research and development, advisory services, marketing and promotion, education, inspection and infrastructure development. Support to these areas is conspicuous by its absence in Indian agriculture, though the food subsidy is ballooning. If policies take care of agriculture, farmers know to take care of themselves.

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