Sunday, March 4, 2007

Agriculture is dead

Neglect and deceit has marginalised the sector

I honestly fail to understand why is it that our political class still wants us to believe that we are an agrarian economy. I guess, for them, India just comprises of a few pockets of privileged farmers of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. As for the rest of the Indian farmers, if given a chance, they would be the first ones to quit farming because in the name of agriculture all they have received is neglect and deceit resulting in acute destitution. The facts speak loudly for themselves. The share of Indian agriculture as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has been consistently falling since Independence. To an extent that today it has plummeted to almost 20% from an imposing 61% in the 1950s. On a relative measure, this contribution looks alarming if one considers the fact that the population depending on our rural economy has swollen to almost 700 million. And with the current rate at which the sector is growing, it is needless to state it is going to be a perfect recipe for an impending agrarian disaster.

The fact of the matter is that howsoever hard we try to justify the fact that India is primarily an agrarian economy, no one in this country wants to farm. And why should they? Each and everything to do with Indian agriculture is in complete tatters, be it irrigation, availability of credit, market availability, technology and awareness, storage and distribution or capital formation. It is shocking that the gross investment for this sector by the government is a mere 1.3%. It does not surprise me a bit when NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) studies state that almost 40% of the farmers want to quit farming at the first instance provided they get an opportunity elsewhere. And why should they not? Had Indian agriculture been so remunerative, India Inc. would have put money where their mouth is. Except for some innovative interventions by companies like ITC, not a single major Indian corporation has come forward to invest in this sector. The irony is that most of the old economy Indian conglomerates have evolved after making fortunes from this sector. And today, when there is nothing left in this sector, it is left to the poor farmers.

The bigger problem is that in such a situation the farmers cannot even engage themselves elsewhere, as the government has left no option for them here too. As most of the farmers can neither sell their low yielding agricultural land (until and unless it is close to a city/town to extract some real estate value), nor are they educated enough to productively engage somewhere else (even if they manage to sell it). So the only option left for them is to lurch on their pieces of land and decay. And help our political class to continue their agrarian rhetoric.

The mother of all ironies: the government mercilessly grabs fertile pieces of land from the poor farmer to feed the needs of India Inc., farmers continue to commit suicide in thousands and almost 200 million people starve, and yet the political class breathlessly and shamelessly continue the agrarian propaganda. It’s high time that we face it: agriculture in India is dead and of whatever is left would soon be dead, all in the name of being an agrarian economy, primarily!!


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