Sharp focus on policies for farm sector
Reviewed by BB Goel

The Future of Indian Agriculture
By Nilabja Ghosh & C. S.C. Sekhar
Academic Foundation. Pages 263, Rs 895

Agriculture is the lifeline of an economy. In India, despite tall claims of all round technological development, the biggest threat to agricultural development is from rain gods. Too much stagnation and lower growth has a cascading effect. It has far-reaching implications on rural poverty, intersectoral migration, stability of polity, sustainability of economy, livelihood, and unease for government as food manager.

The edited volume, an outcome of conference proceedings to mark the Golden Jubilee of Institute of Economic Growth, examines issues confronting agriculture from perspective of efficiency, equity and sustainability. It provides an analysis on inclusive growth in terms of technology, markets, natural resources, climate change, institutions and policy framework to realise UN Millennium goals of poverty and hunger. The book analysing policy parlance refers to vulnerability of small and marginal farmers. The existing institutional framework, market mechanism and national policy have abundantly benefitted medium/ large farmers. The editors rightly argue that growth of small/ marginal farmers is more crucial than inclusive growth itself. They are widely scattered, have little access to wherewithal of agricultural production, constitute lionís share in population, treated inequitably and have little purchasing power. Since inclusive growth implies equitable growth among several regions across crops, efforts need to be directed towards poorest of the poor. Besides, large farmers ought to vacate lands, start nonfarm activities and promote small/ tiny units. The suggestion that SEZ business in India is unnecessary deserves little merit. The problem of growth and equity in agriculture cannot be solved by state initiatives alone. It calls for collective approach on part of new generation co-operatives having autonomous character, SHGs and NGOs. The rationale of contract farming as an institutional innovation to help farmers and agricultural development has been explained. It lowers transaction costs, removes market imperfections and facilitates crop diversification to increase income and employment. Case studies testify that small farmers fail to sustain their participation due to high risks in contract farming. The volume highlights that spot markets have brought rural economy into mainstream of economic growth. It provides industry and farming a transparent price discovery platform to choose a particular crop and time of its sale. It has also facilitated in bringing growth closer to equity. Floods are a recurrent event and cause damages of magnitude. Although flood zoning is a central guideline, it becomes rarely practical as large parts of the country are flood prone. The authors suggest evolving comprehensive flood-plain zoning to reduce the vulnerability of floods and extension of weather index insurance to contain maximum losses. Small farmers benefit little through government outfits. Instead, they rely on large farmers and dealers. The data-based methods of crop forecasting have also been elaborated although conflicting forecasts do occur occasionally. Solutions for future of Indian agriculture have been offered.