Agriculture & Food Management: An Overview - Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations


Agriculture & Food Management: An Overview - Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations


Why in News?

The Economic Survey 2018-19 has stressed the need for incentivising farmers to conserve water, especially because cropping pattern in India is highly skewed in favour of crops that are water-intensive. It also suggested the adoption of a resource-efficient, ICT based climate-smart agriculture and and adoption of natural, organic and Zero Budget Natural Farming to improve both water use efficiency and soil fertility.

Introduction

Agriculture and allied sectors are critical in terms of employment and livelihoods for the small and marginal farmers, who dominate the agriculture ecosystem in India. To attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of ending poverty and bringing in inclusive growth, activities related to agriculture need to be closely integrated with the SDG targets. With decline in the size of landholdings in agriculture, India has to focus on resource efficiency in smallholder farming to meet the SDG targets and also to attain sustainability in agriculture. A combination of resource efficient methods, dynamic cropping patterns, farming that is responsive to climate change and intensive use of ICTs should be the backbone of smallholder farming in India. For a safe and food secure future, the agriculture landscape has to undergo tremendous transformation and shift from the philosophy of ‘green revolution' led productivity to ‘green methods’ led sustainability in agriculture.

Pattern of Agricultural Landholdings in India

As per Phase-I results of the Agriculture Census, 2015-16, the number of operational holdings, i.e. land put to agricultural use, has increased to 14.6 crore in 2015-16 from 13.8 crore in 2010-11, thereby registering an increase of 5.3%. The share of marginal holdings (less than 1 ha) in total operational holdings increased from 62.9% in 2000-01 to 68.5% in 2015- 16, while the share of small holdings (1 ha to 2 ha) decreased from 18.9% to 17.7% during this period. Large holdings (above 4 ha) decreased from 6.5% to 4.3 percent. The area operated by the marginal and small holdings increased from 38.9% in 2000-01 to 47.4% in 2015-16, while that of the large holdings decreased from 37.2% to 20% during this period.

Bringing Resource Efficiency in Smallholder Agriculture

The pattern of agricultural holdings reflects pre-dominance (85%) of small and marginal farmers in agriculture sector. The development strategy for agriculture should prioritise smallholder agriculture in order to promote sustainable livelihoods and for reduction of poverty in India. One of the key aspects which can improve productivity of small farm holdings is improving resource use efficiency. The key factors which will bring resource efficiency in smallholder agriculture in India and lays out the main policy changes that are required to bring about resource efficiency.

Increasing Irrigation Water Productivity (IWP) in Agriculture: In India, according to the Asian Water Development Outlook, 2016, around 89% of groundwater extracted is used for irrigation and crops such as paddy and sugarcane consume more than 60% of irrigation water. Focus should shift from land productivity to ‘irrigation water productivity’. Therefore devising policies to incentivize farmers to improve water use should become a national priority. Thrust should be on micro-irrigation that can improve water use efficiency.

Economizing the Use of Fertilizers and Pesticides: For the small and marginal farmers, the costs of fertilizers are key determinants of profitability of farming. The improvement in fertilizer use efficiency requires farmers’ knowledge regarding the right product, dosage, time and method of application. Some of the suggested measures are the use of optimal dose based on soil health status, promotion of neem-coated urea, promotion of micronutrients, promotion of organic fertilizers, and promotion of watersoluble fertilizers.

Increasing Sustainability in Agriculture - Turning to Organic and Natural Farming: The government has been promoting organic farming in the country through the schemes such as Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY). The main aim of 'Zero Budget Natural Farming' (ZBNF) is elimination of chemical pesticides and promotion of good agronomic practices. Organic farming is also being promoted through the scheme 'Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region' (MOVCDNER) under National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA).

Adopting Appropriate Technologies for Smallholder Farms: In smallholder farms, resource efficiency can be brought about through adoption of appropriate technologies. However, use of technology, investment in costly farm machinery, or scaling up the existing technology may not be economically feasible for small and marginal farmers. Hence, there is need to promote use of environment-friendly automated farm machinery tools suited to small scale operations.

Improving Infrastructure and Access to Markets: The informal actors like local traders and input dealers are more prominent in the marketing channels of the smallholder farmers. However, if farmers’ access to markets are improved through better connectivity to nearby mandis, it will help farmers fetch better prices for their agricultural produce. A combination of enhancing rural infrastructure to improve connectivity, Information & Communication Tech-nology (ICT) to provide timely information about prices, aggregation and storage facilities can help small and marginal farmers in overcoming the marketing bottlenecks.

