The 12th Plan will strategise on a greater role for the private sector in agriculture. With 58 per cent of the population dependent on agriculture, the growth of the sector is imperative not only for ensuring food security but to achieve inclusive growth, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told the National Development Council here on Thursday.

The meeting was convened to discuss the Approach Paper to the 12th Plan.

Favouring the private-public partnership model for better extension and marketing services, Mr. Pawar said the need of the hour was “to overcome technology fatigue” by giving an impetus to research efforts in agriculture and intensify extension activities.

Stressing development of markets along with extension services, soil testing and product quality testing facilities, he said an enabling legal framework, by amending the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, would need to be put in place to encourage the setting up of private markets and contract farming.

Allaying fears that the APMCs would become redundant with the entry of FDI in multibrand retail, the Minister said that on the contrary, their role would enlarge from a “regulatory focus” to promotion of grading, branding, packaging and development of markets for local produce.

Step up investment

Mr. Pawar called for higher investment in agriculture and allied sectors, including irrigation, to achieve food security and improve farm incomes.

The Plan strategy would include diversification and research and development efforts; facilitating greater role for the private sector in agriculture, distribution of more institutional credit equitably; greater focus on small and marginal farmers, improving productivity in rain-fed areas and creating a more competitive environment for agricultural marketing.

The GDP growth projection of eight per cent in the 12th Plan envisages a four per cent growth in agriculture and allied sectors, which was 3.3 per cent in the 11th Plan. “This calls for continuing the 11th Plan initiatives with added vigour and while addressing issues of food security, we must take care of the nutritional needs of the population with greater attention to improving productivity of oilseeds and pulses and development of animal husbandry and fisheries.”

Elusive issue

Noting that drought proofing of the agriculture sector remained elusive, the Minister said 55 per cent of the cropped area was rain-fed and production there was dependent on the vagaries of nature. “Therefore, issues of improving water use efficiency, micro irrigation and efforts of various agencies have to be coordinated in the coming years.”

On farmer suicides, Mr. Pawar said though the declining trend was a matter of some satisfaction, the government could not remain complacent. “We have to redouble our efforts to address the problem of agrarian distress in certain parts of the country.”

The new initiatives during the 12th Plan would include retaining youth in agriculture, and funding for research and innovations in the sector.