Although agriculture plays a pivotal role in the country’s economy it is backward and traditional when compared with developed countries of the West. Agricultural productivity is low and the economic condition of the farmers is poor.
The investment in agricultural sector is lower than industrial and commercial sectors and the pace of modernisation is very slow. Following is a brief mention of some of the problems which are retarding the development of agriculture in the country.
1. Uneconomic Size of Landholdings and their Fragmentation
Foregoing description leads us to conclude that majority of land holdings in India are too small to be economically viable to promote modern agricultural development. These do not generate enough income to buy new agricultural inputs or make heavy investment. Small size accompanied with fragmentation also prevents the use of new farm machineries which are very essential in today’s agriculture.
The fact may be well exemplified by citing the example of Punjab where land holdings are comparatively bigger in size. This is one of the important reasons for the success of green revolution in this region. Elsewhere small and fragmented holdings, unequal distribution of agricultural land and faulty land tenure make the matter worse.
Although Zamindari has been abolished but its effects have not been completely wiped out. There is a large number of landless labourers who are paid paltry sum as wages and have to work as bonded labourers. Their condition is deplorable. Agriculture also has a section of landowners who act as absentee landlords and get their cultivation done through tenants and sharecroppers. None of them is interested to make investments for agricultural improvements.
2. Poverty and Indebtedness of Farmers
Although peasants indebtedness is universal in subsistent farming, but its impact is perhaps nowhere as crushing as in Indian agriculture. An estimate of the All Indian Rural Credit Survey of 1954-56 indicated that nearly 70 per cent of all the cultivating families were in debt. New data confirm the continuance of large scale and deep-rooted rural poverty in the country. According to one estimate the average annual per capita income of an Indian farmer is about Rs. 2,000.
The lot of the landless cultivators is even more pitiable. Although government-run cooperative societies are offering credit facilities to farmers but their impact is only limited to the upper and middle classes of the cultivators. The bulk of peasantry belonging to the lower section has to still take shelter of big landlords and professional money-lenders that charge exorbitant interest on loans (20 to 36 per cent per annum) and soon grab their property making them pauper. Average Indian farmers’ income is hardly sufficient to meet its dire needs. That is why he is not in a position to make desirable investment in agriculture, use new agricultural inputs and adopt new technology. Poverty is, therefore, a serious impediment in the modernisation and development of Indian agriculture.
Majority of Indian farmers are still elite who are not aware of new improvements in garniture, new government schemes for improving lots of the farmers or recent change in government policy towards agriculture. That is why people participation is very poor in agricultural development programmes and most of the subsidies loans either remain unutilized or go to the hands untargeted groups.
3. Scarcity of Agricultural Inputs
On the one hand farmers are less receptive to agricultural innovations on the other hand mostly the agricultural inputs like chemical fertilisers, high yielding varieties of seeds, insecticides, pesticides, weedicides, farm machineries etc. are either not available in sufficient quantity or their prices at beyond the reach of an ordinary farmer. Due to lad of quality control there is always possibility of hugger.
In 1992-93 about 58.5 lakh quintals of improved seeds were used on about 70 million hectares of agricultural land. This area is only 39 per cent of the total cropped area of the country. The total consumption of chemical fertilisers was 135.64 lakh tones in 1994-95 against the internal production of 104.38 lakh tones (31.26 lakh tones imported).
This gives a per hectare average of 0.075 tone of fertiliser consumption which is quite insufficient to raise agricultural output. Only 41.4 per cent of the cropped area enjoys the facility of assured irrigation leaving out the remaining 58.6 per cent to the mercy of rainfall. The use of pesticides and insecticides is very limited and Indian farmers are almost unfamiliar with herbicides and weedicides, hence, a sizeable production (about 10%) is lost every year.
4. Lack of Infrastructural Facilities
Rural areas in India lack proper transport and communication facilities. Rural roads are unsurfaced and kachcha cart tracks are not useable during rainy season. Although a massive drive for road construction has been launched to connect all villages having more than 1500 population with all weather surface roads but still the objective is difficult to be realised.
Telephone and telegraph facilities are still considered luxury although the government has promised to provide telephone link to all a Panchayats of the country. Banking facilities are mostly confined to the urban areas. All this has hampered the development of agricultural and industrial activities in the rural areas.
Except states like Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat marketing facilities are inadequate and unsatisfactory. Regulated markets are limited in number and lack storage, processing, credit and transportation facilities. Farmers are still at the mercy of unscrupulous traders and are easily exploited by secret brokerage, false weights and payment of inflated commissions. Due to lack of proper pricing policy fanners fail to obtain fair price for their agricultural produce.
5. Low Productivity
One of the main problems of Indian agriculture is its low productivity. Table 8.VIII showing major crop-yields of selected countries indicate that the Indian agricultural yields are among the lowest in the world, although there has been marked improvement in per hectare yield since 1950-51. The world average of wheat yield per hectare is 30% higher than Indian yield. Similarly the world average yield for rice is 60% higher, millets 80% higher, potatoes 60% higher, maize 140% higher and cotton 250% higher than their respective Indian yields.
The main cause of this low per hectare yield is due to low fertility of soil and less care to replenish it through artificial fertilizers. “An average farmer, deep in debt, does not have the resources to apply nitrogen, potash, or potassium to the crops. Investment in chemical fertilization could lead to his economic ruination. Burnt stubble, branches, leaf mold, or animal manure application are his chief means of fertilization.
Even these are inadequately applied. Social customs frown upon the utilization of human excreta for the fields. Occasionally cow dung is used but 60 per cent of it is burnt as a fuel or lost for mixture in plaster coating to floors or walls in rural areas” (Tirtha and Krishan, 1996, p. 156). In recent years there has been appreciable increase in the use of chemical fertilizers which accompanied with HYV seeds and assured irrigation have played significant role for the success of Green Revolution.
The most rapid increase has been noticed in Punjab- Haryana area which accounts for 32 per cent consumption of nitrogenous fertilizers of the country during the Fifth and Sixth Plans and has acted as core area for the diffusion of Green Revolution technology. Except Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh other states are less receptive to increase the consumption of fertilizers. About two-third of the area under wheat and rice and about one-half in other food grains are still not utilizing sufficient dose of chemical fertilizers.
6. Lack of Agricultural Research, Education & Training Facilities
In India agricultural research is still in infantile stage. There is also no co-ordination between the farm and the research laboratory. Hence gains of new researches are not reaching the common farmer. Very little attention is being paid for educating and training farmers for adopting new farming techniques, increasing agricultural production and making it profitable and sustainable.
7. Soil Erosion and Soil Degradation
Soil erosion is not only a major cause for decreasing soil fertility but loss of valuable cropped land. In India about 80 million hectares of the country’s area is facing the menacing problem of soil erosion. About 4 million hectares of area is in the form of ravines and gullies.
The indiscriminate cutting of trees, unbridled cattle grazing, faulty land use practices have greatly helped in accelerating the process of soil erosion and soil degradation. Although soil conservation programmes have been initiated since 1953 but their impact has not been very encouraging. Here again peoples’ awareness and peoples’ participation are the imperative needs to tackle these problems at various levels.