Articles

TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MISSION : LIVING WITH NATURE IN MODERN FORMS

For the Kisan World

Article – 1

 

TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MISSION : LIVING WITH NATURE IN

MODERN FORMS

Appeared in KISAN WORLD December:2010 Vol.37, No.12

 

INVOCATION:

Complying to the desire and to the gentle command of Arulchelvar N. Mahalingam, I am attempting a series of articles in the Kisan World. The articles will try to weave together many facets of the complexities of the world as it is evolving now. Naturally several aspects of globalization, Indians domestic realities, the opportunities given by as well as compulsions resulting from the new developments and innovations in science and technology will be addressed. Our focus is on the methods of deriving the benefits from the newly emerging world, world for providing prosperity, welfare and well being of all Indians. Land based primary sector of the economy will also receive important consideration not merely for the food and fodder but also because the current phase of evolution demands a close living with nature.

INTRODUCTION:

Evolution of earth from the sun and solar system, subsequent phases of evolution leading to the appearance of life on Earth, and further evolution leading to human beings,……. it is an amazing chain of continuing process. Human beings, about 10,000 years ago, invented agricultural processes and changed the way the earth feeds them. The transition from the pastoral society to agricultural society led to the major transformation of human knowledge and society. Great epics, intricate philosophies, discovery of abstract processes like mathematics and logic, exploration, mining and metallurgy, early health systems………. all these added strengths to human beings who multiplied their species many fold, explored the earth, and discovered nature’s laws.

These processes led to the industrial revolution, discovery of the processes of modern scientific methods and engineering systems (technology). These in turn led to the explosive growth of knowledge, elimination of many fatal diseases, ability of human being to have high speed mobility, …… a great “power over nature”, including, of course, destructive power over inanimate matter, and other organisms, species. This power and the feeling of the power, led to many wars between human beings, as well.

Human knowledge continues to grow. Wealth continues to grow starting with the global trade enabled by industrial revolution and later through the continuing knowledge revolution.

So much so the paradigm shift of LAND – LABOUR – CAPITAL – TECHNOLOGY (KNOWLEDGE) became the slogan during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

FOCUS ON IT:

 In the euphoria of the growth of Information Technology (IT) Industry, many in India (including the powerful policy makers and the influential elites) advocated that India can skip the LAND – LABOUR – CAPITAL part which symbolize Agriculture (Primary sector) and Manufacturing (Secondary sector) and usher into the KNOWLEDGE world and master the world through the Services Sector (Tertiary Sector), capital becoming a part of it.

As a result financial and knowledge / skills investments for the Agriculture and Manufacturing sectors started getting lower priority since mid – 1990’s. Worse still was the fact that the entire attention of policy makers was on the IT sector. Therefore the growth of agricultural sector slowed down. In the overall contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), share of agriculture started declining. But the percentage of Indians dependent on agricultural income did not come down. Since manufacturing was also neglected, those who were getting impoverished in the agriculture sector could not move to that sector. Also growth of infrastructural projects like road making (which could have absorbed a number of landless agricultural labourers and marginal farmers) were not given priority till early 2000’s through golden quadrilateral and the Prime Minister’s rural road projects.

So bulk of the rural – to – urban migration was absorbed in the growth of cities around ICT (Information and Communication Technology) knowledge workers, - in the construction of apartments, domestic servants, retail shops, restaurants etc. Later the ICT employees with better incomes started the (market) demand for automobile sector. Thus manufacturing picked up again. Some policy attention went to that sector as well; however sufficient attention was/is not given to the creation of a large number of skilled workforce and enabling infrastructure for attracting greenfield investors in manufacturing sector (of various types of modern products). India is yet to make steps to make it a good destination for the global markets. It can then become a great source of income generation for many poor Indians. It is also important in the context of modernizing agricultural sector, which needs to shed many persons dependent on it at subsistence levels now.

