The New agricultural policy that took ten years to evolve ought to have proposed more substantive changes, addressing the problems of the poorest of farmers. They have no means of support when the crops fail, very little capital for investment and are usually not the owners of the land they till.
Establishing the farmer’s tenancy rights, therefore, should have been one of the primary goals. But instead of emphasizing on land reforms, the Government has highlighted lease farming and is all set to open up the agricultural sector for private investors on a contract basis.
The usual argument put forward in favor of contract farming is that capital will flow into agriculture and more employment will be created, stemming the flow of migrants to the ties. Lease farming could lead to ensuring more efficient use of land as well as increase the operational holdings of the small and marginal fanners. But no blueprint such as the Kerala model which focuses on the poor farmers has been put forward.
The policy is thus short of the expected thrust that would be essential for pushing agricultural growth to four per cent from the current lowly 1.5 per cent because it does not take cognizance of the void created by the decline in public investment in agriculture over the last few years. For a start, investments in public irrigation have to be raised greatly.
There is also the need for conserving the fast depleting ground water and volumetric pricing of power has to be introduced. Stepping up public investment in research and extension and social development are also important. Access to timely credit has been addressed by promising a revamp of the agro-credit system, but it should include crop insurance and availability of micro credit. It is the lack of financial help in times of crises that has forced farmers to commit suicide in some states.
It would be important also to strengthen the position of female farmers and female labor because women contribute to the well-being of the household. This can be achieved by changing property rights in favor of women and evolving technologies to suit female farmers.
The emphasis on exports in the new policy will require storage and processing facilities as the new policy will require storage and processing facilities as well as good roads. In fact, gearing up to the new international competition which will come after the dismantling of the quota system next year will need a much faster pace of investment. The best way to secure fund would have been through taxing the agricultural upper income groups.