11 November 2022, New Delhi: The darkest scar of colonialism in India probably came in its final days when Bengal suffered a great famine in the early 1940s due to the unfair policies of the British government in the backdrop of World War II. The famine, in retrospect, drives home India’s sheer dependency even in terms of meeting its need for food. Right after Independence, India had to import a large quantity of foodgrains from the USA and other developed economies and due to successive wars in 1948, 1962, and 1965, India faced an acute shortage of food. Thus, the famous slogan was given by former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri – “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”.
Fast-forward to 2022: India’s agriculture exports touched a historic high of USD 50 billion (FY 2021-22). The highest-ever exports were achieved for staples like rice, wheat, sugar, other cereals, and meat. As per the provisional figures released by the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCI&S), agricultural exports have grown by 19.92% during 2021-22 to touch $50.21 billion. This remarkable feat has been made possible on the shoulders of several key initiatives taken by the Central government to increase the production of food grains in recent years.
However, the story of India’s Atmanirbharta in food starts almost five decades back. In 1950-51, India was suffering from food shortages with occasional droughts and famines which compelled it to import food grains. A rapidly growing population was creating increasing pressure on agriculture, with food production and productivity unable to keep pace. Even at this point, the agriculture sector was contributing 50% of the GDP; showing how dependent our economy was on agriculture.
Green Revolution that began in the 1960s enabled the nation to make great strides in domestic food production and significantly contributed to progress in agriculture and allied sectors. The main focus areas of the movement were (a) farm mechanization by substituting the use of cattle with modern tractors and other machinery to increase productivity, (b) the use of hybrid varieties of seeds for better yield, and (c) using the new dams constructed post-independence for better irrigation. It transformed India from a food-deficit nation to a food-surplus country.
India has achieved self-reliance in the production of food grains in the last several decades, and it is a mammoth achievement for our agriculture sector as well as the overall economy.
Today, India is the world’s largest sugar-producing country and holds the second position in rice production after China. India is also the second largest producer of wheat with a share of around 14.14 percent of the world’s total production in 2020. India is also inching towards self-reliance in pulse production. As per the 4th Advance Estimates, the production of food grains in the country is estimated at 315.72 million tonnes which is higher by 4.98 million tonnes than the production of food grains during 2020-21.
It is worth noting that our farmers grew record food grains during the deadliest pandemic of the century while the whole world was tottering under the impact of COVID-19. To facilitate farmers during the lockdown, more than 2,067 agriculture markets were made functional. The Kisan Rath application was launched in April 2020 to facilitate farmers and traders in transporting Agriculture/Horticulture produce. To build the confidence of the farmers, the Government of India has been declaring the Minimum Support Price for Kharif and Rabi crops before sowing seasons, ensuring remunerative prices.
Agriculture continues to be the prime pulse of the Indian economy and is at the core of the socio-economic development of the country. It accounts for around 19 percent of the GDP and about two-thirds of the population is dependent on the sector. The growth of other sectors and the overall economy hinges on the performance of agriculture to a considerable extent through its backward and forward linkages. It is not only a source of livelihood and food security for a large population of India but also has a special significance for low-income, poor and vulnerable sections.
As per the National Sample Survey, the estimated average monthly income per agricultural household increased from Rs. 6426 in 2012-13 to Rs. 10,218 in 2018-19.
The government has announced to convert more than 3.25 lakh fertilizer shops across the country as Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samruddhi Kendras. These will be centres where farmers can buy not only fertilisers and seeds but also implement soil testing and avail useful information about farming techniques. Further, with the introduction of One Nation, One Fertiliser under ‘Bharat’ brand name in the entire country will facilitate an increase in availability and reduce the cost of fertilisers.
To make Indian agriculture future-ready, initiatives like National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, the promotion of scientific warehousing and the adoption of drone technologies have been undertaken. The government has also taken several steps to increase investment in the agriculture sector such as setting up an Agri-Tech Infrastructure Fund, promoting organic farming through Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, and creating a Long-Term Irrigation Fund and Micro Irrigation Fund. Under the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund, entities such as farmers, start-ups, government agencies and local bodies benefit from setting up eligible infrastructure projects. Under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) Scheme, grants-in-aid are given to state governments on the basis of the projects approved in the State Level Sanctioning Committee Meeting (SLSC).
Agriculture is at the epicentre of the country’s journey towards Aatmanirbharta (self-reliance) with farmers at its core. The Central Government has been taking up significant steps for upliftment, empowerment and stability of farmers in a holistic manner. The time is not far when the face of the agriculture sector will be transformed due to persistent government initiatives and investments.
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