; Rainfed agriculture
Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Rainfed agriculture


  • pg 1
									                          RAINFED AGRICULTURE
                             In the Throes of a Crisis
( A Keynote Paper prepared for The 68th Annual Conference of Indian Society of Agricultural
                   Economics to be Held in December, 2008)

                                  V M RAO
                    Institute for Social and Economic Change

                                  February, 2008

1. Introduction
2. The Context: Global, National and Rural
3. The Creeping Crisis in Rainfed Agriculture
4. Policies on the Anvil- Are We Getting Ready to Face the Crisis?
5. Rolling Back the Crisis: The Role of Top Tier in Government (TTG)
6. How Agricultural Economists Can Help
In the light of the grave concern which the Prime Minister expressed recently about the crisis in
agriculture, this paper looks at the nature of the crisis with particular reference to rainfed
agriculture, locates it in the emerging societal context and considers the underlying processes.
The crisis is a creeping crisis in the sense that it has gradually grown into a menace it is now
owing to indifferent policies. It is pointed out that the policies now on the anvil hardly reflect the
concern felt at the highest level in the government. The paper argues for greater transparency
and accountability in the working of policies and their effectiveness in achieving the goals on
which they are focused. Practicable institutional mechanisms are suggested to improve policy
making at the top tier in the government which is seen to be responsible for the poor functioning
of the government system despite its vast pool of experts and administrators and a departmental
structure reaching down to the ground level. The crisis places a special responsibility on the
Agricultural Economics Profession as a think tank on the issues relating to agricultural
development and farmer welfare. The paper concludes with observations on the role that the
Profession can play in helping the government in reining in the crisis and in realising the
substantial development potential which the rainfed agriculture has.
                                     1. Introduction
1.1 It is now official. In the meeting of the National Development Council held in May, 2007 to
discuss the strategy for agricultural development, the Prime Minister warned the country about
the unprecedented crisis confronting agriculture and its grave consequences for the economy. He
pointed out that the marginal and small farmers who form over 80% of farmers in the country
suffer from lack of viability and that there has been no breakthrough in production for a long
time owing to “technology fatigue”. “Technology fatigue” probably refers either to lull on the
research front or researches unable to reach farmers. Agricultural crisis, according to the Prime
Minister, would pose formidable barriers to both the overall growth in the economy and
elimination of poverty. Thus, the crisis would not remain confined to agriculture but would be
disastrous for the entire economy. There was a pointed mention in the Prime Minister’s
assessment of the priority which rainfed agriculture should receive in the strategy to put
agriculture again on the development path.

1.2 The conventional practice is to identify rainfed agriculture with that part of agriculture
which is low in irrigation and which is neither arid nor humid in its rainfall status. A possible
inadequacy of this characterisation is that it may overemphasise the constraints on development
imposed by the poor soil and rainfall environment of rainfed agriculture. While these constraints
are indeed severe, research has given and continues to give a bountiful harvest of new varieties
of crops, appropriate technologies and improved inputs and practices to make rainfed agriculture
a viable and, even, a profitable proposition if these fruits of research are applied in the field.
There are villages located in rainfed areas where local leadership and farmer enterprise have
transformed agriculture overcoming the constraints typical of these areas. Globalisation is
bringing new value addition opportunities in which rainfed agriculture has comparative
advantage. How does, then, one explain the prevailing concern bordering on panic about the
crisis in agriculture, particularly in its rainfed part? The explanation that we find plausible is
shocking! The crisis in agriculture is man-made. The policy regime for agriculture which has
prevailed practically since Independence, with a few bright exceptions like green revolution in
the Seventies and the mission for oilseeds in the Eighties, has almost been hostile to agriculture
combining indifference towards and, even neglect of rainfed agriculture with pronounced bias
in favour of irrigated agriculture. Even in the case of the latter, the policy regime has worried
little about the diversification and long term sustainability issues. As a result, while growth is
well past the peak in irrigated agriculture, rainfed agriculture suffers not only from slow and
unstable growth and sharp fluctuations but also its viability is being eroded due to ineffective
measures for conservation of soil and water resources, degradation of forests and periodic
calamitous droughts.which wipe out gains made over years through investments and hard work.

1.3 The focus of this pasper is on the link between the crisis in rainfed agriculture and the policy
regime. I found it useful to work with a broader concept of crisis than the one confined only to
rainfed agriculture. This helps in bringing out more fully the gravity of the crisis and the role that
the policy tregime plays in intensifying it. I have chosen this theme as I feel that, despite the
concern about agricultural crisis, the policy makers and even the academics tend to remain
complacent about the state of our agriculture, rural areas and, above all, the rural people. The
crisis in rainfed agriculture spills over in the form of rural stagnation and shockingly low levels
of human development among rural people. This, in turn, poses a foirmidable barrier in stepping
up overall growth rate and promoting inclusuve agricultural development. A major weakness of
the policy regime is that it functions through a wide range of uncoordinated schemes/
programmes which are ‘successful’in terms of criteria of expenditure incurred, beneficiaries
covered etc. but leave behind no enduring benefits/ improvements in the status of agriculture and
of the population depending on it. Let me give an example. Consider the problem of non-
viability of small amd marginal farmers. Nearly five years ago National Sample Survey had
brought out a report highlighjting the finding that over 60% of farmers would prefer to leave
agriculture if an alternative was available! The Government of India and the State Governments
have schemes, which if implemented in an effective and coordinated manner, can help farmers
become viable. These schemes are regularly monitored and evaluated by their internal agencies
and outside experts. And, yet, there is no monitoring of the improvement in the viability of
farmetrs resulting from these schemes. If we go by NSS findings, the schemes have had no
impact on the weak viability of farmers. This is a distinguishing feature of the policy regime
towards agriculture, rural areas and rural poor. It is meticulous in implementing schemes but
forgets to take note of their failure to promote the goal on which they are collectively focused.
The result is that after nearly six decades of substantial development efforts, agricultutre finds
itself in a deepening crisis with the policy maker left to rue it as a helpless witness!
1.4 Looking at and understanding the link between agricultural crisis and policy regime makes it
essential to use what may be called the ‘societal’ perspective on agriculture. This conceptualises
agriculture as an economic activity conducted by large number of small producers in an
uncoordinated manner in an economy driven by market forces responding to the demand and
priorities of an affluent consumerist elite alienated from the rural/agricultural parts of the
economy subsisting on marginalised resources trapped in poverty. The latter constitute the
perphery in the society. The societal perspective leads logically to what I have mentioned above
as a broader concept of crisis which includes all the three parts of the periphery—agriculture,
rural areas and rural people. Their problems are inter-linked. Any attempt to treat the problems
of the one in isolation from the other two is bound to fail. It is this setting which shapes the
policy regime towards agriculture. It is pointless to blame politicians and bureaucrats who
formulate and operate the regime who are merely the cogs in the wheel driven by the dynamics
of the societal setting. The interesting point to note is that this setting itself is entering a turbulent
phase with opportunities to reshape the policy regime to make it more farmer-cum-poor-friendly.
The societal perspective emphasises the linkages among the different parts of the society and
treats the physical aspects of agriculture as subservient to these linkages. Further, the
government is seen as merely one of the actors in the development scenario with limited power
to restructure the economy according to the ideology and development paradigm chosen by it.
However, timely and wisely planned initiatives and interventions by the government in
coordination with other development interveners remains the only hope for weak sectors like
rainfed agriculture to become productive and viable..

