Viewpoint: Agriculture and Rural Development

08 NOV,2020 | MEDC


 

The laws governing agricultural markets in India have historically tended to be inconsistent. For political reasons or otherwise, there was always over-interference in the agricultural sector. However, the three farm bills legislated in September 2020 promise to bring a whiff of fresh air into this relatively-stagnant sector. The bills are essentially aimed at streamlining the agricultural supply chain, liberating the smaller farmers from the unhealthy grip of the middlemen, and enabling the development of a consistent framework for providing farmers access to a pre-determined price at the time of sowing. Given that it is the actual efforts at the ground level that motivates the farmer, a serious attempt has been made to change the basic incentive structure of India’s agricultural sector. These measures are commendable and likely to boost the competitiveness of most of the smaller farmers, much to the chagrin of vested interests. It is surely an idea whose time has come. At the same time, we need to realize that an integrated rural development goes beyond the agricultural sector today. The need of the hour is locally rooted education and the ability to innovate locally – whether it is in the agricultural sector or any other. Given that disparity in rural areas is even more acute than that in urban areas, there is a need to create wealth at the bottom of the pyramid. The farm bills are a positive step in that direction, but they are not enough by themselves. In rural areas at least, the focus has to be on need-driven rather than market-driven opportunities. Agriculture is important, but creating higher levels of incomes in rural areas is even more important for the nation. In this regard, technology is going to play a key role. It is the internalization of technologies in the rural domain which will be the differentiating factor promoting sustainable development at the bottom of the pyramid. Technologies should not be mindlessly imported, but should be compatible with the local socioeconomic realities to be useful to the farmer. Education is another important factor contributing to rural development. It should not be compartmentalized, but rural students should have the same array of choices available to their urban counterparts. School education should be IT enabled, and it should provide knowledge rooted in life skills and the society of the region. In the long run, a large and strategic diversification is required for economic activities in the hinterland to make rural livelihoods more sustainable. It is no longer enough to focus only on agriculture. Encouraging small, marginal and landless farmers to diversify towards non-agricultural activities by creating suitable opportunities in food processing, animal husbandry, retail trade, and MSMEs would go a long way towards promoting holistic rural development. It is, ultimately, a model rural ecosystem that will help promote sustainable economic growth.

*Photo Credit: Google

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