The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) has termed the current performance of the nation’s agriculture sector as ‘most alarming’. Though the agricultural sector is the largest employer in the country its contribution to the national economy has been continuously declining since Independence. The NSSO has found that the contribution of agriculture to the economy is falling, while the percentage of people dependent on agriculture is around 50 per cent, which should alarm policy makers. The NSSO states that poor people are more indebted in comparison to the assets they hold. The survey has also revealed that low productivity in agriculture and allied sector has adversely affected employment and income generation among the agricultural households. It has blamed poor rural infrastructure and low levels of investment for the slow growth of agricultural sector. The contribution of the agriculture sector to the GDP, which was 56.5 per cent in the financial year 1950-51, has shrunk to 17 per cent now, a situation that could be described as alarming.
The NSSO survey report card also indicates that among the agricultural households having less than 0.01 hectare land (making up 56 per cent of people dependent on agriculture) daily wage was principal source of income. About 23 per cent of people dependent on agriculture have reported income from livestock as their source of income. However, a majority of the agricultural households which possessed more than 0.40 hectare land reported cultivation as their income source. As per the survey, the declining share of agriculture in the overall economy is a consequence of higher rate of growth of the non-agricultural sectors. The All-India Debt and Investment Survey (AIDIS), one of the components of NSSO, has revealed that around 52 per cent of the estimated 90.2 million agricultural households in rural India reported outstanding loans. The average amount of outstanding loan per agricultural household was around Rs 47,000. What is more surprising is that the average monthly income per agricultural household hovered around Rs 6,400 between July 2012 and June 2013, which is much less than the minimum wages fixed by the government. The authorities do not stop crying that the well-being of farmers is vital to the nation’s prosperity, given the fact that they are the sentinels of food security, but hardly anything is done to provide them food or income security.
Despite lakhs of crores of rupees having been spent on ambitious irrigation programmes since independence, there is still a long way to go in making irrigation facilities available throughout the country. About two-thirds of the total cropped area is still dependent on rain. The problems related to irrigation have to be solved on priority to give a boost to agriculture. Most of Indian farmers are dependent on rains for agricultural activities. Parts of the country receive insufficient and irregular rains causing uncertainty in agriculture. Uncertain rains lead to drought conditions in large areas of the country. There is need for good irrigation facilities which can help control droughts and prevent suicides by farmers, which take place in thousands every year. Interlinking of rivers could also be an answer to the distribution of water for irrigation and usher in second green revolution and help in attaining self-sufficiency in food.
Since India has a tropical and sub-tropical climate, farmers can use the positive potential of the climatic conditions in many parts to grow crops on a year-round basis. This could be facilitated by provision of round-the-year irrigation facilities through major and minor irrigation schemes. Tube wells have been a great help to farmers in agriculturally developed parts of the country and they can be used to boost yield in other parts as well. Farmers can grow two or three crops in a year, including cash crops, which will considerably enhance agricultural production and productivity and create jobs in rural areas round the year. In some parts, farmers groups are cultivating cash crops with good profit, particularly in areas in the vicinity of cities. Peasants and labourers could have work round the year and more crops would mean better income for them. The government will have to play a proactive role in helping the farmers by having a focused strategy, like having an area-specific high yielding programme, providing them with new farming technologies, and bringing more land, which has been left fallow for various reasons, under cultivation. On their part the farmers need to be both innovative and competitive. To achieve this goal, the authorities should not limit their roles to rhetoric but pull down the infrastructure and investment barriers to usher in all-round development in agriculture.