Make farming global
To achieve the goal of doubling farmers’ income, agriculture must be realigned and provided with an export-driven outlook
The value of agriculture products in the overall exports from India, in percentage terms, has been on the fall for decades now. Agricultural exports accounted for 44 per cent of total exports in 1960, falling to about 31 per cent in 1980 and further to 15 per cent in 1993. More recently, agricultural exports have fallen in absolute terms too. It fell to USD 33.87 billion in 2016-17 as compared to USD 43.23 billion in 2013-14. In the exports of certain agricultural produce, for example, rice, we are behind even Thailand and Vietnam.
If the income of the farmers has to be doubled, the agricultural growth in the country has to be export-driven. There is considerable merit in exporting all the leftover that is not consumed in India, allowing the farmers to earn a higher income for the same. Some farmers have started growing and exporting flowers and allied products, for which they have found a good number of buyers in the USA, Japan and Germany. Similarly, our fruits are being bought by Netherlands and Japan, mangoes and grapes by Belgium, Saudi Arabia and some others. The farmers of these agriculture products have not only been able to secure a better income for themselves but have also helped the government in accessing the relevant foreign exchange.
The Indian farmers have to now move up the value chain and give something extra to the world. For example, India was exporting cotton to the world in the 1950s but started making yarns, fabric along with readymade garments and began exporting them, earning a higher income for the people engaged in such businesses. It is a clear case of value addition with additional resultant benefits being accrued to the people. The textile exports have been in the region of USD 40-45 billion in the recent years. It employs about 65 million people. Clearly, there have been direct benefits' that are being accrued to the people engaged in such activities.
Another such successful industry is the food processing industry. The food processing industry, which currently accounts for about 32 per cent of the total food market, has an excellent chance to do well in terms of exports. India has a huge produce of fruits and vegetables but, according to conservative estimates, about 40 per cent of it is wasted due to the lack of cold storage facilities and other infrastructural bottlenecks. In the Union Budget 2017-18, the government had announced the setting up of a dairy processing infrastructure fund worth Rs 8,000 crore. All these make India an ideal hub for the exports of processed food and preservatives. If this industry does well, there will be a direct benefit to the farmers as they will be able to secure better prices for their fruits and vegetables produced.
There is an opportunity even for the landless farmers. Milk production does not require the farmer to own a piece of land and he can manage with very little or no land. Farmers engaged in milk production have been able to increase their incomes in the last couple of decades or so. India continues to be the largest milk producer in the world for the last 15 years and stood at 164 million tonnes in 2016-17. There are also significant opportunities in the export of dairy products from the country and the current levels of 30,000-35,000 tonnes of annual dairy products export supply can be increased significantly with the correct intervention.
For agriculture to be export-oriented, there needs to be sufficient data and information that must be easily accessible to the farmers, on the basis of which they are able to ascertain the prime global markets and the most profitable products for their commercial production. Thereafter, they have to gain access to better quality seeds at subsidised rates and the requisite know-how in order to grow that crop and harvest it successfully. The need of the hour is for furthering advanced technologies in agriculture that are cost-effective and suitable for Indian conditions. Moreover, the yields and seeds have to be superior and genetically improved.
After securing the requisite conditions, farmers have to make inroads in foreign markets for their produce to secure the best prices among the most profitable sellers where the demand for their produce can be traced to be at the optimum. In this regard, APEDA has achieved certain milestones, but more needs to be done in a holistic manner. Global linkages and marketing opportunities have to be made available to the farmers of the country. Making them aware of the most appropriate export opportunities and the procedural know-how for exports will go a long way in ensuring that the farmers of our country earn a better income for themselves and for the nation.
(The author is MD, Insecticides India Ltd. The views expressed are strictly personal)