From plate to plough: Seeds of change

PM Modi needs to move from slogans to action to transform agriculture.

Written by Shweta Saini , Ashok Gulati | Published:August 15, 2016 12:02 am
narendra modi, pm modi, modi government, independence day, lal bahadur shastri, jai jawan jai kisan, atal bihari vajpayee, swacchh bharat, more crop per drop, har khet ko paani, slogans, agricultural india, farmers in india, agri food, FYP, mixed economy, droughts in india, farming in india, nddb, nda government, upa government, modi regime, agriculture, farming, indian express opinion, opinion A look at the historic evolution of the agri-food space to identify catalytic contributions by leaders of the day reveals interesting facts.

On Independence Day, we salute our freedom fighters. We also remember Lal Bahadur Shastri who gave us the slogan, jai jawan, jai kisan.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee expanded the slogan to jai jawan, jai kisan, jai vigyan. The present government has an array of slogans for the farmers. Prime Minister Modi has coined so many — swacchh bharat, more crop per drop, har khet ko pani among them — that it is hard to identify the most important one. Slogans are important as they reflect not only the leader’s vision but also help to mobilise the masses.

However, if slogans are not backed by a clear strategy and financial resources, they will fizzle out.

A look at the historic evolution of the agri-food space to identify catalytic contributions by leaders of the day reveals interesting facts. Let us start with the Nehruvian era. The first five year plan (FYP) focussed on irrigation (big dams). The second FYP (1956-61) was driven by Prime Minister Nehru’s economic philosophy of the mixed economy, with the state playing a dominant role, and focused on heavy industry. For food, however, he relied on PL480 aid (mainly wheat) from the US. When India faced back-to-back droughts in the mid 1960s, Shastri realised the folly of this model. For a country that lived “from ship-to-mouth”, two consecutive droughts and a 72-hour suspension of food aid from the US (due to political differences over Vietnam) were enough to ring the alarm bells.

The crisis sowed the seeds of the first major transformational change in Indian agriculture. Nearly 18,000 tonnes of high yielding variety seeds of dwarf wheat were imported from Mexico, and Agricultural Prices Commission (APC), now known as CACP, and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) were created to incentivise farmers to adopt new technology. By 1971-72, India became nearly self-sufficient in basic staples. This transformational change was the Green Revolution.

Shastri also took another transformational decision that changed the course of India’s milk sector, which was to create the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), with Verghese Kurien as its chairman. The NDDB gave India the White Revolution, which turned the country into the largest producer of milk in the world.

Indira Gandhi went socialist and strangulated grain markets by taking over wholesale trade in wheat in 1973-74 and rice in the following season. She failed miserably and India was forced to import grain again.

The biggest decision thereafter in the agri-food space was taken by Vajpayee when he allowed GM technology in cotton in March 2002 and in the process launched the gene revolution. This made India the second largest producer and exporter of cotton, with net gains of about $55 billion during 2002-2015.

UPA I and UPA II saw the global commodity price boom. Manmohan Singh’s government offered significant increases in minimum support prices. This increased production, stocks and exports to unprecedented levels. India exported more than 60 million tonnes of cereals during 2012-14, and overall agriculture exports touched $42 billion in FY14.

More recently, Modi’s government is seen struggling to revive the agri sector in the wake of back-to-back droughts in 2014 and 2015. In his town hall meeting, Modi acknowledged that Indian agriculture held the key to India’s growth. A week before, in a meeting at NITI Aayog for 15 years’ vision and planning, he stated emphatically that focus on agricultural productivity alone will not suffice, and that we needed a holistic approach including food processing, access to markets etc. Further, he added that the time for incremental changes was over, and that we now needed transformational ideas and policies. He is spot on.

What are PM Modi’s transformational ideas and policies in the agri food space? So far, it has been only slogans and little action. The Indian farmer and farming is limping due to heavy dependence on monsoons. Slogans like har khet ko pani and more crop per drop under the PM’s Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) are nowhere near transformational as they have only paltry resources (Rs 5,767 crore) and fragmented governance across three ministries.

If PM Modi really wants to usher in transformational changes in India’s agri food space, our submission is he focus on just three things.

One, put food and fertiliser subsidies under Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to beneficiaries’ accounts. Tie it with deregulating fertiliser prices and imports, and shrink the public distribution system, which is marred by massive leakages (above 40 per cent) and high costs. This will save him save a minimum of Rs 50,000 crore annually, which he should put in water management (PMKSY).

Two, ensure at least all NDA-ruled states carry out genuine agri market reforms, that is, break the monopoly of APMC markets by creating alternative private sector/farmers’ markets, allowing direct purchases from farmers, capping commissions plus taxes at 3 per cent (1 plus 2), abolish or drastically prune Essential Commodities Act (ECA), liberalise retail and e-commerce to create all India markets.

