Agriculture has always been the mainstay of our economy and social system yet the government has shown a marked tendency to ignore this sector. It had anticipated a growth rate in excess of 8.4% last year, with agriculture growing at 4%. But its hopes were belied and agricultural growth is not expected to exceed 2.5% in the current year. Yet we see that the hospitality sector, transport, communications, financial services, insurance and real estate trade have been clocking 9-to-11% growth.
The 11th Five Year Plan had pegged the agricultural growth rate at an average 4% per annum but the actual achievement during the Plan period was 3.3% per annum. Every day 2,000 farmers turn their back on farming and every half an hour a desperate farmer commits suicide.
Agriculture is crucial to India both in terms of employment and food security. The country claims to have achieved 7.94% growth over the last Five Year Plan period, yet our ‘economist’ Prime Minister has no compunction in pointing out that 6.5 Crore children are currently victims of malnutrition, referring to this sad fact as a matter of ‘national shame’.
Why is there hunger and starvation in the country? The Union Finance minister says 25 Crore tonnes of food grains will be produced this year, which is a new record and a five-fold increase from 1951 when we produced 5 Crore tonnes. Truly, the government loves to juggle with the statistics. How on earth can we expect a country currently witnessing stagnant agricultural growth to guarantee food security for its people? In 1961 the daily per capita food availability was 399.7 gm. It raised to 468.5 gm at the time the reformist open market policies were ushered in. Since then the figure has shown a steady decline - or stagnant growth - with the daily per capita food availability in 2010-11 being 407 gm. After 50 years of growth we are back where we were in 1961. What kind of growth is this?
It is not as if growth is not possible. Any sector the government focuses on and develops sees strong growth. It designs its policies to foster this growth. Yet it does not lift a finger to develop agriculture even as it continues to express the greatest concern for the sector. All we see is the government shying away from taking the kind of basic steps necessary to solve the crisis agriculture finds itself in today.
In 1950-51, agriculture contributed 53.1% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This percentage has fallen to 13.9% today. In direct contrast, the contribution of the services sector has risen from 30.3% to 59% during the same period.
Even in 2012, 56% of our population is dependent on agriculture for a livelihood. The government would like to see this large segment of our population migrate to other productive sectors. But there appears to be a hidden agenda behind this thrust. It favours the commoditisation of agriculture not for the sake of creating livelihood source. Rather it’s from a profit making perspective with large multinational companies and corporate houses acquiring over thousands of hectares of land for agricultural production. Do we need to look any further for the reasons behind farmer suicide taking place every half hour?