TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MISSION: Living With Nature in the Modern Form AGRICULTURAL PROSPERITY Appeared in KISAN WORLD January: 2011 Vol 38 No.1

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TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MISSION: Living With Nature in the Modern Form


Appeared in KISAN WORLD January: 2011 Vol 38 No.1

We have taken up a great challenge on ourselves last month. But it is not on utopia nor one of the pleasing slogans which are mouthed in the country, very often. It is an achievable target though having many exciting challenges.

          First and foremost base for such a society is agricultural prosperity. It is not merely in terms of agricultural GDP alone. It is about the prosperity of all those who are engaged in agriculture as a profession (Dependent on agriculture is a negative and pessimistic formulation!). It is about those who will proudly embrace agriculture as a profession just as one may do for other professions such as being a scientist, lawyer etc.

          Can it take place in India? Yes, if we start organizing agriculture in the modern context and not be lingering about the agriculture we have inherited over 10 millennia.  Of course, over the ten millennia, India’s agriculture had transformed itself in many ways. Over the past two – and half – millennia Indian agriculture was the primary anchor for India’s glory in arts, sciences, technology, military etc. It is the agricultural prosperity of those periods which supported artisans and innovators.


         The great Chola empire spread to several countries of the now south east Asia. Its ship technology, dam technology, and above all the majestic temples, arts, literature etc. made a great mark in Indian history. Some of them continue even today. So was the great empires which rose in the Indo – Gangetic plains. About 200 villages around the ancient town Nalanda fully supported the world famous Nalanda University since seventh century for over five centuries till it was destroyed.

          India’s strength in world trade derived from such an agricultural prosperity continued. India along with China dominated the world trade till about 1850 A.C.E. Later it was lost out due to the lack of its adaptation to the Industrial Revolution and also due to the colonial domination.


         Post industrial revolution, the national economies in Europe and later USA, even while dependent on the basic foundation of agricultural prosperity, started expanding into manufacturing on mass scale. Science, technology and engineering gave unprecedented strengths to make goods, military equipment etc. These also led to generation of electricity which later revolutionized the world of manufacturing, lighting, living etc. It is a great modern strength which did not exist in the earlier centuries.

          Availability of electricity made possible emergence of new metallurgical industries and also importantly large scale availability of many chemicals like fertilizers, pesticides etc. Also helped in pumping water and regulating irrigation.

           Thus the old forms of agriculture got transformed to mechanized forms and also had the benefit of giving more nitrogen, phosphorous and other micronutrients required for the plants. Thus agricultural yields grew to unprecented levels. Also the productivity of individual agricultural worker increased many fold. Growth of manufacturing sector allowed many older forms of value additions (making juice, jam, milling of grains etc) to expand to many areas hitherto unforeseen.

          Cash crops like cotton sugarcane also were grown in much larger quantities and with much better qualities (due to the increase of knowledge in agricultural sciences).

          Similar major changes took place in fisheries, poultry, animal husbandry and forestry – the basic elements of agriculture.

          New industries in agro food processing sector grew up. Also agricultural wastes were used in many new forms including making of paper and other materials. Commercial forestry led to newer industries in construction and furniture making.

          If one describes all of these, it will be mind boggling. Simultaneously manufacturing sector and related services sector like marketing, shipping, tourism (due to better transport) etc also grew during the 19th and 20th century in the (presently) developed world (which were developing then!) When they were developing, Indian economy had to stagnate under the colonial rule and then decay during the later part of 19th century and early 20th century.


          But in the developed countries, the growth of manufacturing and related services was so high and diverse that in the overall GDP of those countries, the share of agriculture began to diminish. But still overall growth and diversification of agriculture was very high. The number of persons engaged in agriculture started to diminish fast and came to a level of less then about 10% of the total employed population. But the prosperity of agricultural sector is still very high in these countries. Individual farmers in the developed countries are rich or having better incomes compared to their own country’s standards. This situation prevails in USA, France, Germany and many other countries of Europe. Japan which is an industrial giant and having limited land resources, still maintains a good agricultural base. Yields for grains in Japan is about three times that of India and that of China is about twice that of India. All developed countries realize the basic importance of agriculture and act on the principle that agricultural prosperity is crucial for their national prosperity and the sustained security of that prosperity.

Let us again recapitulate the basic concept of  agricultural prosperity: Persons having agriculture as a profession are rich, the country has abundant agricultural products for their own country’s people in the affordable prices and also have enough to export. Consumer options are plenty. Not all countries can have all these elements. But India with its size and natural endowments such as arable lands, available water, rich biodiversity, conducive weather, diverse agro climatic zones, vast coastal regions, highly skilled and fast learning workforce, and good science and technology infrastructure in agriculture and related areas, good industries and business houses and trading networks, can excel in all of them. 

What about the current status in India:

Look at a quote: “The All India policy is to promote the welfare of the people and to secure a progressive improvement in their standard of living. This includes the responsibility of providing enough food for all, sufficient in quantity and of requisite quality. For the achievement of these objectives high priority will be given to measures for increasing food resources of the country to the fullest extent and in particular to measures designed to increase the output per acre and to diminish dependence on the vagaries of nature. Their aim will be not only to remove the threat of famine but also to increase the prosperity of the cultivator, raise levels of consumption and create a healthy and vigorous population.” The ten objectives of the policy included: “increase in production of food grains and protective foods; improvement in methods of agricultural production and marketing; stimulating production of raw materials for industry and exports; securing remunerative prices for the producer and fair wages to the agricultural labour; ensuring fair distribution of the food produced and promoting nutritional research and education.”

