Thrissur: Consolidation of fragmented landholdings on the basis of land capability studies and introduction of low-cost agricultural credit systems can radically change and modernise Indian agriculture, Kadambot Siddique, Chair in Agriculture and Director of the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Western Australia, has said.
Dr. Siddique, who was here to attend a programme at the Kerala Agricultural University, told The Hindu that the major tasks ahead were to improve the efficiency of irrigation systems; strengthen rural infrastructure, post-harvest storage and public distribution systems; develop marketing strategies; enhance technology development and transfer; and bring about an integrated approach in the agriculture sector with various agencies.
“In the past four years, India’s economic growth has been enviable (eight to nine per cent a year). Manufacturing and service sectors have had double-digit growth. Sadly, the farm sector, which accounts for less than one-fifth of Indian’s gross domestic product, has been growing the slowest. The growth rate in the agricultural sector has been stagnant at about 2.3 to 2.6 per cent per year over the previous decade.
“It remains far below the potential and is unlikely to reach the 11th Plan target of four per cent without major intervention and reform. Variable and low outputs and volatile markets have affected the confidence of farmers. Some analysts, however, argue that the farm sector is heading towards its golden era.
“Hence, the time is ripe for Indian agriculture to focus on its strengths,” he said.
He observed that the world’s ability to maintain food supply was a critical issue in the context of rapid demand, changing climate, declining natural resources, trade liberalisation policies and regional disturbances.
“Recent FAO reports remind us that about 800 million people are still undernourished globally. It will have a major impact on the way we develop future policies, education, research, and development in agriculture. Two out of three Indians depend on agriculture for their livelihood. India needs strategic approaches to agricultural research and development.
“The focus should be on policy reforms, improved technology for higher production, sustainable conservation of natural resources and diversified farming systems,” he said.
He maintained that integration of various aspects of agriculture and the food industry was important.
“The United Nations has warned that 82 countries, including China and India, would face food emergency this year as stockpiles of grains such as rice and wheat drop to a 27 year low.
“Food prices are soaring worldwide. They jumped 25 to 70 per cent in recent months. The cost of cereal imports to low-income food-deficit countries increased from $ 14.03 billion in 2002-03 to $ 33.11 billion in 2007-08. Food, nutrition, bio-energy, the environment, and livelihood are global concerns,” he said.
An alumnus of KAU, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, and the University of Western Australia, Dr. Siddique has worked for more than two decades in the fields of crop physiology, production agronomy, germplasm enhancement, breeding and industry development of pulse and cereal crops.
He has contributed to the expansion of the pulse industries in Australia.
He has developed and commercially released several chickpea, lentil and lathyrus varieties that have superior yield and are disease-resistant.