When you’re building a house, the first thing that you need to ensure is that you have a strong base which will support the remaining structure. The stronger the base, the better the build and quality of the structure and more chances of it staying intact. Similarly, agriculture in most developing countries forms the base of an economy. If you go back in time you will find civilizations have always flourished around regions of high agricultural yield. Which is why a nation without a strong agricultural base will always find it difficult to sustain its economic growth.
The recent GDP numbers show that there has been a substantial decline in agricultural production which includes informal non-farm production as well. This is worrisome as we don’t appreciate and realise the value of farmers and tribals as much as they deserve. Which is surprising considering that our country is, in fact, an economy that is based on agriculture since time immemorial. Agriculture, with its allied sectors, has been the largest source of livelihood for India’s population. 70% of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture with 82% of farmers being small and marginal in their production capacity. Yet the sector only contributes 15.87% GDP, which is the lowest among the three sectors.
Why is it that over the years this sector has faced such a setback? Why have they not flourished like all the industries in our country? With each passing decade, the number of farmer suicides has increased. Isn’t it time that we start giving our producers their due importance? For how long can a country survive if its producers aren’t taken care of? It is high time that we empower our producers since they play a pivotal role economically, socially and ecologically.
As agriculture employs many people be it farmers or tribals who cultivate other non-essential food crops, resins like lac etc, it contributes to the economic development of the country. It affects the national income level, as well as people’s standard of living. In many developing nations, the sector is an indicator of the development as well as sustainability. Headway in agriculture offers a progressive outlook as well as increased motivation for development. Even today in rural areas, it is one sector where women contribute equally if not more than men as working in their fields becomes a part of their domestic life as well.
With the right education and equipment, the government can empower women to lead this sector and pave the way for gender equality in rural India. A recent Stanford study stated that global warming has made India’s economy 31 per cent smaller than it would have been highlighting how temperature changes have widened inequalities between cold countries like Norway while bringing down growth in hot places like India. The World Bank predicts climate change will nearly lessen 3% of India’s GDP and depress living standards of nearly half the population by 2050.
With changing times and significant climate change consequences, sustainable agriculture and production have become crucial as it not only helps conserve water and energy but also reduce greenhouse emissions and decreases vulnerability to drought. The right technology must be made accessible and affordable for all.
After Thailand, India is the largest producer of lac with over 115 processing units spread in West Bengal alone. The Balrampur block in Purulia is the hub of lac production with nearly 100 units, processing almost 6,600 tons of lac with over 20,000 people being dependent on the trade. Keeping in view the enormous economic, social and ecological benefits of empowering our producers, the Centre in cooperation with state governments should implement policies and programs that are not just introduced on paper but also reach farmers and tribals in the true sense.
Besides leveraging modern technology to make work easier, the bureaucracy must also be reformed to serve as information providers to gram sabhas which further disseminates information to farmers and forest dwellers at the local and individual level. Only then can we strengthen our road to development.
(The writer is the secretary, Tapsil Jati Adibashi Praktan Sainik Krishi Bikash Shilpa Kendra, a voluntary organization working for the upliftment of the tribal community in India)