Agriculture is not remunerative and some major reasons for the current crisis are: low productivity due to poor seed quality; agricultural residues not being used for additional incomes; poor water (irrigation) availability leading to low-cropping intensity; non-availability of high- quality extension services leading to improper package of practices and non-adoption of available technologies; lack of access to credit; low farm-gate realizations due to lack of market intelligence, also lack of alternative channels other than the APMCs (agricultural produce marketing committees) and lack of use of risk management tools.
Many of these areas have been well documented and written about by various experts within and outside of the government and I’d like to highlight some areas that need the Centre’s urgent attention and action.
For strengthening extension, the government needs to start a certified crop adviser (CCA) programme in India on the lines of the programme run by American Society of Agronomy in the US, which has certified 15,000-odd crop advisers who serve as a complement to the university, and the Federal departments are engaged in extension work. CCAs would be available to farmers, the private sector and extension departments (of the government) for advice and capacity building. Para-extension workers who could be paid directly by village panchayats (Rs1,500- 2,000 per month) are the way forward to ensure accountability at ground level.
Madhya Pradesh has a Kisan Mitra/Kisan Didi programme, where one male and one female trainer are periodically trained from each of the 52,000 villages in the state, who in turn advise the farmers in their villages.
The government must contract out or build a countrywide network for primary research on scientific crop estimation surveys to provide ongoing and accurate demand and supply estimates for all crops all over the country several times during the year on the lines of the work done by the US department of agriculture in that country.
The development of India’s futures markets happened before the development of efficient, electronic and pan-Indian spot markets; both need to be developed in tandem to ensure full benefit to farmers.
Agricultural residues, which constitute 65-75% of the product in foodgrain as well as fruit and vegetables, are totally wasted, and most of the times burnt in the fields. India produces 600 million tonnes (mt) of agricultural residues every year. These, say experts, can theoretically produce 80,000MW of electric power year round through biomass-based power plants and generate 30 million jobs. Thousands of such plants are running all over the world.
(Sunil Khairnar is managing director of Indian Agribusiness Systems Pvt. Ltd. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)