Allied Sectors

Livestock, poultry, dairying and fisheries is a sub-sector of agriculture that provides livelihood to agricultural households during phases of seasonal unemployment. According to the 19th Livestock Census, India has vast resource of livestock comprising about 300 million bovines, 65.1 million sheep, 135.2 million goats and 10.3 million pigs. Livestock farming in India is part of a composite farming system characterized by crop-livestock interactions.

Diversification of livelihoods is critical for inclusive and sustainable development in agriculture and allied sectors. Policies should focus on Dairying as India is the largest producer of milk. Livestock rearing particularly of small ruminants. Fisheries sector, as India is the second largest producer.

Agricultural Credit

The access to timely credit or finance is a critical determinant of profitability of agriculture. If credit is not available to purchase seeds at the time of sowing, or if lack of credit delays the administering of fertilizers, it can severely impact agricultural productivity. The regional distribution of agricultural credit in India is highly skewed. It is seen that the distribution of agricultural credit is low in North Eastern, Hilly and Eastern States. The share of North Eastern States has been less than one% in total agricultural credit disbursement. The financial inclusion in the Eastern and North-eastern India is relatively less as compared to the South and West.

Food Security and Food Management in India

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences to ensure an active and healthy life. The timely availability and affordability of food are critical for a developing country like India.

Food Security

India’s food security challenges lie in the areas of low GDP per capita, sufficiency of supply, public expenditure on R&D and protein quality. India ranks No.1 in Nutritional standards. India’s overall Food Security Score is 50.1 out of 100 which ranks India 76 out of 113 countries. This reflects the need for India to further improve the management of food supply in various aspects. The Government specifically undertakes the following measures:

  1. Announcing Minimum Support Prices (MSP) and Central Issue Price;
  2. Undertake procurement of food grains through food corporation of India (FCI) and decentralised procurement by State Agencies;
  3. Maintain buffer stocks; and
  4. Open market sale of wheat and rice to check inflation.

MSP and Foodgrains Procurement

The objective of MSP is to give guaranteed prices and assured market to the farmers and protect them from price fluctuations. In 2018- 19, the government raised the MSP of both kharif and rabi crops to ensure a return of at least 50% above the cost of production to enhance farmers’ income.

Food Subsidy

Food subsidy comprises of two main components.

  • The first component includes subsidy provided to the FCI for procurement and distribution of wheat and rice under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 and other welfare schemes and for maintaining the buffer stock of food grains as a measure of food security.
  • The second component comprises subsidy provided to states undertaking decentralized procurement. The acquisition and distribution costs of procuring food grains for the central pool constitute the economic cost. The difference between the per quintal economic cost and the per quintal Central Issue Price (CIP) gives the quantum of per quintal consumer subsidy.

In order to ensure food security to the vulnerable sections, Government continues with the subsidized pricing under NFSA. The subsidized CIPs of Rs. 3/2/1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains respectively under NFSA were earlier applicable only to the Antyodaya Anna Yojana Families (which constitute about 2.5 crore poorest of the poor households) under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).

Computerization of Targeted Public Distribution System

The Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) is operated under the joint responsibility of the Central and State/UT Governments. To modernize and bring about transparency in the TPDS operations, the Central Government is implementing the Scheme ‘End-to-end Computerisation of TPDS Operations’on cost sharing basis with the States/UTs. Through technology and digitalintervention, the TPDS has become more transparent at the FPS. However, there needs to be holistic monitoring along the supply chain to completely prevent the diversions and leakages of foodgrains and also to maintain the quality of foodgrains distributed through the FPS.

Way Forward

The Government is committed to realizing the vision of doubling farmers’ income by 2022. Agriculture remains the pre-dominant occupation in India for vast sections of the population. Over the years, several new challenges have emerged before the sector. With fragmentation of agricultural holdings and depletion of water resources, the adoption of a resource-efficient, ICT based climate-smart agriculture can enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability. Smallholder farming can be a lucrative livelihood opportunity with the application of appropriate technologies and adoption of natural, organic and Zero Budget Natural Farming.

To transform the rural economy, greater emphasis should be given to allied sectors with a major focus on dairy, poultry, fisheries and rearing of small ruminants. The rationalisation of food subsidy and greater use of technology in food management will ensure food security for all.

General Studies Paper- III

  • Topic: Major crops - cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems - storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.
  • Topic: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System-objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.
  • Topic: Land reforms in India.


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