Agricultural Crisis needs to be addressed
Author: Rishav 15 Feb 2018
Agriculture has suddenly catapulted into the center stage due to this year being an election year. And this is likely to continue into the next year. The states are high and so will be the rhetoric. Much of the discussion is focused on remunerative prices for the farmers to get their fair share of profitability even to eek out a living.
In this political perception game of fooling the farmers, the reality of sources and uses of funds are being lost. Lets face it, irrespective of the parties in power, the economics of doing so are daunting. Be as it may, there is more to agriculture than remunerative pricing. These are important issues no doubt but these will not effectively solve the problem without an holistic approach to the issue.
Modi Government growth strategy hinges on reforming the industrial sector on a priority basis so as to attract investments and FDI to create jobs even though it could be argued that it will mostly benefit the middle class and their aspirational requirements. For this to happen, it has to provide infrastructure such as roads, airports, electricity etc.
The challenge for the government with limited resources and compulsion to keep fiscal deficits within 3-4%, is to prioritize between the focusing on the industrial infrastructure or agricultural infrastructure, given that 78% rural population depend on agriculture for their livelihood. This requires a paradigm shift in the mindset of our leadership.
Sairam rightly states that we are in the midst of an agricultural crisis. If attention is not paid, we run the risk of putting the country in harms way in the near future.. Drought is a here to stay. According the “world on Edge” by Lester Brown in the last 50 years, nearly 24,000 villages of south China had to be abandoned due to lack of water. Israel has faced four consecutive years of drought. While it can be argued that a fair share of its occurrence is manmade, there is sufficient empherical evidence to demonstrate that global temperature rising is causing water scarcity. Moreover, a UN Report concludes that by 2050, nearly all of India and three fourths of China will face severe water scarcity. The story behind this misery have repeatedly been un-remunerative procurement prices, crop failures due to weather vagaries, high interest or lack of access to finances in a timely manner, degradation of lands due to sewerage, chemicals, seawater intrusion, industrialization and the list goes on.
These facts are a wake up call that the nation needs to take seriously and work on long term perspectives in a bipartisan way to develop strategies going beyond the myopic electoral perspectives. The nation is, in a nutshell, facing the challenges of water scarcity, declining agricultural investments, increasing unemployment and trust deficit in the system. Resolving this will require a herculean task that needs leadership that can extend across all sections, teamwork and serious effort at austerity. The country cannot survive with out food and so it is no brainer that agriculture has to be made the epicenter of any strategic alternatives and plans.
It follows that the Government’s first focus is on building the agricultural infrastructure. There is an urgent need for developing an extensive network of drip irrigation network in India. 85% of the farmers have less than one-acre land and so they cannot afford Rs 1,00,000 needed to adopt drip irrigation. There is a clear correlation between increased productivity even while saving nearly 50% water resource. Therefore, at least for the marginal and small farmers, the Government must build the drip irrigation infrastructure.
In addition, it needs to invest into usage of sewerage & recycled water for agriculture and investment into Desalination plants. Both these options require huge investments.
Israel and China provide the best case studies worth emulating. China is reported to have nearly a third of its country not having drinkable water. Likewise, Israel terrain receives perhaps the lowest rainfall in the world, experiences 4 years of consecutive droughts and despite having a 33% shortage of water; it has increased its agricultural output by nearly 42%. How did Israel achieve such spectacular achievements? So, what are the lessons we can learn from them?
UTILISATION OF RECYCLED WATER AND SEWERAGE: Over 90% of the agricultural irrigation in Israel uses recycled water. This not only cuts down the costs but also saves the much-needed resource to meet the water requirements. Government of India needs to draw up integrated water recycling plants and extensive network of piping so as to optimally use these recycled water for agricultural purposes. It is also instructive for the government to recognize that it gives priority to Agriculture water requirements even over the common people.
INVEST INTO DESALINATION PLANTS: Desalination plant technologies have been researched and being perfected. China has desalinated nearly 600,000 Cu meters of water and is aiming to touch 2mn cu meters of desalination of water. Israel gets nearly 1bn cu meters of desalinated water to meet their demand. India should take the technology from Israel and invest heavily into research in this field. With coastline of India, investment in this infrastructure will Yield rich results.
Clearly, there are two strong drivers that can be credited for Israel’s ability to manage the challenge of meeting its annual consumption of nearly 2.2 bn cu meters while it has access only to 1.1bn cu meters of water. The first is the total Political will to tackle the issue and the second is the commitment of the people to support the efforts and comply. India faces the problem of having neither.
Much of India’s future depends on whether the people of India can understand the herculean task and work as a team to address the issues or will continue their gullibility to absorb hypes, false promises and innuendos. The country needs leaders who can lead its people to change their mindset, tighten their seat belts and motivate them not to shy away from work hard. They need to tell the hard facts & choices that confront the people and build trust bonds to lead them to success. Do we have such leaders? Will the people allow such leaders to emerge?
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