1.5 A word about the scheme of this paper. Section 2 briefly sketches the global, national and
ground level contexts which need to be kept in mind while devising policies to tackle the
agricultural crisis. These contexts suggest that there is no smooth, straight technology highway
along which India can move towards modernised and development-oriented agriculture.
Technology is important and even indispensable, but so are the issues usually listed under the
rubric ‘social engineering’. Section 3 argues that agriculture is sliding down along a creeping
crisis attributable to weak policy regime rather than harsh nature beyond human control. Section
4 reviews policy documents relating to 11th Five Year Plan to indicate the approach and principal
actions on the anvil to deal with the agricultural crisis. Section 5 outlines the steps that need to be
taken at the highest policy making level to impart adequate thrust and effectiveness to the policy
regime which it lacked in the past. The last section offers a few concluding observations on the
role that the Agricultural Economics Profession has to play at this juncture as a think tank on the
issues relating to agricultural develoopment.

                                 2, The Context: Global, National and Rural
I mentioned above the link between agricultural crisis and the health of the entire economy and
society. To complete the picture, one should also consider the reverse links viz. links between the
economy and agriculture. These are briefly sketched below:
2.1 Global:
A steady trend observed in recent decades is the widening development gap between the
developed countries and developing countries. The distribution of world wealth and resources is
getting more and more skewed in favour of developed countries. The implication is that
sustained growth and increase in growth rate in the developing countries like India are likely to
become more difficult tasks in future rather than less. Boom in developed countries provide
scope for India to benefit from export-led growth. But experts believe that India is not doing the
necessary homework to become globally competitive. Secondly, The growing consumerism in
developed countries ( and also among elites in developing countries) is damaging the
environment and the costs are being borne by the poor in the developing countries, particularly
the rural poor. Thirdly, India is again entering a phase of food shortages in a global context of
shaply rising food prices. In the medium and long run, climate change is likely to pose a serious
threat to domestic food production. The context is now different from the late Sixties when green
revolution helped India to generate food surpluses large enough even to export food grains. The
trend could be towards India becoming a large importer of food gains with economic and
political implications far worse than what the policy maker had to deal with in the late Sixties.
2.2 National:
There are some noticeable favourable features for agriculture in the emerging national context.
The economy is on the verge of achieving double digit growth rate. There is likely to be a
substantial stepup in the trickle-down reaching the poor and marginalised sections. The
employment seems to be on rise in the informal sector. Though this is low-wage , low-skill and
insecure employment, it may help those under pressure in agriculture to move out while still
retaining a foothold in agriculture. The favourable foreign exchange balances give the much
needed capacity to import food grains if weather turns adverse for agriculture. Globalisation
opens up many avenues of value addition to make agriculture viable. This favourable phase in
the national economy gives an excellent opportunity to policy makers to attend to the urgent
tasks of rationalising subsidies, increasing public investments, modernising infrastructure,
improving credit, extension and marketing and building up institutions among farmers to
promote collective action and participatory procedures. The policy agenda also needs to give
high priority to issues critical for long term sustainability of agriculture which have been grossly
neglected in rainfed agriculture. The favourable phase could have ups and downs. Increased
vigilance to track them in time and prompt and effective responses to adjust to them would need
careful consideration.

2.3 Rural and Ground Lebvel:
Changes of profound significance to agriculture, particularly rainfed agriculture, are occurring at
the level of rural communities. The traditional villagr—survival-oriented, inward-looking, rigidly
hierarchical along caste divisions, isolated from the outside world—has almost disappeared. A
rural middle class is emerging, urbanised in its habits and lifestyle. Rural elite are becoming part
of mainstream economic and political networks. They live in villages but belong to the
mainstream. The mass of rural poor—labourers, artisans, small and margival farmers—are
becoming footloose. Their livelihoods in agriculture and traditional manufacturing and service
activities are getting eroded. While they remain poor, their urban contacts and linkages, their
knowledge about the wider world and political awareness of their deprived status in the
mainstream are growing and spreading widely. If right outlets are available/created, there can be
a virtual explosion of innovativeness, entrepreneurship and local initiatives and leadership
among the rural people. A formidable barrier to the rejuvenation of those in the neglected
periphery is the dependence syndrome nurtured by the government and other development
interveners promising delivery of deverlopment at their doors. There is already disillusionment
among the rural people and if they do not get outlets for their aspirations, there would be a
palpable threat of a political explosion of volcanic destructiveness. This may seem an
exaggeration. But Naxalism, Nandigram, Narmada Bachav andolan are the curtain raisers to the
turbulent phase into which Indian polity is getting drawn. Urban slums can be another epicentre
of largescale violent protests. A Gandhi might see in this confused scenario the birth of a new
society though the process could be long, tortuous and painful. It may seem outrageous to bring
Gandhi in the purely technical field of making rainfed agriculture viable. However, if we look at
this task from the societal perspective, it is seen that that the roots of the crisis grow out of the
the division in the Indian society between the consumerist elite and the masses operating
agriculture and the indifference of the former towards the policy regime needed by agriculture
and the poor trapped in it. The next section presents selected key indicators illustrating this
source of agricultural crisis.

