A compilation of papers on various aspects of Indian agricultural policy published by Centad.

agricultural challenges Book coverIn order to facilitate a nationwide debate based on an understanding of select critical issues in agriculture, Centad has published a book India’s Agricultural Challenges: Reflections on Policy, Technology and Other Issues, edited by Dr Ramesh Chand with a foreword by M S Swaminathan. The book is a collection of papers, suitably revised, presented by experts at a workshop in 2004 (click here to download the full book).

The papers examine various contemporary agricultural issues, such as the National Agricultural Policy (NAP), implications of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, transgenic crops and biotechnology, the role of rural women in agricultural transformation, and contract farming.

Dr Ramesh Chand of the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi, kicks off with a critique of India’s National Agricultural Policy. He assesses how realistic the policy is in achieving its goal of 4% growth in the agriculture sector. The paper examines what the NAP has to say on critical issues like water stress, use of chemical fertilisers, erosion of plant and genetic resources, infrastructure, technology, land use policies, etc. The author concludes that the NAP remains a set of policy intentions, without any time-bound action plan.

In his paper ‘Expiry of Peace Clause in WTO’s Agriculture Agreement: Implications’, Gopal Naik of IIM Bangalore analyses the situation after the expiry of the Peace Clause in WTO negotiations in 2003. This permits developing countries to take action against the trade-distorting subsidies of rich countries.

There are two papers on contract farming, one by Gurdev Singh and S R Asokan of IIM Ahmedabad -- ‘Contract Farming in India’ -- and the other by Sunil Khairnar and Venkat Yelati -- ‘Contract Farming in India: Impact and Implications’. The latter is more critical of the contract system. But both papers say that there are interesting lessons to be learnt from the stories of success -- as with gherkin and broiler farming in Tamil Nadu -- and failure, as in tomato-growing in Punjab which entirely excluded the small farmer.

Transgenic crops and agbiotechnology are discussed in two separate papers. In ‘Transgenic Crops for Indian Agriculture: an Assessment’, Deepak Pental, Department of Genetics, Delhi University, argues that transgenic crops can be beneficial and promote food security. A plant geneticist, he explains the process of biotechnology and its role in increasing yields and lowering costs.

An opposite view is expressed by Suman Sahai, who heads the NGO Gene Campaign. In her paper ‘Is Agbiotechnology Suited to Agricultural Production in India?’ she makes a clear distinction between the green revolution and current forays into agro biotechnology. The former was publicly owned and did not carry IPR claims and patents, while the latter is privately owned. She cites several experiences from India and other developing countries to prove that traditional germplasm and conventional methods of breeding are far superior to the GM technology pushed by multinationals.

To take advantage of the breakthrough in basic sciences, India needs to have a strong agricultural R&D sector. The importance of this aspect and the role that domestic R&D should play are discussed by Dayanatha Jha of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in his paper ‘Agricultural R&D in India: Growth, Equity and Institutional Challenges’. The writer considers technological change as the central pivot for future agricultural growth and highlights three major contributions of R&D to buttress his argument. Like Pental, he advocates a shake-up of public sector R&D and is particularly critical of ICAR.

P Kumar of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, in his paper ‘Empowering the Small Farmers Towards a Food Secure India’, discusses the changing composition of farm holdings towards small farmers. He closely examines their role in the food security of the country, as food crops occupy about four-fifth of the cropped area on such farms. Kumar projects that by the year 2010, holdings of less than two hectares will increase to 119 million and constitute around 82% of total holdings and 46% of total cultivated land.

Women are a disadvantaged group in the rural and farming population. They require special attention in policy and technology generation. This is the focus of the paper ‘Rural Women and Agricultural Change in India’ by Amita Shah from the Gujarat Institute of Development Research.

She suggests that to achieve gender equality one needs to go beyond the “mainstreaming” approach, which essentially seeks to create more work space as well as visibility for women workers without focusing much on changing the operating environment for women’s productive and reproductive work.