For a sprawling state with 11 agro-climatic regions,Madhya Pradesh has set for itself an ambitious target of 10 per cent growth in agriculture its backbone that accounts for nearly one-quarter of the state GDP.
The states optimism stems from its record production of wheat,soybean,rice and gram among other crops in the recent years,which it attributes to a mix of better implementation of state and central schemes,and populist measures like giving bonus over and above the MSP (Minimum Support Price).
The government claims that agriculture has become resilient to rainfall and despite dry spells in the last few years,the average production is still a cause for cheer,an achievement in a state that used to once record negative growth.
Its equally true that the states untapped potential was so high that growth and production are easily noticed unlike traditional performers like Punjab and Haryana.
Interestingly,farmers from Punjab have a small role in boosting production in MP. Lured by the availability of cheap land,hundreds of them sold their ancestral land and purchased vast tracts in MP,where they have now settled and making the best of their experience back home.
The state received very good rainfall last year and enough surface water is available. While wheat acreage has grown by 15 per cent,gram acreage has gone up by a whopping 50 per cent, says Commissioner (Statistics) Dr S P Sharma about the states optimism that was recently conveyed to the Planning Commission.
Even today,nearly 65 per cent agriculture is rain-fed in MP. The government says it has brought one lakh hectare area under irrigation in the last eight years. Giving it a political spin,it says during the Congress-rule,between 1993 and 2003,an irrigation potential of only 2.3 lakh hectare was added.
Nearly 70 per cent population is still dependent on agriculture and becomes the governments key priority,largely due to political compulsions. The state is still taking baby steps when it comes to industrialisation.
The increase in production of cash crops has come at the cost of traditional crops that were once the mainstay of subsistence farming.
While the government pats itself on the back for its pro-farmer policies,what has helped is the large inflow of funds from the Centre and agencies like the World Bank.
Procurement has made production visible because farmers come to mandis to offload their produce. In 2002-03 the total arrival at the mandis was 106 lakh MT,which rose to 217 lakh MT in 2010-11.
G S Kaushal,who retired as MPs Director of Agriculture in 2004,recalls that way back in 1999-2002,the wheat production was very high but only 4.5 MT was procured. While the production was not steady,the procurement was hardly eight lakh MT in 2008.
While in 2011 the production was not very high compared to previous years,procurement was a whopping 50 lakh MT,more than half of the total produce. It was another matter that a large quantity of that wheat rotted as the state did not have enough storage space.
Sunil of Samajwadi Jan Parishad,however,views the growth story differently. He says commercialisation of agriculture has made production more visible but has not necessarily translated into better returns for farmers. The activist says farmers are getting more money but the input cost has gone up substantially and the growth does not mean proportionate rise in farmers income. He doubts some of the figures touted by the government while accusing state agencies of inflating area under irrigation when the actual irrigation is much less.
Its difficult to say,he argues,whether production has increased in absolute terms because cash crops have replaced traditional crops. Most of what was consumed in rural areas is now brought to mandis for sale. Crops like kodo,kutki or sama are becoming extinct while the growth of soybean has come at the cost of other oilseeds like sesame or groundnut.
Despite the governments claim of protecting the interest of farmers,its a common sight in many parts for them to protest about lack of electricity and fertilizers. Even the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh,a body that is affiliated to the ruling BJP,is not happy with everything that the state does. They had brought Bhopal to its knees in December 2010 by blocking its main roads with tractors and trolleys accusing the government of not taking the farmers cause seriously.