Agriculture has been a way of life and continues to be the single most important livelihood of the masses. Agricultural policy focus in India across decades has been on self-sufficiency and self-reliance in foodgrains production. The share of agriculture in real GDP has fallen given its lower growth rate relative to industry and services. However, what is of concern is that growth in the agricultural sector has quite often fallen short of the Plan targets. During the current Five Year plan, agriculture growth is estimated at 3.28 per cent against a target of 4 per cent. The Approach Paper to the Twelfth Five Year Plan emphasises the need to “redouble our efforts to ensure that 4.0 per cent average growth” is achieved during the Plan if not more.
Without incremental productivity gains and technology diffusion across regions, achieving this higher growth may not be feasible and has implications for the macroeconomic stability given the rising demand of the 1.2 billion people for food. Achieving minimum agricultural growth is a pre-requisite for inclusive growth, reduction of poverty levels, development of the rural economy and enhancing of farm incomes.
ICT in Agriculture
It is assumed that 60 to 85% of household consumption belongs to agricultural products so agriculture plays important role in industrial development, it provides raw materials to industries like cotton textiles, jute, sugar, tobacco, edible and non edible oils, leather, plantation industries etc. The food processing industries is also dependent on agriculture. Lots of agro based materials are exported in European and Gulf countries by India. In all such agro -based industries, role of ICT needs to be improved. ICT Tools are very useful in creating effective linkages in agro based industry activities. These linkages are concerning dissemination of useful information. Linkages of the producers can be with State Federations and National Federation and Board, Finance Corporation. Advertisement is best way to add value of products. This market again can be very well established with available database of product wise information on products with comprising data of competing nations of the world. ICT can help in this direction.
The IT Approach for commercial crops, horticultural crops or floriculture have to focus on Integrated System may be for plant nutrition or plant protection. The well established Integrated Plant Nutrition Approach and Management and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) need to be strengthened with the help of IT Tools. The Post Production Technology (PPT) needs to be utilized properly. The end user, beneficiaries and all concerned especially with export of agricultural produce need to be trained to access the Internet facilities available as one of the most useful IT Tools of the computer era.
Indian farmers are mostly small and marginal farmers with small and fragmented landholdings. The average farm size in the country has declined over the years. This poses a challenge in terms of adoption of farm mechanization as well as generating productive income from farm operation. Pooling of many landholdings may yield better economies of scale, for which land laws for leasing with sufficient safeguards in place should be considered.
Establishment of information centers in villages
Internet initiatives for rural and agricultural development must consider the fact that different regions, organizations and communities have different applications and technical needs. In some areas it is possible to have farmers and rural residents as direct Internet users while in other areas the capacity of intermediary organizations (such as extension field officers, NGOs, rural schools, libraries, health clinics, government satellite offices) need to be built up, or assistance given in the establishment and promotion of community information centres linked to the Internet.
India needs to address the challenges of the agriculture sector through comprehensive and coordinated efforts directed at improving farm production and productivity of foodgrains as well as high value crops, developing rural infrastructure, renewing thrust on the irrigation sector, strengthening marketing infrastructure, and supporting investment in R&D with due emphasis on environmental considerations. These efforts will in time rejuvenate agriculture sector and bring about inclusive growth of the economy.