Diversifying Agriculture

Raising farmers income vital

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently called for focusing on higher agricultural productivity through the use of latest technology and high-yielding crop varieties to help double farmers’ income by 2022. He also stated the need to revisit the incentive structure of farming, besides focusing on reducing wastage and improving the marketing of farm produce while speaking at his first pre-Budget consultative meeting with representatives of agricultural groups. These possibly would be incorporated in the 15-year vision document which the Niti Aayog is preparing and expected to be released early this year.
In an endeavour to make agriculture high-value, farm experts recently suggested encouraging States to undertake reforms, create corpus fund for promoting farm mechanisation and micro irrigation and provide interest subvention for term loans, among others, to greatly increase incomes within the next five years.
Though after the much talked green revolution, white revolution helped in increasing milk production and yellow revolution increased cropped area of oilseeds, there is still scope of increasing all-round production to cope up with the huge population increase. There is need for people to treat agriculture as a profession, in the true sense of the term, and carry out activities accordingly. Meanwhile, steps have been initiated by the Government to address two major areas – soil health and water conservation — critical to improved agricultural production and productivity.
Thus it goes without saying that agricultural incomes have to be given a boost to make it lucrative and ensure higher returns for the farming community. Apart from increasing productivity, diversification of agriculture is also a very viable need. For all this to become successful scientific inputs and technological support is obviously necessary. Though there has been very little that has been done over the years, presently some successful initiatives have been noted.
The lab-to-land approach has been in the air for a long period but in reality this was not implemented. Those sub-divisions and Blocks which received support and help from agricultural universities considered themselves lucky but the spectre has changed a little in the coming years with the NDA Government clearly directing IITs to take up experimentation projects in the villages. This obviously augurs well for the agricultural sector as the measures could help in higher output and diversion plans.
Talking about diversification, experts are of the opinion that crop diversification in rice field increases the cropping intensity with additional returns and generate more employment opportunities. It is particularly relevant to the rice fields of Assam as it is the major crop which occupies 2.5 million hectares of land area.
One cannot deny the fact that integration of horticultural plants with field crops such as rice and also pulses become extremely important to achieve inclusive growth so that together it can boost up production of the agriculture sector. The main objective for this combination is to grow rice, pulse, kharif and rabi vegetables on the same field during the same period of time, contributing towards nutritional security and ensure soil sustainability in the long run.
Agricultural scientists rightly pointed out that the main advantage is that vegetable crops grown on the soil columns can make effective use of the resources applied on the rice fields with reduced requirement of irrigation which makes it cost effective. Thus the horticulture sector being an important component of high value agriculture, the economic importance of the horticulture produce is rising over the years due to the ever increasing demand both at national and international markets.
Another aspect of gearing up productivity is the need for agri mechanisation that has recently emerged as a strong driver of this sector. The sale of tractors has increased significantly in the past few years while power tillers are widely used since they are effective in smaller areas and reduce field levelling time considerably. The demand for rice transplanters and laser land levellers are also expected to increase in the coming years.
Thus diversification of the agri sector with value addition in horticulture, floriculture and spices and on-farm processing for production of various types of oil, both for the domestic and export markets, is the need of the day so as to ensure higher incomes on a sustained basis. One needs to mention here that oil seeds production of the country is way below world average and needs to be given a boost with proper usage of micronutrients and mechanisation apart from increasing processing centres with latest technology.
Other than this, production of fruits with an eye on the export market should also be given special attention. It needs to be added here that the agricultural institutes should help the small and medium farmers to increase all-round production and productivity, specially of value added crops. Demonstration farms would bring in more efficiency in helping increase output.
In fact a recent but unique initiative by has come from Rajasthan. It is to come up with its first olive oil brand in the country to reduce dependence on imports for edible oil. India imports 50 to 55 per cent of the edible oil needs and virtually all of it has urban consumption, which is around 14,000 metric tonnes. The State has one thousand hectares under cultivation which is planned to increase five times over the next three years. According to sources, the idea came from Israel which was successful with olive plantations in the Negev desert.
As per reports, famers have started earning Rs 3-4 lakh per acre from olive cultivation against Rs 1 lakh growing the traditional bajra or millet. As India would consume about 25,000 metric tonnes by the year 2020, which would rise further to 40,000 metric tonnes by 2025, there is ample scope of emulating Rajasthan’s example in other States and earning much more than their present income.
This is just one example of how oilseeds production in the country could be substantially increased to cope up with domestic demand and also bring down and steadily stop imports. Moreover, the value received by increasing oilseeds production would help in raising incomes of the farming community.
All efforts have to be made to increase the incomes of the farming community through experimentation in producing value-added crops. All round productivity increase has to be ensured and it is understood that the support of the Government would be forthcoming, whether in making available appropriate technology or in developing software applications. Unless agriculture is tackled in a professional manner, the next generation would lose interest in this sector which, which no doubt, has great potential. —INFA



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