Three, usher in a brown revolution by incentivising precision agriculture. It will help save precious water, fertilisers, maintain soil fertility of Mother Earth, and make agriculture not only sustainable but also productive and profitable to farmers.

If PM Modi can do these, he will go down in history as having transformed the Indian agri-food space. Else, we are afraid, his slogans may boomerang.

Gulati is Infosys Chair professor for Agriculture and Saini a consultant at ICRIER

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

  1. H
    Hemant Kumar
    Aug 15, 2016 at 3:06 pm
    The writer has forgot to mention PM Modi's soil health card scheme which has led to an increase in production of crop by 30%. She has also not mentioned e-NAM (National Agriculture Market) or in Hindi it is called e-mandi which shows her ignorance. In this market one farmer in the southern tip can sell his produce where he may get best price any where in the country. It takes much lesser time to write an article than to make changes with foresight to avert the problems including those arising out of change in climate.
    Reply
    1. A
      Arvind
      Aug 15, 2016 at 5:24 am
      Brown Revolution should be at the heart of agricultural policy of at least next 2 governments too. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; To mitigate the scars left behind by Green Revolution, Brown Revolution is inevitable. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; Problem of marketing will be automatically taken care of by Brown Revolution. US and Germany have embarked on it already and are ahead of India by leaps and bounds. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; Environment concerns are more than met, besides health if Brown Revolution realises it's stated goals in letter and spirit.
      Reply
    2. A
      Arvind
      Aug 15, 2016 at 5:36 am
      Brown Revolution should be at the heart of agricultural policy of at least next 2 governments too. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; To mitigate the scars left behind by Green Revolution, Brown Revolution is inevitable. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; Problem of marketing will be automatically taken care of by Brown Revolution. US and Germany have embarked on it already and are ahead of India by leaps and bounds. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; Environment concerns are more than met, besides health concerns, if Brown Revolution realises it's stated goals in letter and spirit.
      Reply
      1. A
        Anurag Srivastava
        Aug 15, 2016 at 2:30 pm
        Do you people expect Mr. Modi to plough the fields. It is for the ground level to perform. Modi does regular monitoring of projetcs and scolds the Secretaries and Cheif Secretaries who falter. Do you want hims to suspend and turn out people. The States/UTs have also got a role to play.. After the 14th Finance Commission of UPA Government more funds are going directly to the State and UT Governments. Modi's government is at its hal way stage not even a single scam has been reported. There is no sons or sons-in-law in PMO.
        Reply
        1. A
          Anurag Srivastava
          Aug 15, 2016 at 3:41 pm
          Shri Heman Kumar ji I am aware of Swachh Bharat, Swachh Vidyalaya, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Ypjna, Soil Health Card scheme. People have left the dirty toilet, which have no cleaning facility, and have again started going to the fields. A study will be soon done to identify the risk factors in all the schemes and come out with plug to gaps.
          Reply
          1. C
            Col S
            Aug 15, 2016 at 6:45 pm
            modi came to power with JUMLAS on development corruption and governance.Every one including g the writer of this piece talk of FARMERS but not about the REALITIES. Fertilizers are SOLD in all states,including those rules by BJP , in BLACK and often not available. Foodgrsin of Rs 12000 crore stolen from PANJAB. ruled by BJP_SAD and written off. Farmer loans and MegaLoans to CORPORATES are example of PER. lt;br/gt;Six ex_ CMs of UP told by SC to vacate Lucknow bungalows_ LOOT by thelt;br/gt;Powerful. lt;br/gt;Feudalism thrives and DEMOCRACY murdered.
            Reply
            1. H
              harun
              Aug 15, 2016 at 7:50 am
              Modi has spoken many a time about agriculture including Swaminathan report implementation as well.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Honestly he has done absolutely nothing.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Farmers were 50/acre as compensation in Haryana ruled by a Sanghchalak were distraught farmers showed these cheques on TV.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;50% price for produce of that of MARKET PRICE Remains a slogan as well.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Availability of fertiliser,quality seeds and a mechanisim for farmers to sell produce for decent prices is still a pipedream.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;We are yet to hear a Blue Print or any Report which is under consideration to address these problems Farmer faces.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If Modi is seriously going to help the poor Farmer,why did his Agriculture Minister relate suicides of Farmers in their 1000s to love failure,Impotence and Mental disease.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Modi must save the Food security and Green revolution of 70s.
              Reply
              1. S
                sunny
                Aug 15, 2016 at 7:39 am
                A god article. The brown revolution concept is nothing new and I believe Modiji can only per sue the concept. The real hurdle comes from the local leaders as our poor farmer believe that more water more more yield. The irrigated area coming under water logging situation is alarming. Study the reason over irrigation.One partial solution is that Govt should come with attractive MSP for less water consuming crop and protect farmers going for less water requirement crop against crop failure. More crop per drop is not Modiji slogan , it is Dr Swamathin concept mainly on paddy irrigation and the article is in MoWR Web about 5-6 years back
                Reply
                1. Load More Comments