The farm factor | Business Standard Editorials

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Agri sector did quite well in a pandemic year

While growth in most sectors of the economy seems set to succumb under pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic-driven curbs and lockdowns, the farm sector stands apart and may show impressive numbers. The latest (third advance) crop production estimates for 2020-21, released by Krishi Bhawan on May 25, reveal that the output of most crops has scaled new peaks. Even the usually laggard segments like pulses and oilseeds have done well. The production of pulses is projected to have swelled sufficiently to make the country nearly self-sufficient in these crops, which constitute the main sources of protein for the poor. The combined output of oilseeds, too, has touched a new peak, though India’s overall import dependence for edible oils might still remain worrisomely high at 65 per cent.

The real saga of success is the foodgrains. In 2020-21, their production is projected officially to be around 305.44 million tonnes, marking a massive increase of nearly 27 million tonnes over the average annual output of previous five years (2015-16 to 2019-20). Significantly, the irrigated crops of wheat and rice are not the only ones to account for impressive production gains. Rain-dependent coarse cereals, including nutri-cereals like millets, have also excelled in their performance. Similar is, indeed, the story of India’s agricultural exports. These have grown by nearly 18 per cent in 2020-21, despite the pandemic, to help the country manage its surplus farm output without price meltdown and distress among farmers. In fact, the upswing in Indian agri-exports, even if backed by favourable overseas prices, has come about at a time when it was needed the most by the domestic, as well as international, stakeholders. While at the domestic level it has provided an outlet for the surplus produce to sustain the prices at the global scale, it has forestalled further spikes in food prices to keep staple food accessible to the poor. Interestingly, all of the five key agri-exports items of India have shown positive results. These include marine products, basmati rice, non-basmati rice, spices, and buffalo meat.

The farm sector’s remarkable showing during the Covid-19 crisis is sought to be attributed by analysts to factors like exemption from the lockdowns, maintaining supply lines, good monsoon rain, and liberal additional funding of this sector. However, none of these factors would have delivered the desired results unless exploited prudently and efficiently. Even the bonanza of the two consecutive normal monsoons, something rare, could have proved counterproductive had the available water not been utilised optimally. The credit for ensuring such wise and efficient use of inputs goes to the pro-active and pre-emptive agro-advisories issued by the country’s vast agricultural research network spearheaded by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. These advisories contained practical tips for the best practices related to the crops, livestock, fisheries, and other farm activities. All available information technology and communication tools, including social media, were utilised to reach out to farmers all over the country. Several of such result-oriented innovative initiatives taken to cope with the extraordinary situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic have gone, more or less, unnoticed. Since the menace of Covid-19 is unlikely to be over soon, more similar moves might be forthcoming. The experience gained from them needs to be preserved for future catastrophes as well.

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