                    3. The Creeping Crisis in Rainfed Agriculture
3.1 It is best to begin with an admission that my proposition about the policy regime being the
source of agricultural crisis is subjective in nature based on my understanding of the crisis as an
observer of rural change. The indicators I present are from rigorous researches by experts but
the interpretations I derive from them about the policy regime are based on my own
perspective. Plausibly, they are controversial, but I hope they will be of some help as an entry
point to discuss the crisis in rainfed agriculture. This is the modest purpose of this section. I
believe that the indicators highlight three features of the policy regime. First, schemes are
operated over decades with the achievements falling far short of the goal. Apparently, the policy
maker has little concern about the wide gap. The schemes continue to be implemented guided by
the targets of expenditure and coverage. Second, there are policies on the active agenda of the
policy maker which are known to be inappropriate, even ruinous. Third, in the case of policies
which are appropriate but have negative side effects, little is done to counteract the side effects to
maximise the beneficial impact of these policies. The interesting point about the policy regime is
that many schemes perform quite well and, still, the overall impact of the regime may be poor. It
is just a like a student passing in all subjects- even getting distinction in a couple of them—but
failing in the aggregate! A policy regime is not merely a collection of schemes each operated
with its own departmental blinkers. Individual schemes have perforce to operate in that manner.
The policy regime needs steering at the top to orient the regime as a whole towards the goals of
growth and development. I believe that this is the weakest link in the top-down chain.
Complacency at the top spreads the contagion across the entire chain. It is a sad thought that the
talent of many in the chain with commitment and excellent credentials withers away in the
course of time. I must emphasise that this is the characteristic of the policy making system and
processes. It is no use looking for individual villains. Sting operations provide entertainment but
the system moves on unperturbed without deviating a bit from the path it chooses! The two-
point programme I suggest to face the crisis in rainfed agriculture, in Indian agriculture as a
whole and in the Indian economy because of weaknesses in promoting inclusive growth and
bringing about speedy poverty reduction is the following:
i) Strengthen the concern, commitment and capacity at the top level of top-down chain to exploit
the full potential of the chain as a development intervener.
ii) Strengthen the efficiency, accountability and rapport of the ground level link of the chain.
Without these changes, schemes and programmes which are excellent in themselves would fail to
roll back the three crises—in rainfed agriculture, in agriculture as a whole and in Indian
economy—which need to be viewed as a single crisis with three faces.
Let me now turn to the indicators selected for demonstrating the crisis in making in raifed
agriculture. The crisis is not like an earthquake, volcano or tsunami which erupts without any
warning and catches us unawares. The crisis in rainfed agriculture is a creeping crisis in the
sense that it spreads and gains thrust somewhat like a malignancy which grows without attracting
attention until it becomes life-thtreatening. A careful person can detect and track it, but one
engrossed in the problems of the moment can miss it until it is too late. The story related by the
indicators I present is that our policymaker is behaving like the latter prototype.
3.2 Land
The extent of “human-induced” soil degradation in India has been estimated to affect 188
million hectares , nearly 60% of total geographical area of 329 million hectares. “ In econiomic
terms the country loses a phenomenal amount of rs. 286 billion rupees annually---State-wise the
magnitude of loss is high in AP,Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, MP, Rajasthan, TamilNadu
and WestBengal. These states together account for nearly 73 per cent of the total loss in the
country” ( page 65, Chapter 3- Agriculture and Environment. by Sudhakar Reddy and Sowjanya
Peddi in Oxford Handbook of Agriculture, (ed) Shovan Ray, Oxford University Press, New
Delhi, 2007). It needs to be noted that most of the states mentioned in the quote have extensive
rainfed semi-arid areas. This study notes further on the same page that “the proportion of
vertisols area classified as deep in Sholapur district has shrunk from 46 per cent to only 29 per
cent in a span of seventyfive years”. Sholapur is rainfed and notorious for its droughjt-
proneness! For the last over two decades, India has been giving high priority to watershed
development programmes which are crucial for reversing land degradation and raising land
productivity in rainfed agriculture. A recent evaluation laments “ the institutionalisation of
watershed treatment failed to catch roots ---participation had been fragmentary and could be
withdrawn as soon as the watershed team withdraws---This creates doubt about the sustainability
of the programme and its longrun effects” ( Page 409, An Appraisal of Watershed Development
Programme Across Regions in India, R S Deshpande and A Narayanamoorthy, Artha Vijnana,
Vol.XLI, No.4, December, 1999, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune).The authors
find that the programmes do bring about short term modest improvements in yield and income,
This is typical of our policy making. Schemes succeed but not the strategy of which they are
part! The focus remains firmly on short term gains neglecting the long term goal aimed at by the
strategy. The scheme managers do their job, but not those rsponsible for overall steering of the
strategy to keep it moving towards the goal.
3.3 Water Resources:
The story is equally disturbing in the case of water resources. K V Raju presents the following
                       Table 1: Water Resources in India

Total Usable Water Resources in India                         1086 cubic kilometers
Present Use                                                     600 ckm

Estimate of Water Requirement by 2020                   around 1000 ckm

Ultimate Irrigation Potential                                       140 million hectares

Potential Created                                                     89 mha

Utilised so far                                                        79 mha

Actually Irrigated( statistics of Ministry of Agriculture)          71 mha

Source: Sustaiable Water Use in India, K V Raju, Institute for Social and economic Change,
Bangalore, 2005 ( Unpublisdhed study).

Here, again, large irrigation potential is created, but over 10 per cent of it remains utilised. More
shocking, in a water deficient agriculture as in India, the actual area under irrigation after six
decades of planning is only 71 million hectares as compared to the ultimate potential of 140
million hectares. A further interesting insight is that the two Ministries of Government of India
concerned with irrigation development give different figures for the extent of irrigated area: 79
million hectares according to Ministry of Water Resources, while Ministry of Agriculture finds
that only 71 million hectares are under irrigation. Both figures may be valid in terms of their own
methodologies, but the point to be noted is that the policy maker lives comfortably with this gap!
Raju’s data show that by 2020 the water requirement will get dangerously close to what the
experts estimate as the “Total Usable Water Resources In India”. In less than two decades from
now the water use jumps from 600 ckm to 1000 ckm leaving only a thin margin to take care of
the future beyond. One can only hope that the policy maker is not as derelict in his crucial long
term role as suggested by this scary scenario.

3.4 Climate and Environment:
The World Bank sketches an alarming scenario:

As fears of global warming become more pronounced, India needs to take a serious view
of the environmental havoc that stares in its face. Stocks of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere will double by 2040 and more than treble by the end of the century. This will
bring in its wake soaring temperatures, more intense rainfalls, increased cyclonic activity,
severe droughts and floods, erratic weather patterns, melting of glaciers and rising sea
levels. The impact of these will be far-reaching in India. Experts have already warned that
global warming will reduce crop yields, spread diseases and cause loss of biodiversity.
These changes will also pose economic risks to water supplies, food production, electricity,
human health, road and rail infrastructure and coastal livelihood.

Source: Deccan Herald, June 13, 2007, Climate Change by Tirtho Banerjee
   It is worth taking a serious note of the following assessment by Professor Partha Dasgupta of
   Cambridge University in England:
   “The Indian sub-continent and sub-Sahara Africa – two of the poorest regions of the world
   which make up around a third of the world’s population—have really become poorer over the
   past decades… If the decline of natural capital is included under a new measure –which the
   report dubs wealth per head—traditional insights into poverty reduction are turned upside
   down, It reveals that sub-Sahara Africa, Bangladesh, Nepal and India are all heading into
   deeper gloom and poverty” ( “World sinks into deeper poverty” BBC website, June 8, 2001).
   The constraints with their roots in climate and environment require action at both national
   and international levels where consensus remains elusive and there are frequent disputes,
   delays and endless controversies..

   3.5 Farmer Status:
    In the agricultural scenario, farmer plays a central role. Tables 2 clearly shows that he is
   moving on the path towards economic ruin. The average size of holding is now 1 hectare
   indicating the marginalisation of holdings. Over a period of just four decades, the average
    size of holding has decreased from 2.6 hectares to 1.06 hectares. Massive numbers are likely
    to be pushed out of agriculture as the holding size will have a floor below which the farmer
    cannot survive. Table 3 indicates that the production structure now rests on the weak
    shoulders of marginal, small amd semi-medium holdings ( all below 4 hectares) who now
    account for two-thirds of total cultivated land. Four decades back nearly 60% of cultivated
    land was with the medium and large holders. The widening gap in productivity between
    agriculture and non-agriculture stands out in table 4. While agriculture now accounts for only
    one- fifth of GDP, 57% of total workers are still trapped in agriculture.

                                                 Table 2
                            Certain Key Characteristics of Operational Holdings

                                                        60-61       70-71     81-82    91-92 2003
                                                        (17th)      (26th)    (37th)   (48th) (59th)
           1.Number of operational holdings                                                   101.27
           (mill.)                                      50.77       57.07     71.04    93.45
           1.1 percentage increase                       -          12.4      24.5     31.5   8.4
           2. Area operated (mha.)                      133.48      125.68    118.57   125.1 107.65
           3. Average area operated (ha.)               2.63        2.2       1.67     1.34   1.06
        Source: NSSO; Land Holding Surveys 1960-61 to 2003.

