Agriculture since ages is the mainstay of Indian population. In fact, the story of Indian agriculture has been a spectacular one with a global impact for its multi-functional success in generating employment, livelihood, food, nutritional and ecological security. Agriculture and allied activities contribute about 30 per cent to the gross domestic product of India. The green revolution had heralded the first round of changes.
India is the second largest producer of wheat, rice, sugar, groundnut as also the third largest producer of tobacco. The country is also second largest producer in cash crops like coffee, coconut and tea and it does account for 10 per cent of the world fruit production.
It is in this context, one must try to understand the two-day conference of the Food Ministers of states held in New Delhi aimed to ensure effective public distribution system.
The need for enhanced investment in agriculture was rightly emphasized by a galaxy of speakers including the Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee.
The Finance Minister was right in stating that massive investment in the agricultural sector is needed as enhanced food production is must for the success of Food Security for all. The Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar also shared similar sentiments and pointedly called for better coordination and enhanced interest by the states to the agri sector.
Needless to add, it is in this backdrop that Mukherjee also called for joint efforts by the Centre and States to modernize the Public Distribution System (PDS) to make it more effective.
The conference also dwelt at length on the National Food Security Act, which has been introduced in parliament. The proposed legislation seeks to provide food security to all, said the Food minister K V Thomas.
The country had achieved a record food production of 230 million tones in 2008 and the same has seen quantum jump despite shortfall in rains in few pockets. The country has produced a record 241 million tonnes of food grain in the season July 2010 to June 2011, 23 million tonnes more than the previous year.
Similarly, India has had enhanced production of pulses, fruits and vegetables. The pressing problems, therefore, relate to effective distribution at reasonable price and proper storage facilities.
Hence, it goes without saying that to catch up with the pressing needs, larger investments from both public and private sector will be necessary.
In fact, during the period 2006-07 the private sector investment in agriculture had increased from 8.9 per cent to 9.9 per cent. The larger investments in agriculture could only help sustained growth in other sectors like industries.
The government is targeting an agriculture growth of 4 per cent. Higher growth would also ensure larger employment opportunities.
Agriculture ministry officials say that infrastructure in agriculture will also mean impounding of rainwater in ponds and using it for critical irrigation particularly in low rainfall areas.
According to Agriculture Secretary, P K Basu, the government is already working in details to introduce mechanized farming and the recently introduced Second Green Revolution in the east of India is showing good results.
Official estimates say the Eleventh Five-Year Plan is likely to end with around 3.2 per cent agriculture growth, which marks sizeable increase over the growth rate achieved during the 9th and 10th Plans.
However, there are still challenges. At present the Indian agri scene is largely rainfed and therefore, drought remains a formidable challenge.
Viewed in this context, officials say there was a long felt need to bring together at one place all conceptual issues, detailed institutional framework and operational details related to drought management. A Drought Management manual prepared by the government has prescribed threefold actions vis-à-vis drought mitigation, plan, relief measures required for providing succor to the affected population and to integrate it with long term objectives.
Therefore, finally, the task at hand with regard to ensuring food security, higher agri growth and adequate jobs in agri sector is also to face the challenge of drought on a war footing with a well thought of far-sighted vision and action plans, both in short term and long terms.
As they say, obviously the first priority will be to protect the interests of the farmers and ensure access to agri products both to the farmers and the consumers at reasonable prices.