In terms of agriculture development, the eastern region of India adjoining the Ganges basin has experienced lower growth than the rest of the country. Also, the positive effects of Green Revolution were limited in this region. This region is confronted by deficit in basic agricultural infrastructure and resources. However, it is also true that it has enormous potential and scope for the development of agriculture and allied sector. It can be achieved by addressing key challenges by linking grassroot level initiatives with macro-economic policies.
Under a study conducted by us for the project titled ‘Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio in South Asia’ which was supported by the Australian Government and through our other work in this region including field level interactions with farmers and other local stakeholders, we have identified the gaps in agriculture policies and practices and explored innovative methods for sustainable practices and successful business models. A major problem is lack of productivity enhancement by smallholder farmers. This is mainly due to disconnect between smallholder farmers with markets. They have to be provided with irrigation, transportation and other marketing infrastructure, delivery system for schemes and programmes such as for input supply to reach them. The capacity of farmers to access and adopt new and innovative technologies are to be ensured through awareness generation and training.
Our fieldwork in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar reveals that farmers are facing scarcity of water in most of the places. Although, government initiatives for the adoption of solar pumps can bring drastic change but in most of the places farmers are not aware about available schemes to get benefits out of that initiative. In these states, governments are providing high amount of subsidy for the adoption of solar pumps but government officials are more inclined to achieve their annual targets and do not care much about the farmers living in remote locations who are actually in need of this subsidy. For example, a 2HP solar pump costs around Rs 200,000 and the government is providing Rs 140,000 as subsidy. However, small farmers are unable to pay a lump sum amount to avail it and therefore, there should be provisions for instalment payments.
Another observation was related to subsidies on agricultural machineries and machine tools. It was found that the subsidy is generally available on big machineries and tools. On the other hand, small and marginal farmers require support for small machineries and tools such as harrow, cultivator, ridge maker, etc. Their costs are in the range of Rs 10,000 to 25,000. The subsidy on such machines and tools are either very low or does not exist.
A common problem among farmers is their lack of knowledge about government schemes and initiatives. Neither local level government officials nor semi-government agencies are doing enough to generate awareness about latest technologies, innovative practices for sustainable agriculture.
Farmers and other stakeholders stressed that they do not get any incentive to attend the meetings and training camps organised by district agriculture departments or by agriculture research institutions. To address this problem, they suggested that subsidised travel pass should be given to farmers in local government buses. Such an initiative can motivate smallholder farmers for their active participation in those programmes.
Our field work in Kushinagar district in Uttar Pradesh indicated that the consumption of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) fertilisers is 131.4 kg per hectare, 32.6 kg per hectare, 4.5 kg per hectare respectively with a ratio of 29.1:7.2:1. This indicates high use of Urea by farmers in the entire district despite governments’ claims of promotion of organic farming. It was also found in the field work that, out of 354 total institutional fertiliser sales centres 59 are non-operative or closed. This forces farmer to buy Urea from black-markets at a significantly higher rate. District administration itself planned to sell only 47 MT bio-fertiliser in comparison to 47,500 MT of Urea in 2015-16. It was felt that local level officials need to be sensitising to make farmers aware for balanced use of fertilisers and encourage them to use bio-fertilisers.
On other aspects of agriculture extension services, conventional government institutions are unable to create tangible positive effects. Thus, delivery of inputs, technology transfer and information dissemination can be done successfully when they are channelled through local level NGOs and linking them with the network of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK). These NGOs with their grassroot interventions and in collaborations with KVK scientists are better organised to deliver productive results. They should be used to deliver agriculture extension services.
For example, in Mau district of Uttar Pradesh, local NGOs in association with KVK scientists have successfully generated the demand for Sahbhagi Dhan, a high yielding rice variety, among farmers despite its low availability at government stores and market. Now, under pressure from farmers and due to increased demand, the official supply of this drought resistant rice variety has been increased by the state government.
It was also observed that providing drought resistant rice varieties to farmers such as Sahbhagai Dhan have resulted in significant increase in yield in several districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh. It shows that with ensured availability and quality farmers are ready to adopt modern stress tolerant varieties if they are aware of them about their applications. They are even willing to pay more for such seed varieties in comparison to traditional seeds especially during low rainfall and delayed monsoon.
Field observations also show that farmers who adopt modern agriculture practices on medicinal, vegetables and fruit crops such as menthol, turmeric, banana among other similar types have succeeded to increase their income.
In Bihar, it was found that farmers are interested in practising local level entrepreneurship if they are made aware about its usefulness with potential positive results. For example, in Gaya district, a progressive farmer in collaboration with fellow farmers has started a small plant for mushroom processing. Nearby villagers are trained by him to grow and store mushrooms and later, after proper processing and with the help of this entrepreneur, they sell their products in markets of adjoining districts. Such local level agriculture based entrepreneurship needs government support with institutional finance and moral encouragement.
Apart from this, induction of professional management and marketing capabilities to small and marginal farmers to handle distribution and processing during the post-harvest phase can be highly useful. Although institutions like Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA), Small Farmers’ Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) have been established with this objective, they lag far behind from their intended outcomes. Therefore, initiatives taken by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) for development and promotion of farmers’ organisations in collaboration with SFAC must be expanded. The current system of financial support for a limited period leaves farmer organisations highly vulnerable at a time when they started to grow.
(Saurabh Kumar is a Policy Analyst, CUTS International, Jaipur and Aparna Sharma is a Research Associate, CUTS International and PhD Scholar, Indian Institute of Technology, Indore)