                                                   Table 3
       Changes in the Size Distribution of Operational Holdings and Operated Area 1960-61 – 2002-03
  ALL-INDIA                                                   RURAL
   Category of              Percentage of Operational Holdings                 Percentage of Operated Area
    Holdings         1960-     1970-      1981-        1991-     2002- 1960- 1970- 1981- 1991- 2002-
                       61        71          82          92        03      61       71      82      92      03
                     (17th)    (26th)      (37th)      (48th)    (59th)  (17th) (26th) (37th) (48th) (59th)
         (1)           (2)       (3)         (4)         (5)       (6)     (7)      (8)     (9)    (10)    (11)
  Marginal            39.1      45.8        56.0        62.8      71.0     6.9      9.2    11.5    15.6    22.6
  Small               22.6      22.4        19.3        17.8      16.6    12.3     14.8    16.6    18.7    20.9
  Semi-Medium         19.8      17.7        14.2        12.0       9.2    20.7     22.6    23.6    24.1    22.5
  Medium              14.0      11.1         8.6         6.1       4.3    31.2     30.5    30.1    26.4    22.2
  Large                4.5       3.1         1.9         1.3       0.8    29.0     23.0    18.2    15.2    11.8
  All Sizes          100.0     100.0       100.0       100.0     100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Source: 1. Source of Estimates of 17th, 26th, 37th and 48th rounds: NSS Report No. 407.
        2. GOI-NSSO 2006, p. 18.
                                         Table 4
                             Share of Agriculture in GDP and Employment

    Year         %Share of               % Share of              Ratio of Worker
               Agriculture in           Agriculture in               Prod. in
               GDP at 1993/94           Employment               Agr. to Non-Agr.
                   Prices                 (UPSS)
  1972-73           44.8                    73.9                      0.287
  1993-94           33.5                    63.9                      0.285
  1999-00           27.6                    60.2                      0.252
  2004-05           20.8                    56.5                      0.199
Note: Tables 2, 3 and 4 are taken from an unpublished study prepared for the Expert Group on Farmer
Indebtedness, Government of India, 2007

 A recent all-India study by the National Sample Survey (59th round on Situation Assessment
Survey) indicated that over 60% of farmers desired to leave agriculture if an alternative was
available. The reason they gave was very low and uncertain returns forcing them to turn to casual
wage labour for survival. Many of them find the urban slums a lesser evil than struggling in
agriculture. A recent trend is suicide by a large number of upwardly mobile farmers indicating
that the more enterprising among them are getting frustrated in their attempts to move up. Would
it not be reasonable to assume that one suicide may persuade scores to curb their ambition to
move up! It is easy to imagine the disastrous consequences of this fallout for the spread and pace
of agricultural modernisation.

3.6 Imbalance in Poicy Regime:
The study by Sudhakar Reddy et al referred to above makes the interesting point that many
policies have adverse impact on environment which remains unnoticed: “ the policy environment
encouraged inappropriate land use and injudicious input use, especially water and chemical
fertilisers. Trade policies, output price policies as well as input subsidies have all contributed to
the unsustainable use of the low lands” ( page 97, Hand Book of Agriculture quoted above). The
study finds that the policies promoting intensive agriculture have had adverse impact on soil and
water resources. This is a good example of pushing up agricultural growth rate at the cost of
weak sustainability in the long run. India seems to have already reached this stage in the green
revolution part of its agriculture. On the other hand, policies with beneficial environment impact,
particularly in rainfed agriculture have been neglected. These include, according to the study,
“agro-ecological approach, conservation measures, watershed development and policies to
promote public participation” ( see Table 3.11 on page 96 of the Handbook of Agriculture).
Shovan Ray- the editor of the Hand Book of Agriculture- makes the telling point that as a result
of the imbalance in policies “The rainfed systems are characterised by low yield, with low inputs
and poor infrastructure, and display high levels of deprivation” ( page 18)…. This is not the
result of topography and terrain differences alone…but is also the result of policy regimes”( page
36).. Further, “What we describe as the green revolution was comparatively the easy task. What
remains to be achieved is more challenging by way of terrain, crops, and technology”( page 32).
It is worth taking a serious note of the overall assessment made in the Handbook regarding the
adverse policy regime towards the rainfed agriculture: “Most of the irrigation development has
taken place in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and parts of the coastal deltaic region of the peninsula.
Public investment has been lavished on these regions and the seed-fertiliser-water-ravaged lands
have been flogged to the utmost.---public investment to increase irrigation and other
infrastructure support to the rainfed mainland of India and vast tracts of arid as well as semi-arid
regions is sorely missing…. the consequent poverty and food security problems at the household
level in the neglected regions are considerable”( page 49).

3.7 I hope the indicators I have presented are of help in bringing out the creeping nature of crisis
in agriculture, particularly rainfed agriculture and in pointing out that the villain is unfriendly
policy regime rather than adverse nature and resource endowments. As a useful step for what
follows, the main propositions about the policy regime are summarised below:
* The policy regime operates through blinkered departmental schemes without a top level
steering to focus them as a whole on the long term goals. As a result, even when schemes
achieve their targets, the goals remain elusive. Often, even the schemes miss their targets without
any serious attempt being made to correct them.
* The policy regime remains preoccupied with short term gains neglecting long term goals. This
is vividly brought home by the striking contrast in the policy attention received by the irrigated
and the rainfed areas and the threat of stagnation confronting both the areas.
* The database to monitor achievements of schemes and goals is shockingly inadequate and
unreliable. The instance of irrigation data noted above in table 1 is only a tip of a massive
iceberg. Recently, a minister in the central government described our land data as “garbage”.!
This would hardly be news for academics. The series of evaluations of land refiorms in the mid
Fifties and mid Nineties have demonstrated that in state after state the land data are marred by
glaring gaps, manipulations and delays in updating and that these deficiencies persist even after
several decades of planning. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the policy regime
worries little about keeping itself informed about the performance of the schemes beyond
recording perfunctory data on expenditure and coverage.
* Most amazing, in a country which calls itself a democracy, the policy maker is seen to be
immune from accountability for the gross negligence of the rural and urban poor, of the
infrastructure needs of rural communities, about low levels of human development, agricultural
stagnation and near demise of rainfed agriculture. Rise in onion prices in Delhi shakes the
government, but chronic starvation in the backward pockets of states like Orissa receives no
more than cursory attention of not only the government but also of media, judiciary and activists.
The dedicated few who work in these pockets may receive some publicity and awards, but they
remain like scattered dim lamps in a vast stretch of darkness.
* India is now entering a turbulent phase in its economic, political and social development.
Accelerated growth whose benefits reach only a few favoured areas and groups, explosive urban
growth and decay, disaffection and violent agitations spreading across rural areas and the threat
of environmental degradation reaching an irreversible stage form a combination which can shake
the very foundations of the country.. It is not difficult to enumerate the policies needed by
agriculture, but at the highest level of policy making the multifaceted crisis facing India needs to
be considered as a single entity of which the agricultural crisis is one of the facets. India does not
have too much of time to wake up to the crisis and to make its top policy making level strong
and determined enough to face it. In the section which follows, I argue that the progress being
made in this direction is far too feeble compared to what needs to be done.

                 4: Policies on the Anvil- Are we Getting Ready to Face the Crisis?

4.1 The weaknesses in the policy regime at the top level are difficult to track. The policy
documents provide no clues as their clothed in impeccable language, blame those below and
promise to do better next time. I tried the subjective approach of browsing the recent policy
documents to see whether there are any moves to look at the top level which is the source of the
crisis. I use the following checklist for this purpose:

* Are the long-term goals getting adequate and concrete attention?
* Is enough being done to promote bottom-up structure to complement the top-down structure.
This is important to nurture participation, accountability of the system at the grassroots and to
raise the weight of the grassroots in decisions on developmental priorities and sequencing.

