From plate to plough: Development with cow

Agricultural growth in Uttar Pradesh can be achieved by putting dairy in the lead role. State’s new chief minister has his task cut out for him

Written by Ashok Gulati , Smriti Verma | Updated: March 27, 2017 4:54 am
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath

Yogi Adityanath’s taking over as Uttar Pradesh chief minister has been criticised by several political pundits who say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has picked “cow over development”. They may soon have to bite the dust, like the economic pundits, who had predicted political and economic doom after the PM’s demonetisation move. It would not be fair to pass judgment on Yogi Adityanath, based on preconceived notions.

Adityanath and his team have categorically stated that they intend to fulfil the PM’s vision of “sabka saath, sabka vikas”, with development and good governance being their focus areas. The new CM has ordered closure of illegal abattoirs, banned gutka-paan in government offices and cautioned against spit-painting office premises. There is nothing wrong in that. Announcing anti-Romeo squads and directing plainclothes women police officers to nab such “romeos” are also steps in the right direction. They will improve governance and change the culture of “goondagardi” in the state, which became the norm due to poor governance.

But here we focus on “sabka saath, sabka vikas”, which we feel cannot be achieved unless agriculture is revved up in the state. Agriculture employs the largest proportion (47 per cent) of the workforce (in 2015-16, as per the Labour Bureau) in UP, and its growth rate has been just 2.5 per cent per annum during 2000-01 to 2014-15. This growth is lower than the all-India growth rate of agri-GDP of 2.9 per cent during the same period.

UP is located in the Gangetic plains that have one of the most fertile soils and the best water conditions in the country. Almost 78 per cent of the state’s cropped area is irrigated as against the figure of 47 per cent for the country. Yet, the state’s performance has been abysmal. Our research reveals that UP’s agriculture has the potential to grow at a minimum of 5 per cent per annum, for at least a decade, if not more. And if Yogi Adityanath and his team make agricultural growth a high priority, it will be their biggest step towards achieving “sabka saath, sabka vikas”. It will also give Adityanath rich political dividends.

Our research shows that this can be achieved by putting the cow (dairy) in the lead role; this will assure incomes to farmers and provide employment to 70 per cent or more of the female workforce. It can also cut down rural poverty very fast. So, we are looking at “development with the cow” — and not “cow over development”.

UP’s dairy sector requires more milk processing units, immediately. The state’s new chief minister should invite AMUL and private sector dairies, tap NABARD funds for dairy development and set up several medium-sized plants to process at least 30 per cent of UP’s milk production in the next five years. Current levels of processing through the organised sector are less than 12 per cent — Gujarat, in comparison, processes almost half of its milk through organised dairies (see graph). UP is the largest milk producer of the country; it produces 17 per cent (over 25 million tonnes annually, see graph). But it has lagged far behind in processing. As a result, farmers don’t get a good price for milk.

Ramping up milk processing with value-added products can be a game-changer. This should be followed by upgrading to pure cattle breeds for higher productivity. Several indigenous cows in Baba Ramdev’s farms yield 20 to 30 litres of milk per day; that is, at least four to five times what farmers get from their cows. Sex selection using artificial insemination can be the next step.

On the crop front, wheat and rice are the backbone of UP’s agriculture, occupying 61 per cent of the state’s cropped area. UP

accounts for about 30 per cent of the country’s total wheat production and 13 per cent of its rice production. But marketing of wheat and rice in UP is in very poor shape. In the absence of a robust procurement network, farmers sell their produce at prices that are 10-20 per cent below the MSP. Now that UP and the Centre have BJP-led governments, it should be much easier to create a sound procurement system along the lines of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Haryana. One can imagine the change in the rural landscape once farmers start getting 10-20 per cent higher prices for wheat and rice.

Sugarcane is another crop where pricing needs to be rationalised. Sugarcane prices have to be linked to sugar prices. There should be a provision for a price stabilisation fund. But the first action should involve freeing up the molasses market. Currently, sugarcane farmers actually subsidise the liquor industry. Adityanath must break this nexus of liquor barons and politicians in order to get better prices for sugarcane farmers.

UP also has abundant vegetables and fruits, especially potatoes and mangoes. Solar-powered cold storages for potatoes and harnessing solar power in fields and solar-powered irrigation pumps can be sustainable solutions to augment farmers’ incomes. Innovative farming techniques, such as high-density mango orchards (350 trees per hectare) and even ultra-high-density orchards (1,675 trees per hectare) can increase yields and incomes of farmers.

These measures — cow/dairy-led agri-development, erecting a robust procurement system for wheat and rice in order to ensure MSP to farmers, rationalising sugarcane pricing and freeing up molasses, and making potatoes and mangoes more competitive for augmenting farmers’ incomes — are all doable within the next five years. These are all low-hanging fruits, with rich economic and political dividends that the new CM can easily pluck. If Yogi hits the ground running on these lines, he can be assured of serving UP for at least a decade, if not more.

Gulati is Infosys Chair Professor for Agriculture and Verma is a consultant at ICRIER

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