Agriculture Policy

Agriculture is the Bright Spot in the Economy, Economic Survey Says; Waxes on Natural Farming

Organic farming trial at ICAR institute in Modipuram. Photo by Vivian Fernandes.

Agriculture has been a bright spot in the economy. It has been the least affected by the pandemic. It grew by 3.6 percent in 2020-21 and is expected to grow at 3.9 percent this year. Agriculture’s contribution to the economy’s gross value added (GVA) is expected to be 18.8 percent in 2021-22, the Economic Survey says. Between 2016-17 and 2021-22, annual agricultural growth has averaged 3.97 percent.

There is a churn happening within the agricultural sector. The share of cereals in agricultural GVA added is declining. This year, it is expected to contribute 10.7 percentage points, while the livestock sector’s contribution will be 5.2 percent and that of fishing and aquaculture 1.2 percent. Ten years ago, in 2011-12, cereals contributed 12.1 percentage points to agricultural GVA, while the share of livestock was 4 percent and that of fishing and aquaculture 0.8 percent.

The survey says there is a direct correlation between capital investments in agriculture and its growth rate. Public investment has remained stable between 2-3 percent over the years while private investment had fluctuated and is a low 2-3 percent now. The survey says private corporate investments need to be attracted through appropriate policies and an increase in public investment along the entire agricultural value chain.

The survey says that crop diversification can be a tool to promote sustainable agriculture, reduce  import dependence and raise the income of farmers. The shifting of area from cereals to high-value produce can lead to a sizable increase in returns for farmers. The survey notes the measures that the government has taken to raise the production of oilseeds, which the country is deficient in, from 2018-19 onwards under he National Food Security Mission: Oilseeds. Under this scheme the production of foundation and certified seed and distribution of high quality high-yielding certified seeds is undertaken. The government set up 36 oilseeds seed hubs during 2018-19 and 2019-20 to increase the availability of high yielding quality seed. For Kharif 2021, a total of 9.25 lakh oilseed mini-kits of high yielding varieties were allocated for distribution in all the major oilseed-growing states. The survey takes note of initiatives like the National Mission on Edible Oil-Oil Palm announced in August 2021. It says there is considerable score for increasing the production of palm oil in the country.

The survey devotes two paragraphs for natural farming whose aim is the elimination of chemical fertiliser and pesticide usage and promotion of good agronomic practices. It says natural farming aims to sustain agricultural production with eco-friendly processes in tune with nature. Soil fertility and soil organic matter are restored by natural farming practices. They require less water and are climate friendly. The Bharatiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhati Programme (BPKP) promotes on-farm biomass recycling through mulching, use of cow dung-urine formulations, periodic soil aeration and exclusion of all synthetic chemical inputs. Financial assistance of Rs 12,200 per hectare for three years is provided for cluster formation, training, certification and residue analysis. As on 7 December 2021, Andhra Pradesh had one lakh ha under natural farming, MP 99,000 ha, Chhattisgarh 85,000 ha and Kerala 84,000 ha. Tamil Nadu had just 2,000 ha under natural farming.

The survey is silent on technologies like genetic modification or CRISPR-CAS gene editing. These are technologies that the food exporting countries are emphasising.

(Photo: Organic farming trial at ICAR institute in Modipuram. Photo by Vivian Fernandes)