* Is populism being kept within permissible limits?

* Is the information-cum-monitoring system being developed to meet the requirements at the top
level in policy making.

* Is the top level in policy making accountable to a national authority ? Are there arrangements
to look into its deficiencies and to set in motion corrective steps?

4.2 I have looked into three recent policy documents to see how they fare in terms of the
checklist given above. These are: i) New Initiatves taken by the Ministry of Agriculture in the
light of the 53rd Meeting of the National Development Council on agriculture and related issues
held on May 29, 2007. This is the meeting in which the government expressed its extreme
concern about the crisis in agriculture; ii) Agricultural strategy proposed by the Planning
Commission in Approach to Eleventh Five Year Plan: iii) National Policy for Farmers, 2007,
approved by the Government in November, 2007, based on the recommendations of the National
Commission on Farmers.
i) Regarding “New Initiatives”, I first take up for illustration “National Food Security
“ In a major new initiative, the Union Government has launched NFSM. The Mission aims at
increasing the production of rice by 10 million tonnes(MT), of wheatby 8MT, and of pulses by 2
MT during the 11th Five Year Plan with an envisaged outlay of Rs. 4882.48 crore. NFSM –rice
will be implemented in133 districts of 12 States, NFSM-wheat in 138 districts of 9 States and
NFSM- pulses in 168 districts of 14 States. An amount of Rs. 200 crore has been released to the
14 States so far”( PIB release dated December 29, 2007).
It is worth noting that coarse cereals which are important in the food basket in rainfed areas find
no mention in the “New Initiatives”. PDS has major weaknesses in the form of high costs,
dependence only on rice and wheat leading to serious environmental problems in green
revolution areas like Punjab, ineffective implementation in the hardcore poverty areas where
food insecurity and starvation are chronic and delivery system marked by widespread corruption
and leakages. The Government itself has recognised the need for decentralisation of PDS by
including coarse cereals and by giving PRIs a more active role in identification of the poor and
delivery of subsidised grains to them to ensure food security at the household level. However,
the focus of NFSM, apparently, remains on food security at the aggregate level reflected in the
production of superior cereals—rice and wheat. It is as if NFSM has no memory of tons of
research and evaluations on weaknesses of PDS and the Government’s own rethinking on food
security at the grassroots level! This illustrates well the indifference of the Government towards
rainfed agriculture and the vast parts of rural areas and people depending on it.

4.3 The second item in “New Initiatives” is “Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana( RKVY) envisaging
an outlay of Rs 25000 crore over 11th Five year Plan …to boost public investment in a whole
range of activities relating to agriculture and allied sectors based on agro-climatic district
agricultural plans (emphasis provided by me)…. The scheme has elicited good response from
the States and the State level Sanctioning Committees have approved projects more than Rs. 700
crore for implementation in 10 States”. RKVY illustrates well the Scheme-mode mould of policy
making and its concern with allocations and expenditure treated as proxies of success of
schemes. The mention of districi agricultural plans reminds me of Agro-Climatic Regional
Planning( ACRP) on which massive work- including several district plans- was done in the
lateEighties and the early Nineties with the plans left to collect dust in the shelves. I learn from
my younger colleagues that district agricultural plans are yet far from becoming operational. In
fact, there is little to suggest in terms of initiatives at the top level and enthusiasm at the district
and lower levels that the district agricultural plans will be effective part of policy making and
implementation in foreseeable fututre!

4.4 Approach to 11th Five Year Plan:
The Approach recognises that “ One of the major challenges of the 11th Plan must be to reverse
the deceleration in agricultural growth from 3.2% observed between 1980 and 1996-97 to a trend
average of only 1.5% subsequently…. the deceleration is general affecting all farm sizes…small
amd marginal farmers continue to deserve special attention…middle and large fasrmers too
suffer from productivity stagnation arising from a variety of constraints”.
I would like to point out that looking at the solution for agricultural crisis almost exclusively in
terms of raising agricultural growth rate is short-sighted. It is like treating the symptom in the
hope that the disease will go away. Let me elaborate:
The Approach finds that “ A second green revolution is needed to raise the growth rate of
agricultural GDP to around 4%...The challenge posed is to at least double the rate of agricultural
growth…no dramatic technological breakthtrough comparable to “green revolution” is presently
in sight We are also not exploiting the potential of existing technology. In fact, most of the
growth required in cereals, pulses and oilseeds is possible merely through plausible yield
increase in currently low yield regions. It is , however necessary to identify the specific
constraints and policy distortions that have produced these yield gaps”. This is one of the major
diseases of which the stagnation in growth is the symptom. Rainfed areas would account for a
large part of “low yield regions”. We should ask why the yield gap has persisted and why the
“specific constraints and policy distortions” remain yet to be identified. One reason has already
been mentioned above viz. the neglect of agro-climatic district agricultural plans.
The Approach encounters a similar formidable barrier on the demand side of agriculture: “ on
the demand side, profitability (of agricultutre) has declined. Several modelling exercises suggerst
that a 4% growth of agriculture will not be sustainable from the demand side unless aggregate
GDP growth is much higher than 8%.” The Approach recognises that the overall growth needs
to be “ inclusive” with a wide spread over rural areas. Again, we come back to rainfed areas with
deficient demand owing to low incomes. The Approach lists all those familiar schemes for
extension, infrastructure and basic needs which have not succeeded in making growth rural-
friendly. It makes a pointed reference to “ a very large private expenditure shift (which) has
occurred over the last decade from food to health, education and conveyance”. Very plausibly,
this is an outcome of rising rural middle classes. The implication is that growth must percolate
down to the poor and hardcore poor. This brings the Approach documernt to the wage-
employment and self-employment programmes. Here it faces the chicken-egg kind of dilemma.
The employment programmes have poor impact because of weak PRIs and Self Help
Groups(SHG); the poor impact of employment programmes prevents PRIs and SHGs from
gaining strength by mobilising the poor and the hardcore poor. and motivating them to work for
their own development. It is obvious that these groups will drift towards agitational politics.
While the Approach remains silent on this trend and its implications for “inclusive”:
development, the Government of India has issued a stern warning to “Naxalites” and listed
eradication of “Naxalism” among the top priorities for the development of the nation. Viewing
“Naxalism” as a law and order problem amounts to an indirect admission that our policy making
is failing to break through the chicken-egg dilemma noted above.

