Three Longs & Three Shorts

A high growth plan for Indian agriculture

Several of us in Marcellus have known Ashok Gulati for the best part of the last ten years and whilst none of us are agri-economists, we have found plenty to admire in the man’s candour and his clarity of thought. In an age when sycophants are on the ascendant, Ashok Gulati is that rare public intellectual who is not afraid to call a spade a spade. Hence last year, when Dr Gulati praised the NDA’s agri reforms as the “1991 moment” for Indian agriculture, it was taken seriously by most dispassionate observers. Dr Gulati’s praise came after years of criticism from him regarding the agri policies followed by the Centre and by many states in India. In this piece, Dr Gulati and his colleague, Shweta Saini, articulate the need for more reforms in Indian agriculture.
At the outset, the authors explain why every sane Indian needs to take an interest in the Indian agriculture sector: “The centrality of agriculture in India goes much beyond its immediate employment contribution, where it engages close to 42 per cent of the country’s workforce. The sector not only feeds the large and growing Indian population but with its close interlinkage with poverty, it is best positioned to alleviate problems of malnutrition and hunger. In addition, agriculture supplies inputs for other industries and is critical for triggering a multiplier effect in the economy, where a financially empowered farming community triggers a demand-led growth, particularly for manufactured products and services.”
Then they say that in a large & diverse country like India centralised policies regarding agriculture are not going to take us very far: “…then comes the question of the diversity in Indian states, where they differ as much on endowments of factors of production like land and water as they do on access to market opportunities. They even differ in their vulnerabilities to climate and weather changes. Can a generic all-India agricultural strategy guide each state? Should the roadmap not be customised to the needs, vulnerabilities, and resource-base of each state?
In a recent publication from Springer Nature, Revitalising Indian Agriculture and Boosting Farmer Incomes, which we have co-edited with Ranjana Roy, strategies for six Indian states — Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha —have been proposed. We studied each of these states to identify factors that contributed to their growth and issues which constrained it.”
The authors then explain the drivers – as per their research – of growth in agri at the state-specific level: “The study found that in the six states, three factors explained most of the agrarian growth. One, access to infrastructure — mainly irrigation and roads — two, diversification to high value agricultural products like fruits, vegetables, and allied activities like dairy and poultry, and three, price incentives or favourable terms of trade.
Bringing markets closer to farmers and increasing the efficiency of the value-chains emerged as an important factor that explained agricultural growth in Gujarat (mainly cotton, groundnut, livestock), Madhya Pradesh (wheat, soybean, pulses), Odisha (livestock and fruits and vegetables), and Bihar (maize and livestock). Access to irrigation emerged as a critical factor of growth. By ensuring timely access to sufficient irrigation, states like Gujarat and Punjab could explain their high performances. Role of uninterrupted quality power too emerged important in this. Diversification of the agricultural basket of a state was found to strengthen a state’s agri-performance…” Research of this sort is practical, it is accessible and it helps overcome the socialist, “government knows all” mindset of our babus.