Agriculture needs a ‘natural’ boost


    In Context

    • Policymakers have been striving hard to make Indian agriculture economically viable for a long time.

    Agriculture in India

    • India is one of the major players in the agriculture sector worldwide and it is the primary source of livelihood for ~55% of India’s population. 
    • India:
      • Has the world’s largest cattle herd (buffaloes), 
      • Has largest area planted to wheat, rice, and cotton, and 
      • Is the largest producer of milk, pulses, and spices in the world. 
      • It is the second-largest producer of fruit, vegetables, tea, farmed fish, cotton, sugarcane, wheat, rice, cotton, and sugar. 
    • Agriculture sector in India holds the record for second-largest agricultural land in the world generating employment for about half of the country’s population.

    Issues faced by the sector

    • Food inflation: 
      • Despite the success in terms of production that has ensured food security in the country, food inflation and its volatility remain a challenge.
    • Crop productivity: 
      • In India is much lower than other advanced and emerging market economies due to various factors, like fragmented landholdings, lower farm mechanization and lower public and private investment in agriculture.
    • Environmental hazards: 
      • Current overproduction of crops like rice, wheat and sugarcane, has led to rapid depletion of the ground-water table, soil degradation and massive air pollution raising questions about the environmental sustainability of current agricultural practices in India.
    • Overutilization of fertilisers:
      • The government spends well over ?1-lakh crore per annum towards fertiliser subsidy translating into approximately ?7,000 per farmer
        • This led to indiscriminate use of fertilisers resulting in irreparable ecological damage, soil infertility, and a toxic food chain
        • Soil position in Punjab is unhealthy as 246 kg of fertilisers are used per hectare compared to the national average of 135 kg.
    • Manures, Fertilizers and Biocides:
      • Indian soils have been used for growing crops over thousands of years without caring much for replenishing. This has led to depletion and exhaustion of soils resulting in their low productivity.
    • Irrigation: 
      • Although India is the second largest irrigated country of the world after China, only one-third of the cropped area is under irrigation. Irrigation is the most important agricultural input in a tropical monsoon country like India.
    • Conventional method of cultivation:
      • In spite of the large scale mechanization of agriculture in some parts of the country most of the agricultural operations in larger parts are carried on by human hand using simple and conventional tools and implements like wooden plough, sickle, etc.
    • Agricultural marketing: 
      • Agricultural marketing still continues to be in a bad shape in rural India. In the absence of sound marketing facilities, the farmers have to depend upon local traders and middlemen for the disposal of their farm produce which is sold at throw-away price.

    Policy options for agriculture

    • Digitalisation of agriculture: 
      • Agri start-ups have been helping in putting the ‘farmer first’ in supplying seeds, fertilisers, pesticides directly through apps/call centres/channel partners, obtaining loans, buying crop insurance, and selling their produce at the best price. 
      • These new age ventures make the life of farmers easy through their ‘full-stack’solutions, from ‘seed to market’
        • Gurugram-based DeHaat caters to 15 lakh farmers covering over 35 crops, through artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics. 
      • Typically, the farmers with smartphone can access digitalized agri-services for agri-inputs, farm advisory, and marketing of agri-produce.
    • Integrated/natural farming: 
      • Integrated/natural farming is recommended for some farmers who cultivate on uneconomic land holdings
      • How?
        • If the farmer opts for integrated farming i.e., a couple of milch animals, backyard poultry, fish pond alongside vermi-culture for generating natural manure, he will be self-reliant and financially empowered. 
        • Family labour is the most important component of integrated farming, which makes it commercially viable and environmentally sustainable.
    • Climate smart agriculture: 
      • It is imperative to shift to eco-friendly agri-inputs such as Nano Urea which is cost-effective, ease in logistics, apart from enhancing crop yields substantially. 
        • In fact, a 500 ml bottle of Nano Urea costs around ?240 and it can replace a 45 kg bag of urea, that costs around ?3,000 in the open market.
    • Adopting best farm-practices – Example of Israel: 
      • Though Israel does not have conducive climate for cultivation of agriculture, water resources, and more than half of its land area is desert, it is a major exporter of farm-produce and a global leader in agricultural technologies including Internet of Things
      • Agriculture in Israel is based on co-operative principles that are practised mainly by two farming communities namely Kibbutz and Moshav who follow social equality, co-operation and mutual aid in generating agricultural output in the most productive manner.
    • Say ‘no’ to informal credit: 
      • A recent field survey in 5 States (Telangana, Karnataka, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) shows that money lenders/traders/landlords, still exist in rural India despite the availability of formal sources of finance from banks/financial institutions. 
      • So besides easing access to formal credit, farmers need to be counselled on financial prudence.
    • Leveraging Collectives: 
      • Convergence of SHGs, Farmers Producer Organisations (FPOs) and Co-operatives will lead to better bargaining power of farmers in terms of 
        • bulk procurement of inputs at a discounted price, 
        • economies of scale in transportation and warehousing, 
        • access to low cost institutional finance, farm mechanisation (drones for monitoring of crops and spraying of fertilisers and plant protection chemicals, etc.), 
        • aggregation in selling of agri-produce at remunerative prices. 
    • Development of agri-value chains: 
      • Key drivers of agri-value chains are customer focus, infrastructure, technology, training & capacity building
        • VAPCOL, a multi-state farmer producer company based in Maharashtra, is a case in point. 
          • It has a membership of 55 FPOs covering over 40,000 tribal farmers spread across seven States.
      • Development of agri-export clusters may be encouraged besides managing the risks of monsoon and market.

    Government initiatives for the sector

    • National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture (NeGPA)
      • It was initially launched in 2010-11 in 7 pilot States as a  Centrally Sponsored Scheme
      • It aims to achieve rapid development in India through use of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) for timely access to agriculture related information to the farmers.
    • Initiating National Agriculture Market (eNAM): 
      • It is a pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities.
    • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY): 
      • It was launched from the Kharif 2016 season and provides insurance cover for all stages of the crop cycle including post-harvest risks in specified instances, with a low premium contribution by farmers.
    • National Mission For Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA): 
      • It has been formulated for enhancing agricultural productivity especially in rainfed areas focusing on integrated farming, water use efficiency, soil health management and synergizing resource conservation.
    • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY): 
      • It has been formulated with the vision of extending the coverage of irrigation ‘Har Khet ko pani’ and improving water use efficiency ‘More crop per drop’ in a focused manner with end-to-end solution on source creation, distribution, management, field application and extension activities.
    • Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan (PM-AASHA): 
      • It is aimed at ensuring remunerative prices to the farmers for their produce as announced in the Union Budget for 2018.
    • Kisan Credit Card (KCC): 
      • The Government has extended the facility of KCC to the farmers practicing animal husbandry and fisheries-related activities.
    • Per Drop More Crop Initiative: 
      • Under it, drip/sprinkler irrigation is being encouraged for optimal utilization of water, reducing the cost of inputs and increasing productivity.


    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] What are the issues faced by the agriculture sector in India? What are the possible policy solutions to make Indian agriculture economically viable in the long run?