Amidst all these developments, agricultural sector is yet to receive concrete policy support and more importantly the modern hard and soft infrastructure required to lift it to greater heights.

Let us illustrate these infrastructure aspects with examples from the IT sector.

 i.       A large number of private engineering colleges and other professional colleges which grew since 1970’s especially in the southern part of India gave a large skilled human resource base for the IT industry. Many private actors also emerged to further fine tune this human resource to the global standards. Now it is a continuing process. These are examples of   soft infrastructure.

 ii.       Communication satellites and fibre optics cable networks all over the country were laid with huge government investments to begin with. They are the part of hard infrastructure

 iii.       Various policy measures such as zero or stable tax structures, simplification of procedures for private actors, etc were done for ICT sector enabling the explosive release of entrepreneurial activities by Indian companies and later foreign actors as well. These are policy support measures.

We have given only a few examples.

Can we think of such orchestrated and synergized support systems being given to the agricultural sector?

THE EARLIER GREEN REVOLUTION:

It was done for the Green Revolution at least in some parts of the country.

i.       Many dams and large irrigation systems (hard infrastructure)

ii.       Introduction of new high yielding seeds, supply of right fertilizers etc (hard infrastructure).

iii.       Training and extension services for the farmers and agricultural workers through the institutes of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and State Agricultural Universities (soft infrastructure).

iv.       Various policy measures for easy purchase of the produced grains from the farmers through Food Corporation of India (FCI) and support prices (policy support).

Once the country was out of the crisis of food imports, actions for extending the basic processes of the green revolution to other parts of India took a back seat.

Some initiatives in the milk sector like Amul etc. gave some relief systems for the farmers to earn additional incomes.

But the totality of farm sector (grains, fruits and vegetables, cash crops, animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries etc) did not get as much attention since by the time the country’s focus shifted towards building huge industries.

No doubt many Indian entrepreneurs despite the difficulties of the license – permit – quota raj made some bold ventures in many agro – based industries: sugar, textiles, leverages etc thus giving some good demand pull to the agricultural sector.

However since the orchestrated and synergized support systems were (are) not in place India is not able to make giant strides in agriculture.

INDIA’S POTENTIAL:

India’s potential in agriculture is very high. India has a rare distinction of having about 26% of its geographical area as arable. Despite the lower geographical size in terms of absolute amount of arable land India is number 2 next only to USA.

Though India’s land mass is only about 2.45% of the land mass of the earth about 4% of useable fresh water resources are available for India. Of course, we have about 16% of the world population; that is no doubt a challenge but also opportunity.

About 60% employed Indians are in agriculture sharing the very poor and uncertain income from the agriculture. About two – thirds of our agricultural lands are not irrigated; the fact alone leads to the miseries in the agricultural sector.

But without any new R & D, it is possible to reach excellent irrigation (not in the current wasteful mode) to all Indian farms. Remember that most parts of India are far better in “available” water resources than Israel which is a leader in agricultural based incomes for its people. 

India’s human resources (even with the current average and below average performance of our educational systems and agricultural institutions,) is reasonably adequate to begin a process of transformation of Indian agriculture. If oriented, enabled and empowered well, they can skill many more people. Still our goal should not be to retain all the 60% of the population to agriculture. That has to be reduced by three times and the surplus trained and enabled for other sectors of the economy. Similarly in a number of places there has to be efforts to aggregate the land holdings. This is to be done in a rational and humane manner.

We will explore several facets of these issues in the forth coming articles. In the process we will notice that the sharp divisions of Agriculture, Manufacturing and Services will to blur. The paradigm of Land – Labour – Capital – Knowledge will not become a process of one shifting out the other. It will be a continuum of existence, with the modern human beings living as a wise part of Nature, being close to it, enjoying its bounties and also enabling all natural forms to sustain and to flourish; not merely for the benefit of human beings but also far a balanced life of all living beings and non – living elements

This is the mission for the 21st century.

 

(Y.S.Rajan)

25/10/2010