          I think, almost all the readers will agree with the tasks envisioned above. And perhaps may also feel that we have to go a long way to achieve the goals set there in.

          Do you know when this was said? I was amazed too when I first read it during 1977 and saddened when I read now during 2010.

It is from report which was the first ever elaboration in January, 1946, of an all-India policy on agriculture known as “Statement of Agriculture and Food Policy in India”. And I have extracted it out of the Report of National Agricultural Commission (1977), Govt. of India.

          Not that nothing has been done. A lot has been done. Not enough to cater to the population which has grown about five fold since 1946. Also not enough to reach the real potential of India. India has been blessed with a very large arable area; in terms of ratio of arable land to geographical area, we are the highest in the world. Let us again recall: India which has 2.45 percent of world’s land resources has rough 4 percent of world’s fresh water resources. Of course, our population is about 16% of world population. Still we are very well endowed by nature.

          Some of the main reasons why we do not achieve agricultural prosperity are as under:

v Our centralized thinking forgets the diversity of India and arrives at ‘uniform’ policies (one – shoe – fit – all type ideas).

v In addition to the above defect, implementation is tardy. A few years of success of green revolution was never followed up with vigor.

v Linkages of research to fields, market and businesses are poor.

v Our ideas of equity does not look at India holistically and stymies reforms of the agricultural sector. We need to accept the fact that the number of persons in the agricultural sector (fields, to fisheries to poultry to animal husbandry to forestry) need to be reduced drastically to reach a level of about 20 percent of employed persons, (from the current 65 percent). Rest moved to other prosperous sectors like agroprocessing to manufacturing to services.

But in view of many missed opportunities over six decades, about 60% of Indians are now struggling with agricultural subsistence. Also there are many regional variations. Therefore the reforms should be such as to benefit all of them simultaneously and soon. We will identify a few important elements.

The crucial input to agriculture is water, so much so that Thirukkunal, the great Tamil classic, has Rain in its the second chapter after the first chapter of prayer to God.

It is not enough to talk about irrigation and water availability in overall terms of single national indicators. We need to disaggregate the information to understand some elements of the complexity.

          Let us now look at the situation of coverage irrigation in India. About two thirds of agricultural lands are not irrigated and depend upon the vagaries of monsoon. But even within them there are sharp differences see Table – 1

Table 1: Net irrigated area to Net sown area

Size Class

1970 – 71


1975 – 76


1980 – 81


1985 – 86


1990 – 91


ACGR (%)


Marginal (< 1 ha)














Small (1-2 ha)














Semi-Medium (2-4ha)














Medium (4-10 ha)














Large (> 10 ha)














All Size Class

























Source: State of the Indian Farmer, A Millennium Study, Volume 3, Water Resources, K.V.Raju, A.Narayanamoorthy, Govind Gopakumar, H.K.Amarnath  Ministry of Agriculture – Government of India (2004) New Delhi. This is from a set of 27 reports.

As far the growth rate, it is at a pitiable rate. Even for large size farms the rate is low. For others it is terribly slow. Overall figure for all sizes, the irrigated area is one third. Since even now the figure of one third being the irrigated area is quoted in many writings even by Govt of India, the growth beyond 1991 would have been much lower. Perhaps in the process of liberalization of industries, and opening up of India economy to enter into the challenges of globalization, attention to extend irrigation to rest of the two third of sown areas has taken the back seat.

As per the State of Indian Farmer Vol.3 quoted before, India has spent about Rs.92000 crores on irrigation (at 1996 – 97 constant prices) since independence. 292 major irrigation projects and 944 medium irrigation projects had been introduced since the first five year plan to eighth plan (1992 – 97). In addition there are other minor schemes as well. Net irrigated area as of 1996 – 97 in India was about 54 million hectares (Mha) well below the ultimate irrigation potential of 140 Mha. Even the created facilities are not used efficiently; there are many reasons. But we have a rich experience to fall back upon: What to do and What not!   

Also since there is no organized plan of aggregating land holdings, and no clear policies for organized corporate investments in agriculture, attention of the real potential stakeholders on Indian agriculture is low.

It is not due to lack of money. In the December 2010 Vol.37 No.12 issue of Kisan World, an article “Financial Inclusion – Urgent Need For Overall Prosperity” by Dr.N.Mahalingam clearly brings out how agricultural sector and water management companies can raise money for investment.

What is now required, is a set of clear headed policies and their implementation. The policy should be such as to take care of landless agricultural workers, marginal farmers, small, semi medium, medium and large farmers and allow for aggregation through cooperative and / or corporate routes as well as for successful migration of many persons from agriculture to other sectors of economy. Also there is a need to induct various upgrading technologies into Indian agriculture. Before enunciating such policies, it is necessary to interact with and educate people, politicians, government administrators at various levels, financiers, bankers, media persons, business persons and others and also allow for many local variations (always remember that India is diverse). Modern media can help to reach people faster and also to learn from them. It is important to carry on this information sharing, interaction and dialogue in various Indian languages as well, in a well orchestrated manner. All need to approach the issues with one single goal in mind: agricultural prosperity for India and its people, being the foundation (though its GDP share may be about 20 – 25% only) to lift other sectors of the Indian economy.

Already let us not forget that the GDP growth for the year 2010 – 11 is touching 9 percent because of this year’s agricultural growth. If proper policies are formulated and implementation is done with speed and steadfastness, agriculture can grow faster and lift India’s GDP growth rate to 12% or more for at least a decade more.

Not only India will be prosperous, its natural endowments will shine in prosperity.

How to proceed? We can discuss in the next issue.