4.5 National Policy for Farmers,2007:
I now turn to the National :Policy for Farmers, 2007( NPF) which may be expected to spell out
the long-term strategy towards agricultural development. A positive feature of the NPF is that it
is focused on farmer and the term includes cultivators as well as agricultural labourers. This
focus and the inclusive definition of ‘farmer’ brings NPF closer to what I described above as the
‘societal perspective’ on agriculture. The policy covers all aspects from research and extension to
insurance and social security:
“There is a need to focus more on the economic well-being of the farmers, rather than just on
production. Socio-economic well-being must be a prime consideration of agricultural policy,
besides production and growth. The aim of the Policy is, therefore, to stimulate attitudes and
actions which should result in assessing agricultural progress in terms of improvement in the
income of farm families, not only to meet their consumption requirements but also to enhance
their capacity to invest in farm related activities”.
NPF plans to move towards these goals by setting up several national missions and special
authorities. A worrisome feature of NPF is the easy optimism with which it formulates its
programmes. It speaks in strident tone as compared to the grim phrases in which the NDC warns
the country about the agricultural crisis. Following are a few samples of the vision projected by

“For drought-prone areas, a Drought Code would be introduced identifying the action needed to
minimise the impact of adverse monsoons and to maximise the benefits of a good season.
Similarly, in areas prone to heavy rainfall, a Flood Code would be introduced to mitigate
distress, take care of the needs of the farmers immediately after floods and help convert the
flood-free seasons into major agricultural production periods. For the arid areas, a Good Weather
Code would be introduced for taking advantage of occasional heavy rainfall for strengthening the
ecological infrastructure essential for sustainable livestock production, drinking water security
and sand dune stabilisation. The National Rainfed Area Authority would provide technical and
other support in this regard”

 “The research strategy should be pro-nature, pro-small farmer and gender sensitive.
Community-managed seed villages and seed technology training centres are needed, with women
playing the major role because of their traditional knowledge of seeds and seed management,
especially in tribal communities. Scientific literacy and removal of doubts and fears about the
risks and benefits associated with biotechnology and other new technologies, can be achieved
through farmers selected in each panchayat and provided with adequate training, so as to enable
them to serve as farm science managers in their respective villages”.

“The National Policy for Farmers will be adapted and operationalised to suit the local needs in
different states and union territories. State governments would be supported to convert national
goals into local action points by preparing operational plans for implementing this policy, taking
into account the agro-climatic and other local conditions. Such operational plans will be prepared
at the district level by a multi-disciplinary professional group and integrated at the state level.
States would be encouraged to have an effective mechanism for continuous feedback from the
farmers to ensure that measures taken under the policy address the problems of the farmers”.

“The Department of Agriculture and Cooperation would constitute an Inter- Ministerial
committee to suggest a plan of action for operationalisation of this policy. Appropriate
mechanisms and guidelines would be evolved by concerned Ministries / Departments to
implement this policy. The Agriculture Coordination Committee under the chairmanship of the
Prime Minister would oversee and coordinate the integrated implementation”.

4.6 NPF reminds me of the manifestos of political parties issued at the time of elections. I give
below recent assessment of agricultural policies by Professor T N Srinivasan* which seem to be
closer to the ground level reality.
“This paper look(s) at major policy interventions in agriculture since independence relating to
agrarian structure (reforms of land tenure, ownership and tenancy), market structure (restrictions
on domestic spot markets and banning of futures markets), interventions in credit markets,
restrictions on participation in world trade (state trading, subsidies on prices of inputs and
outputs) and public investment. It argues that there was no coherence, and little coordination
among the centre, states and other policy making institutions in the decisions on the myriad
interventions and their effectiveness in achieving their intended objectives was also limited in
most cases. Above all the interventions were mostly intended to improve the welfare of those
dependent on agriculture while keeping them in agriculture and to raise yields and output, and
not for transforming traditional agriculture”
Development Strategy: the State and Agriculture since Independence
(Valedictory Lecture at the Tenth Annual Money and Finance Conference held at Indira Gandhi
Institute of Development Research on 18-19 January, 2008).

*( Samuel C. Park Jr. Professor of Economics, Yale University and Non-resident Senior Fellow,
Stanford Center for International Development, Stanford University)

Leave alone transformation of agriculture, even the drive for increased production launched by
NFSM as a priority programme in the 11th Five Year Plan has not been able to take off. PTI
Report of Feb 7, 2008 from Delhi gives the following assessment by “Eminent agriculture
scientist M S swaminathan (who) today criticised flawed government policies for a decline in the
country's farm production, which is estimated at 2.6 per cent for the current fiscal. The
government packages that were meant to boost agricultural output in the country are not working
at all. The government has failed to give an integrated approach to the sector… unless there was
unified approach, agricultural production will not improve in the country”.

I hope I have presented enough indications to suggest that the policy making for agriculture falls
short by a wide margin in meeting the criteria in the checklist given at the beginning of this
section. There is one helpful clue from the past which NPF mentions describing the success of
green revolution of the Nineteen Seventies: The“Green Revolution Era” that resulted in a
situation of self sufficiency in foodgrains was characterized by synergy among technology,
services, public policy and farmers’ entrepreneurship”. In my view, the critical element was the
political commitment at the top to focus all attention and energies on the goal of food self-
sufficiency. The next section describes how a similar approach may be adopted to roll back the
crisis in agriculture. For obvious reasons, the rainfed agriculture is chosen to illustrate the

                   5- Rolling Back the Crisis: The Role of Top Tier in Government (TTG)

5.1 It is necessary to emphasise at the outset that rolling back the crisis in agriculture cannot be
done by any single agency like the government. The government has to take initiative and
formulate a strategy, but it will have to work along with others—farmers and rural people,
bureaucracy at district and lower levels, NGOs and activists, funding agencies and, above all,
markets. Actions by the government are in the nature of interventions in a system propelled by
powerful forces. The government has limited capacity to control and regulate these forces. As a
consequence, the processes linking policies to goals need to be monitored systematically and
carefully to maximize the contribution which policies make towards achievement of goals. These
links operate through three steps:
i) Policies get translated into concrete schemes/programmes which need to be effectively
ii) The schemes/programmes need to be implemented in a coordinated manner. A goal may
suffer seriously if most of the schemes relating to it work well but a few fail. For example,
putting all children in school needs more and better schools, well-trained teachers, textbooks and
teaching aids, income support to the poor households and creating awareness among them about
the importance of educating their children. If any one of these schemes fails, the goal of
universalisation of school education will suffer despite other schemes doing well.
iii) Even if the policy moves successfully through the first two steps indicated above, exogenous
events like droughts for a few successive years may wipe out, say, improvement in schooling
achieved over a period of several years.

5.2 Managing these steps with foresight and skill is the task of steering policies to focus them
tightly on the chosen development goals. Accomplishing this task is the responsibility of the Top
Tier in Government (TTG) which includes policy making politicians and administrators in the
central and state governments. The main proposition of this paper is that it is the persistent
delinquency of TTG in dealing with this task which is the source of crisis in agriculture and the
related problems in India’s development. I have argued elsewhere that this delinquency is a
characteristic feature of the elite-driven democracy which India is ( see Poverty Reduction in an
Elite-driven Democracy- The Case of India, Institute for Human Development, Delhi, 2005). It is
enough to note here that it is futile to attribute the delinquency to particular politicians, political
parties or administrators. It is naïve to believe that strong action against corruption, which is
certainly important in itself, will cure the delinquency. Since the delinquency is a feature of the
Indian polity as a system, the solution needs to be sought in terms of making systemic changes.
There are two requirements to help TTG to play its role effectively and to deal with slippages in
achieving goals as they occur without allowing them to accumulate as has been done in the past.
The agricultural crisis is an outcome of slippages left unattended over decades. The first
requirement is transparency and the second accountability. Transparency will ensure that the
extent of slippages and the reasons for them are brought out promptly and placed in the public
domain. Media does play a role in this direction, but it ends up in exposing scams and the parties
involved in them without pursuing them to their logical end of ensuring that action is taken to
correct the slippages. Media shows more interest in the individuals responsible for the scams and
their unsavory dealings. Transparency needs to focus on the slippages in achieving goals in a
manner to correct them and to prevent their recurrence in future. To complete the process,
transparency needs to be complemented with accountability of TTG to a higher authority
functioning as a watchdog and taskmaster. I have little competence to offer solutions to the
problems created by absence of transparency and accountability. However, a few suggestions
which follow based entirely on a layman’s approach might be of some help in initiating
discussion and identifying practicable procedures.

