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Making India's Agricultural Sector Self-Reliant And Pandemic-Proof

India’s agricultural sector contributes approximately 17-18% to the country’s GDP. Though India’s agricultural sector has been exhibiting impressive growth over the years, it also faces multiple challenges owing to a host of issues.

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In a pandemic-struck economy, the agricultural sector can be a real savior. The ongoing pandemic has highlighted the significance of India’s agriculture sector because of its potentiality to support economic growth.

According to the India Economic Survey 2018, India’s agricultural sector contributes approximately 17-18% to the country’s GDP. Though India’s agricultural sector has been exhibiting impressive growth over the years, it also faces multiple challenges owing to a host of issues. On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic poses an added challenge for India’s agricultural sector. Nevertheless, with proper planning and execution, India can transform these challenges into golden opportunities.

Through this article, we would like to highlight the challenges that the pandemic has posed to India’s agricultural sector besides suggesting necessary recommendations for the revival of the industry to tackle food security issues in the post-pandemic period.

1. Small/fragmented land holdings: Consolidation of landholdings has been uneven across states. Shrinking farm sizes is the root cause of almost all the problems faced by farmers in the rural areas of intensively cultivated states such as Bihar, Eastern part of U.P, etc. Due to the unsubstantial size, the farmers find it difficult to raise plantations or invest in wells, tube-wells, or advanced technologies.

Solution: Though the problem can be solved by land leasing to help farmers enlarge their holdings, the process can be expensive. Therefore, measures should be taken to improve land records. At the same time, the government should chalk out farmer-centric agricultural policies such as cooperative farming.

2. Inadequate agricultural capital: India’s agricultural sector needs adequate capital to leverage innovative technologies, which will pave the way for sustainable farming. Numerous farmers are unable to borrow capital from formal financial sources, which severely affects production and revenue. Moreover, informal credit sources such as moneylenders, traders, landlords, and commission agents are known for charging exorbitant interest rates and buying the agrarian produce at a low cost. Solution: To accelerate agricultural growth and revive the rural economy during the pandemic, the Indian government extended Rs 1.54 lakh crore concessional loans to 170 cr farmers through Kisan Credit Cards. At the same time, cooperative credit agencies, state cooperative banks, central cooperative banks, and commercial banks must also come forward to lend a helping hand to farmers on simple standings.

3. Land degradation: Soil erosion problem, combined with the ensuing sedimentation in reservoirs poses a significant challenge to India’s agricultural growth. Soil erosion diminishes soil fertility, which in turn negatively affects crop yields. It also creates massive layers of sediment, thus, preventing rivers and streams from flowing smoothly.

A report released by the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing in 2015 stated that soil erosion in the country was deemed to be occurring on 147 million hectares of land. It also stated that water disintegration, acidification, flooding, and wind disintegration are some major factors that are contributing to soil erosion. This is indeed a grave situation as India provides foodgrains to 18 percent of the world population whereas its total land area accounts for only 2.4 percent of the total land surface of the planet. Solution:

Since the pandemic has aggravated the issue of food insecurity globally, the government should take result-driven initiatives to preserve soil and water so as to prevent the disruption of food production. Additionally, a national soil protection policy for soil conservation will go a long way in addressing this issue.

4. Inadequate Storage Facilities: The absence of good storage facilities in rural areas incurs huge post-harvest losses, which can prove disastrous during the pandemic as well as other emergencies. Moreover, due to inadequate storage facilities, Indian farmers are compelled to sell the yields at a lower price. Consequently, it denies the farmers of their authentic pay.

Solution: A well-planned cold chain infrastructure could help mitigate foodgrain loss besides creating a positive environmental impact. Presently, several government bodies such as The Central Warehousing Corporation, Food Corporation of India, and the State Warehousing Corporation are occupied with warehousing and storage practices. These organizations help in developing buffer stock, which can be utilized as and when required. Nevertheless, these organizations should embrace scientific techniques to improve storage facilities and reduce wastage. Additionally, to make the rural farmers more self-reliant, the government must ensure that Indian villages have foodgrain stocking norms at the micro-level.

5. Poor Irrigation: Though India has the second-largest irrigated area in the world after China, only one-third of India’s harvested area is under proper irrigation. Poor irrigation raises several problems such as waterlogging, wastage of water, alkalinity, including drainage problems. Enormous plots in Haryana and Punjab have become barren owing to these problems. India cannot accomplish agricultural advancement until her harvested regions are brought under assured and systematic irrigation.

Solution: Proper irrigation management is the need of the hour. Effective measures should be taken to mitigate the negative impact of over-irrigation, particularly in territories flooded by canals. Greater efficiency in irrigation can be achieved by designing an irrigation management scheme for reducing water conveyance loss. Simultaneously, micro-irrigation can also improve water-use efficiency. Such stringent measures will not only minimize yield loss but also contribute to farmers’ profitability even in face of the pandemic.

6. Shortage of high-quality seeds: Good quality seeds play a significant role in helping farmers achieve higher yields. Unfortunately, seeds of superior quality are inaccessible to a lot of Indian farmers, especially small/marginal farmers who are unable to afford high-quality seeds owing to their extortionate prices.

Solution: Besides setting up more seed banks, small farmers should be provided with high-quality seeds at a reasonable price at the right time for meeting food security goals so that we do end up facing any food crisis.

7. Need of Automation: Though the automation of the crop production cycle is making farmers more efficient in some parts of India, a majority of agricultural chores (such as weeding, pruning, furrowing, etc.) in larger parts of the country are carried out manually using traditional tools such as sickles, khurpa, spades, etc. Nevertheless, due to the labour shortage caused by the pandemic, India's farm mechanization is witnessing a robust demand.

Solution: Farmers across India are embracing farm mechanization with open arms for accelerating agricultural tasks and boosting productivity. Therefore, the government must accelerate its efforts to encourage farmers to continue upgrading their farming techniques for increasing yields. Besides providing large farmers with tractors, reapers, power turners, and other high-tech agro-based machines, the government must also empower small farmers with less landholding by providing them with small farming equipment.

The pandemic-induced global lockdown has disrupted the food system across the globe. Therefore, the world is now counting on India's agricultural industry. It is high time we seized the opportunity by working closely with our farmers so as to understand their needs and improve their farming methods. Giving special impetus to agriculture will not only make us self-subsistent but also boost the export of essential agricultural commodities, thus reinforcing our economy.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Yuvraj Bhardwaj

CEO, Petonic Infotech

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