Experts draw attention to sharp fall in agriculture’s contribution to GDP

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By Rosamma Thomas

JAIPUR: At a meeting on ‘Agriculture and Rural Management’ on Friday, Sankar Bhaumik of the Central University of South Bihar offered an overview of the problems plaguing agriculture in India – at the time of independence, this sector accounted for 55 per cent of GDP and employed 70 per cent of India’s workforce. By 2013-14, the contribution of agriculture to the country’s economy shrank to 12 per cent of GDP, although it continued to employ 53 per cent of the workforce, he said.

Agriculture expert Devinder Sharma, who arrived in Jaipur from the tribal conclave at Banswara, said he was much enlightened by his interactions with villagers in Rajasthan. Speaking a day ahead of the conference at a meeting at the Budget Analysis and Research Centre, he said villagers he interacted with in Banswara said their cows yielded about half a litre of milk each day. This would not seem at all viable, given that it might be expensive to feed a cow for such small quantities of milk. “The villagers, however, said the cows were needed for the dung, which is used in cultivation,” he said.

Sharma said he asked one village woman what she might need from the government. “A goat and about five chickens would be nice, she said.” Sharma remarked on the very modest needs of villagers.

Bhaumik used graphs to how the intensity of cropping was far lower in India when compared to other parts of the world. In many parts of India, only one crop is grown per season, he said. Also, the use of fertilizers, when compared to other countries, was low.

Sharma, however, held that irrigation and higher productivity alone would not fix the problems of farmers. He spoke of how Punjab, despite 98 per cent of its fields under irrigation and productivity levels that are among the highest in the world, records frequent farmer suicides. More than anything else, farmers in India need higher incomes. And that cannot be attained by keeping the prices of their produce low, he said. Bhaumik too pointed out that farm produce is priced lower than all non-farm produce.

Devinder Sharma pointed out that incomes in farming households are as low, on average, as Rs 20,000 per annum. How will a farmer feed the family and care for those ailing, he asked. What option is left but to end one’s life?

The two-day conference on Agriculture and Rural Management ends on Saturday.
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