5.3. It seems to me that a substantial step towards transparency can be taken if monitoring relies
on detailed disaggregated indicators rather than only on summary statistics at the aggregate level.
Let me give an illustration. The current agricultural crisis has registered at the TTG due to low
agricultural growth rates of the last few years. Professors Alagh and Bhalla and their team
pointed out nearly two decades back with their district level studies that even when overall
agricultural growth rate was satisfactory, only limited number of districts contributed to the
overall growth rate and in a large number of districts growth rate remained low over prolonged
periods. If monitoring by districts was a regular routine procedure at TTG, the indicators of
stagnation and the district level action needed to arrest it would have received attention at the
highest policy making level long time back. If district level planning and decentralization
reaching down to the gramasabha level become operative, it would be possible to develop
transparent monitoring system with substantial diagnostic capabilities within the government
system. It would be a multilevel system with the TTG getting timely signals of what is
happening at the ground level and successive levels of aggregation. An important requirement
for such a system to work is what may be called “Bottom Up” data base founded on the ground
level data collected, maintained and updated by the village panchayats for their own
administrative and development functions. If the constitutional scheme for decentralization
through PRIs is fully implemented, such a data base would emerge automatically. It will have the
advantage of timeliness in availability of data, collection of data by persons belonging to the
community and having a good understanding of the local context and scope to cover the entire
community in the data net. NSSO and other data collecting agencies can benefit in terms of
reliable and readymade sample frames and opportunities to validate their survey estimates. A
third advantage could be in terms of freeing these agencies from collection of routine
information and focusing them on specialised data needs. I am looking much farther than what is
currently possible, but transparency cannot be had cheap. I must also mention here the extremely
sad state of the current data base. As noted above, land data have been described as ‘garbage’.
This is rude, but not necessarily wrong. Data become available with time lags long enough to
make them of use to historians but not for current monitoring! Incidentally, the glaring
deficiencies in the current data base provide a good insight into the disinterest of TTG in doing
competently the task of steering policies towards achievement of goals.

5.4 Transparency by itself will not prod TTG into action. It does half of the job by bringing to
light the shortcomings of TTG. Accountability has to complement transparency to make TTG
answerable for the shortcomings. Media and judiciary are at this job, but they mostly do post-
mortems which are shrugged off by TTG without any damage. Accountability must have three
characteristics. First, TTG should be judged in terms of progress of policies towards the goals.
Second, TTG must accept responsibility for the shortcomings and commit itself to concrete
actions to correct the shortcomings. Third, there should be some penalty attached to failures by
TTG, particularly repeated failures. This may seem nearly impossible to achieve in a democracy.
Our prime ministers and chief ministers resemble the kings of yore in claiming infallibility and
unquestioned allegiance of people. They hardly protest when people touch their feet. Here is
one idea which could be tried. National Development Council, the highest body overseeing
governments, can set up an Expert Panel to assess the performance of TTG. The Panel should
have the status and powers to talk down to prime ministers and chief ministers as the Supreme
Court Judges do. The panel would specify the norms, criteria and indicators for the assessment of
TTG. These should be forward-looking in the sense that they focus on failure to achieve goals.
Current monitoring looks back at bench marks of the past to bring out improvements over them.
The backward-looking monitoring is essential but, without the forward-looking monitoring, it
can create an illusion of continuous forward movement missing the point whether the goal is
being reached or not. There will be periodic meetings of the Expert Panel in which TTG
presents its report based on the indicators specified by the Expert Panel. Based on the
proceedings of these meetings, the Expert Panel will award a grade to the ruling party/coalition
which is publicized widely in the media. The Election Commission can impose a requirement
that the political parties prominently display the grade awarded to them in the documents,
advertisements and other publicity material issued at the time of election. There could even be a
provision for de-recognition by the Election Commission of political parties which are persistent
defaulters. I am only suggesting that imposing accountability on TTG is not beyond achievement
provided there is a serious desire and a readiness to experiment.

5.5 The idea that transparency and accountability at the TTG level will make substantial
improvement in achieving policy goals may seem naïve to many. It is based on two plausible
assumptions which I make. First, the government system has a vast pool of administrators,
technical experts, policy analysts which is currently used very ineffectively. Second, the top-
down departmental hierarchy reaching down to the ground level is a potential asset which is left
to rust as neither achievement is rewarded not lack of it penalized. When PRIs become
operational, they would provide a foundation for a bottom-up hierarchy to complement the top-
down hierarchy. The bottom-up hierarchy ranging from the gramasabha at the village level to the
Panchayat councils at the state level will empower the rural people, particularly the poor, vis-à-
vis the government system. NGOs, activists, political parties and media are expected to
strengthen this role of the bottom-up hierarchy. I am assuming that TTG operates in the context
of these two hierarchies and remains under constant pressure and vigilance to deliver on its
promises. It is this context which will make the Expert Panel much more than a nominal body
and add teeth to its operations as the highest level watchdog in the nation.

5.6. Rainfed agriculture can be a prime beneficiary of the systemic changes suggested above to
activate TTG as a policy maker. It accounts for half of India’s agriculture and farmers. It is in a
state of chronic neglect which means that it has development opportunities awaiting reckoning
and implementation. The gap between the lab and the farm is possibly the widest in rainfed
agriculture. Conservation of land and water resources, their effective use and adoption of
technologies collecting dust in the shelves could be the foundation supporting a transformation in
rainfed agriculture. Rainfed farmers are poor but not unenterprising. There are many struggling
to rise but fail due to unfriendly policies. Seeing their woes many more may decide to remain
where they are or leave agriculture. Those who are pushed out retain their links with the
extended family back home. If rainfed agriculture beacons them, they could return or make
available their skills and saving for the family farm. Growth and stabilization of production in
rainfed agriculture could change the face of rural India through inclusive growth, development of
peripheries and rise in human development levels. Most important, the Expert Panel can focus on
just three indicators—conservation of land and water resources and farmer lifestyle—to monitor
the performance of TTG. While it may be some time before rainfed agriculture responds, the
travails of TTG would begin with their very first meeting with the Expert Panel! The system of
accountability of TTG to the Expert Panel can begin with rainfed agriculture. It could then be
extended to other areas/sectors of the economy. The Panels could vary in composition from
sector to sector to make them compact and decisive in their verdict.

