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Special Content

Issue no 8, 21-27 May 2022



The remarkable journey of India’s agriculture


Devika Chawla


India marks the completion of 75 years of its independence this year, the celebration of which began last year when Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi launched the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav campaign. Through this initiative, the nation's progress and achievements in the last seven and half decades across different domains and sectors are being highlighted in order to inspire the younger generations to build upon national successes and expand them further by the time India holds its centenary Independence Day celebrations in 2047.

In this context, the agriculture sector (often called the 'backbone of Indian economy') has made some of the most remarkable contributions to India's socio-economic development in an inclusive yet sustainable manner. As a sector, agriculture's primacy to Indian economy has been quite significant right from the days of Independence. From being a nation of 70 per cent poor people in 1947 to having a single digit poverty rate, India's journey is nothing short of miraculous. One must not overlook the role of a vibrant and growing agricultural sector in making this (and many other socio-economic achievements) possible. The role and impact of Indian agriculture's transformation during and after the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s is well known and analysed. What is less known, however, is how the recent reforms in this sector are building upon these huge achievements and promoting sustainable development for a nation that is many times larger (demographically and economically) from its Independence Day avatar. Despite India's rapid urbanization, agriculture has continued to remain the mainstay of the economy, with over 40 per cent of the populace depending upon agriculture for their livelihoods. This implies that the sector is a major provider of employment (direct and indirect) to a large chunk of the population. It must be noted here that on the back of India's expanding economic base, the sector has grown and diversified rapidly- turning India from a food importer to a food exporter in a matter of few decades while also shifting a major chunk of rural employment towards nonagricultural activities. Much of this migration to the urban centers has got to do with lower productivity and income difficulties associated with agricultural activities leading the workforce towards cities and arguably, better paying jobs. However, in the recent years, there has been a wide consensus at a global level that the pressures and threats from climate change mean that sustainability has become a central pillar of policy-making in every domain, especially agriculture. It is in this context that there is an aggressive push towards making agriculture a sustainable activity that is not at odds with climate friendly practices, provides stable livelihoods for farmers as well as promoting equitable development in both rural and urban areas. Doing so would require enhancing the productivity and output in the agriculture sector, thereby making it as lucrative a sector as any other for people to work in. This is one of the major reasons that since assuming charge in 2014, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has given agriculture a priority in terms of modernizing the sector to not only meet the needs of a young and rapidly growing nation but also position agriculture as a lucrative sector for a sustainable, green economy. Noteworthy schemes and initiatives in the initial years included providing bank accounts to each Indian family under the Jan Dhan Yojana, (connecting farmers with formal banking system), introduction of Soil Health Card (SHCs), PMFasal Bima Yojana (crop insurance), neem-coating of urea for providing better quality fertilizers to farmers and PMKrishi Sinchayi Yojana (for better irrigation access).While these and other schemes were about addressing the fundamental concerns of the agricultural sector, the more recent initiatives are focused on promoting innovation within the sector, enhancing R&D (research and development) and incorporating technological advancements for higher productivity and sustainable practices. Such initiatives include the e-NAM (National Agriculture Market), the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), organic farming initiatives, PM KISAN (direct transfer of INR 2000 as financial benefit to all farmers every month), Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) and the push for smart agriculture through emerging technologies such as precision farming, crop management and AgriTech.


With India's agriculture exports touching a record high of USD 50 Bn on the back of highest ever exports in rice, wheat, sugar and marine products, India is fast emerging as a reliable supplier of food staples, especially wheat to fulfill the supply gap created by the Russia-Ukraine crisis. While the healthy growth in agri-exports is a welcome develop-ment, it also highlights the need for stronger industry-academic collaboration if India wants to solidify its position as a reliable supplier of food items and emerge as a hub of agricultural exports. This will be further deepened by better R&D and innovation, leading to diversi-fication and competitiveness in a sector at the cusp of transformation. To this end, this year's budget announcements for the agriculture sector such as higher budgetary allocations to fisheries, animal husbandry and dairy segments, the national mission on oilseeds, the National Beekeeping Honey Mission (NBHM) and the efforts to promote natural, zero-budget and chemical-free farming, will all go a long way in not only diversifying the basket of Indian agricultural products but also enhancing their quality and providing better income opportunities for farming communities.


This article has highlighted the main aspects of Indian agriculture's journey since 1947, when the nation gained independence, and the rapid strides it has made in this sector, leading to better social and economic development indicators. Yet, with this dynamic nation's high-growth and skill rates, this sector has struggled to keep up. Conse-quently, the recent years have focused on making agriculture an attractive, competitive sector of the economy. This has been done through initiatives across multiple levels including intro-ducing technology and innova-tion in agricultural practices to boost quantity and quality, promoting green and smart agriculture, diversifying the sector through national missions on horticulture, edible oils and enhancing the sector's competitiveness through ambitious agricultural exports. All these reforms will not only benefit the consumer and the farmer, but also create a rippleeffect and make agriculture an attractive employment destination for millions of young Indians including startup entrepreneurs and innovators while at the same time ensuring that our agri-practices are climate-friendly and sustainable in the long run.


(The author is Assistant Manager, Strategic Investment Research Unit, and Invest India. She can be reached at devika.chawla@investindia.org.in)


Views expressed are personal.