Despite the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) growing at an impressive 6% last year, a 4% growth target for the 11th Plan (2007-2012) is not only ambitious but impossible to meet, said Abhijit Sen, Planning Commission member. Sen, who was recently appointed to head a committee on forwarding trading in commodities, said he is happy that the government is refocusing on agriculture.
But, he said, “4% is very tough. Even the good decades have had 3.5% growth. The steady rise in public investment that has happened in the past three years will start showing an impact only three years from now. I’m certain that it will cross 3%... beyond that, we have many convergence problems.“
A number of new initiatives will be put firmly in place this year, such as a horticulture mission, fisheries board, a pulses technology mission and a rainfed area authority, Sen said in an interview just days after the Budget. A major reshuffling of schemes was also on the cards, with some old schemes being replaced with the new ones. The outlay could effectively go up by another Rs7,000 crore as part of “what the finance minister called Budget B”, Sen said.
Sen also said sugar exports might be allowed due to the glut in domestic sugar market. He agreed that tariffs on agricultural commodities were quite high. But, before having a trade policy in commodities, it was important to have a good tariff policy, he added.
“The question is ‘can we have an aggressive, timely and responsive tariff policy, which responds promptly to global situations?’ We can’t, because any change has to go through three-four ministries and by that time, the problem is over,” the Plan panel member said.
Sen said that while the Centre had failed in irrigation so far, it was now the job of the states to take up irrigation projects sincerely. It was clear that Central investment would not be enough. “Most of what goes through the ministry of agriculture is a actually a lot of subsidies,” Sen said.
Despite the need for reforms in agriculture, Sen felt that food security must remain a primary goal for the government. “One can talk about not having self-sufficiency in foodgrain as a goal anymore, but how can we neglect food security,” he asked, especially since the markets were still not national in nature. “Try going into the market for anything more than 10 million tonnes at one go, you won’t get it.”
Although poverty has not gone down significantly, Sen said there has been a definite shift of jobs from agriculture to other sectors. The overall pressure on agriculture to feed more than it possibly can, therefore, is declining.