5.7 For a good source which could help in monitoring of goals in rainfed agriculture in a more
concrete manner, one can turn to the Report of The Working Group on Rainfed Areas for
Formulation of XI Five Year Plan. I give below a few major comments and recommendations of
this Working Group to illustrate this point.
* “Crop diversification with more balanced and sustainable cropping systems should be taken up
to overcome problems of soil fatigue, vulnerability reduction in rainfed agriculture. Promising
diversified cropping systems identified by CRIDA and PDCSR for various agro-eco regions need
to be promoted”( page 2).The Report points out on page 3 the need to adjust the cropping
systems to the quantum of rainfall and depth of soil which vary significantly across rainfed
* “With the demand for milch animals increasing, dairying emerges as a major ‘watershed plus’
activity. The existing marketing networks of milk and other dairy products need to be
strengthened during watershed implementation. Marketing is an activity that farmers’
cooperatives and SHG federations can take up” ( page 7). Federations of cooperatives and SHGs
belong to what I have described above as the bottom-up hierarchy.
* “Watershed development is not merely a matter of harvesting rainwater. Its success crucially
entails working out collective protocols of equitable and sustainable use of surface and ground
water, bringing together of scientists and farmers to evolve a dryland agriculture package and a
host of other livelihood options, detailed land-use planning at the micro-watershed level and the
mobilization of rural communities in the direction of the disadvantaged”( page 8). I may point
out that the Report adopts “societal perspective” to look at rainfed agriculture the importance of
which was emphasized at the very beginning of this paper,
* “A web based National Database ( should) be used as a tool for planning and monitoring from
national level down to district/micro-watershed level” ( page 11).
* Regarding “ convergence and synergy”, the Report observes “ activities pertaining to wage
employment undertaken in the Integrated Watershed Management Programme ( IWMP)
(should) be converged with NREGS and SGRY for sustainable livelihood opportunities. The
IWMP ( should) be linked to the related initiatives of other Ministries and Departments such as
the National Horticulture Mission, National Bamboo Mission etc (page 11).
* “Approaches to rainfed area development should focus on strengthening governance
institutions, particularly Panchayats. A decentralized strategy towards rainfed area development
should essentially be aimed at aiding PRIs to identify, implement, operate and maintain their
own priority investments in the direction of improving the delivery of services that benefit the
poor.” ( page 14).
* “We should strongly consider the pricing model adopted by China to address the situation of
water scarcity in India. Water should be treated as an economic good and therefore its price
should reflect the full cost of water supply as in the case of the Chinese model. The enforcement
mechanism should be strengthened so as to facilitate efficient use of this scarce resource.
However, any taxation policy should bear in mind the fact that most farmers in India are
impoverished. We suggest that the taxation policy should be of a progressive nature Water
taxation policy must take into consideration the economic condition of the farmer”. ( page 21).
(Note: The page numbers are as in the draft report which I have consulted. They may be different
in the final report.)

The Report of the Working Group for Rainfed Areas illustrates well the careful and detailed
homework which experts do to support sound policies. Many of the points listed above have
been repeatedly made in the past with no serious attention being given to implement them. The
Expert Panel suggested above should encourage TTG to try out practicable procedures and/or
admit frankly where no practical procedure could be devised. A fatal weakness at the TTG level
is to keep such points on the agenda giving the impression of active pursuit of norms and criteria
which only remain on the paper. It is disheartening to read policy documents in India which
abound in such points with little concern for credibility of policies. The minimum that the Expert
Panel should do is to persuade TTG to prepare policy documents much closer to the ground
realities than now.

                               6. How Agricultural Economists Can Help
The current agricultural crisis places a major responsibility on the Agricultural Economics
Profession to understand its dynamics and likely future course. Considering its special expertise,
the government and the society would expect the Profession to function as a think tank in
devising policies to rein in the crisis. The rainfed areas call for urgent attention as the crisis in
these areas is much more serious and deep-rooted than in irrigated agriculture areas. The crisis is
societal in nature in the sense that it is not due so much to harsh nature as to a democratic polity
which, perversely, is unfriendly towards the Poor and the Backward lagging behind in the
development game. This is amply reflected at the level of the Top Tier in Government (TTG) in
the making and monitoring of policies. As the government has expressed its concern about
agricultural crisis in a frank and unequivocal pronouncement at the highest level viz. NDC
meeting, the Profession on its part should share its perspective with the government and the
society and urge the former to bring adequate measure of transparency and accountability in
policy making to enhance its effectiveness and credibility. This is as much in the interest of the
Profession as of the government. If the think tank does not act in time, it could get bracketed
with the government as one responsible for allowing the crisis to get out of control. The
Profession should carefully consider the institutional mechanisms needed to contain the crisis
and help the government in putting the mechanisms in place and making them operational. In the
absence of such mechanisms, even sound advice from the Profession would fall on deaf ears with
the crisis getting aggravated. This situation will be good neither for the Profession, nor for the
government and, certainly, not for the country.. The Profession should do all it can to avoid such
a situation. I am sure that the Profession has ample wealth of expertise and experience to work
for this objective. The reward would be a vibrant rainfed agriculture which could promote
inclusive growth, equity and human development..

I conclude with quoting a few comments received on an earlier draft from colleagues who had a
look at it or with whom I had discussion on the theme of this paper. Their names are not given as
the comments are drawn from personal communications. A common theme running through the
comments was dissatisfaction with policy making and the urgent need to improve it. The
comments also emphasise the importance of looking at issues relating to agricultural crisis from
the societal perspective.
* “ The biggest tragedy of rainfed agriculture is that during development planning we reduced
the vast diversity offered by nature…in place of diversified food systems, we focused on wheat,
rice ( shrinking) the food base of the economy and now face food crisis…The green revolution
was over pushed ( with the consequence that) even best of the croplands are permanently
damaged and ground water is poisoned….Rainfed agriculture did quite well in oilseeds and
special crops used for textile finishing. However, all gains were washed down when we
liberalized import of palm oil and other chemicals for textile industry….Did we as economists
try to investigate the social issues causing the crisis? This is all the more needed today as the
rural community is differentiating very rapidly as a part of the societal dynamics”.
* “One of the weaknesses of agricultural development programmes is that we have too many of
them, with the result that our resources, both financial and administrative, are spread thinly. I
would consider designating a year, say, 2009-10 as a "Year of Watershed Development". The
idea is to focus all or most of our rural development programmes on watershed developemnt and
related works during the year. For instance, National Rural Employment Programme in the dry
regions could be dedicated to watershed development during the year. The basic idea should be
to cover at least 50 or 60 per cent of the potential area by watershed development during 2009-
10. Second, among the policy blunders in the past, ( I would like) to mention the huge quantity
of rice and wheat of 27 million tonnes exported during the three consecutive years 2001-02 to
2003-04. India is the abode of the largest number of under-fed and under-nourished persons in
the world. Against this background, I have termed such exports as ‘development atrocity’ “.

* “I feel that the problem of overcoming the crisis in agriculture cannot be tackled effectively
within the framework of agriculture alone. Improving the quality of education in rural areas and
small towns needs urgent attention. It can equip farmers with capacity to absorb knowledge of
technology and opportunities not only within agriculture but also outside…. Similarly, rural
infrastucture including roads, warehouses, computer access needs vast improvement. It
could facilitate diversification of the rural economy. I had found long back that with
diversification of the economy in general, the gap between droughtprone areas and other areas
gets significantly reduced”

* “As the slowing of agricultural expansion is being encountered at a time when the economic
policy regime has undergone reform it has been suggested by some that this slowing is linked
intrinsically to this very reform. We reject this view of the development, and point to structural
factors on the supply side of Indian agriculture as worthy of greater attention as the proximate
determinant of ( stagnation in) agricultural growth over the past one and a half decades …Our
intention is to draw attention to the fact that governance may be as important a factor as
resources in the context of extending the frontier of Indian agriculture….. Effective governance
requires institutional reform”

I take it as a hopeful sign that many in the Profession seem to have the same concern as I have
about weaknesses in our policy making system which, in my view, are far more serious and basic
than those in implementation. Once policy making is strengthened at the top level, effective
implementation will follow as one of the outcomes.

Acknowledgements: Many colleagues were kind enough to share with me their thinking on the
theme of this paper. I am particularly grateful for the feedback received from Professor M V
Nadkarni, Dr. N A Mujumdar Dr. N S Jodha and Dr. P Balakrishnan. I am painfully aware of my
limitations in benefitting fully from these comments

To top