Silver lining

Agriculture has made impressive progress in the country in the last few years while other sectors of the economy have stumbled and failed to keep up the pace of their once remarkable growth.

Foodgrains production has been increasing every year and this year it is expected to touch a record of 263 million tonnes as against last year’s 255 million tonnes. The last 10 years have seen an increase of about 40 per cent in cereal output. The production of pulses, oil seeds and other crops has also seen a consistent rise. Some of these have registered a bigger growth than food grains. Agriculture has also moved from a largely  subsistence-oriented occupation to a commercial stage. This can be seen from the six-fold increase in agricultural exports to $ 45 billion in a decade.

The good performance of the sector has helped to moderate inflation which would otherwise have been higher than the still elevated levels seen at present.  With more supportive government policies and better management of supply and demand, higher agricultural production would have  had a more restraining impact on the overall price situation. The share of agriculture in GDP growth is also fairly high. Though the agricultural  sector does not  employ as many people as it used to do years ago because of increasing mechanisation of practices and migration of people to urban areas, it still provides livelihood to the largest segment of population. Growth in farm production and the resulting increase of incomes have reduced rural poverty. They have also created demand which is beneficial to other sectors, especially the consumption-based sectors of the economy.

Agriculture can contribute more to the national economy if more purposeful policies are adopted and implemented to promote it. Productivity is still low, compared to many other parts of the world. Farm research has to improve further. Extension services and credit facilities are  inadequate. More importantly, there should be greater diversification of crops. Crops other than staple food grains should receive more encouragement with the help of suitable pricing policies and other methods. Better rural infrastructure in terms of roads is needed to give the farmers better access to markets. There should also be good storage facilities, especially for perishable products. A more comprehensive farm development programme can give further boost to the sector.

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