The present situation calls for giving a big push to farm investment especially keeping in view the plight of developing countries. Though 60 per cent of South Asian countries are still dependent on this sector, yet its growth rate in particular leaves much to be desired. In the entire developing block, this is the reality emanating mainly from inadequate investment, rural infrastructure, research and development and inadequate diversification to high-value crops.
Where is the journey towards feeding the world population at a reasonable price? Food prices are going up on a continuous basis; demonstrations as well as social unrests have badly affected a number of capital cities. Time is ripe for dealing firmly with the agricultural disarray.
Clearly if the current trends are any indication, the food and agricultural policy system itself is in disarray. The symptoms of such a disarray are not difficult to locate - incoherent/ inadequate response to exploding food prices, slowdown in agricultural productivity growth, water problems, a disorderly response to continuously disturbing energy prices, rapid concentration in multinational agri-business corporations without adequate institutional innovation aiming at properly guiding them, lack of progress in addressing scarcity; widespread nutritional problems [ hunger/ obesity/ chronic diseases] plus agriculture related health hazards [influenza] and adverse impact on climatic fluctuations.
In fact, the overall situation of food front has been- in the recent past especially - far from being satisfactory with food prices ruling high all over the globe. Underinvestment in areas related to food, nutrition/agriculture [research/infrastructure/rural institution] invite spill over effect/global impacts, among others. It is high time that sincere collaborative programmes are taken by the countries in order to adequately address opportunities and challenges.
Side by side, non-availability of quality and cost effective inputs, low efficiency of input use and fast deteriorating soil health and water resources remain the critical concerns. Agriculture requires a big push so as to realise the much-coveted high growth rate vis-à-vis food security. We are really entering a difficult stage nationally and globally in agriculture. In Sri Lanka, 32 per cent of the country's food requirements is met simply by imports for which the annual expenditure is 100 billion Sri Lankan rupees. Dwindling food stocks and rising prices reflect the reality: the very concern which must be given top priority. Tackling the threat of climate change and reducing yield gap are the crying needs, among others. In many of the current analyses it is being pointed out that Thailand becomes one of the gainers out of these upward trends in food prices as this country produces surplus food gains. But what is the gain emerging from this trend for the farmers - their plight remains more or less the same and it is the traders who are gaining most of the prices that is obtained.
Neglecting agriculture results in heavy immediate and future loss. The huge upcoming population in the workable category, in turn, is one of the rare assets that could give rich dividends exactly by the same route as China gained in the previous years.
Actually, the real challenge that come in the way of making agriculture an instrument of development lay outside agriculture - managing the political risks (political economy of agricultural policies and simultaneously strengthening governance for implementation of these policies). The crucial need is there to share ideas, experiences and expertise, set up a common seed bank, joint research centre, surveillance and early warning system among the countries. Investment and regional cooperation in research and development must be at the top of regional meets be it north or south. Building up partnership with scientists and research bodies have now become more essential than ever before. And then go for rapid technological innovation.
The reality should not be denied as well. So far fast emerging economies like India are concerned, the fact remains that the ongoing trend is steadily moving in terms of registering quicker growth in agricultural productivity. Good growth and modern farm practices and inclusive technologies are being implemented in order to foster the rural growth process.
It is also a fact that cellular technologies, wireless communication networks as well as GIS based agro-software technologies are reaching rural India to disseminate vital information and updates on weather, farming technologies, fertilisers, livestock, commodity prices as well as stock markets. Still, a huge number of villages do not have access to advanced farming technologies and interactive communication networks, not to speak of the pace of rural electrification and clean drinking water availability. Is it not the appropriate time to broaden sight and look at vital aspects - re-identifying policy dimensions and initiative, capacity building through PPP, individual initiatives and joint ventures, boosting agri-business and agri-marketing, GIS mapping and harvesting trends, mitigating climatic change hazards; precision farming - optimum utilisation of resources; lending heavily on most modern agri-practices; micro-finance and micro credit and attaching top importance to food security?
Needless to say the responsibilities are to be shouldered not only by banks (which have been duly responding to government's call for bolstering the credit flow to this sector), but also the government departments, NGOs, commodity exchanges, agri-marketing and state marketing board and of course the extension departments of various states. Time is ripe for a more well-knitted coordinated action so as to initiate inter-sectoral-linkages, progressive decision-making, information sharing and performance improvement, capacity building, creating more opportunities for partnership building, development reorganisation and capacity enhancement for the rural stakeholders.
But one has to clearly remember that the failure rate is never assessed properly. It is better to remember that under a comprehensive environment two and two not always make four. Expected losses call for making provision along with keeping the wolf at bay. Potato cultivation is better financed when food-processing activities extend friendly hands. It is not to be forgotten that the under-privileged section is bearing the burnt of climate impact as they are neither equipped enough to prefigure meteorological changes nor do they have the capacity to mitigate the impact caused by climatic hazards and no specific early warning system to forecast natural disasters (earthquake in China, floods in Rajasthan, etc.)
Farmers would in fact require 25 per cent more water by 2025 as compared to today's level for producing food gains to feed domestic population. The water availability for agricultural purposes would go down by 10 to 12 per cent of what is available now if remedial measures are not taken at the earliest. Rightly, the Bangkok Conference referred to boosting renewable energy, combating wide-scale deforestation and improving the drives for energy efficiency so that the very issue of climate change could be tackled to the extent practicable.
Needless to say that more delay means more damage. A non-traditional approach is to be supplemented along with the ongoing process. Fast creation of self-help groups does mean a little if corrective / supportive measures are not taken to resist the same from breaking down. Let us look at the matter in a more comprehensive time-bound manner.
The writer is a Management Economist and Eminent College of Management and Technology, Kolkata.
© 2020 - All Rights with The Financial Express