CII meet on sustainable agriculture focusses on farmer-led inclusive growth



The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) organised a summit on Agri-Vision 2020, Sustainable Agriculture: Farmer-led inclusive growth on April 13, 2012. The meet focussed on farmer-focussed challenges and solutions for sustainable agriculture, leading to raising production and productivity per unit of inputs, upscaling of agricultural extension, effective labland linkages arresting degradation of natural resources and how farming could be made more remunerative and productive-in short, sustainable.

One of the speakers at the opening sessions of the conference was Dr Sudhir Kumar Goel, principal secretary, agriculture and marketing (additional charge), marketing co-operation, Government of Maharashtra. He said, “The government is looking to spend around Rs 2,000 crore in the agricuture sector in Maharashtra, so that the vision to have at least one value chain in each district in the state is accomplished in the next eight years.”

The conference, which brought together about 200 key stakeholders in the agriculture sector (including industry captains and members of the farming community), was organised to collaboratively develop an agriculture vision for 2020 and work out sustainable solutions through farmer education; use of higher-yielding inputs; processing; supply-chain linkages; end-user industries and newer approaches to overcome farming challenges and make Maharashtra a state with a robust infrastructure for agriculture.

Elaborating on the sustainability aspect, Dr Goel encouraged all the corporates to participate in the sector and to go beyond the existing restrictions and said that today in the country a non-agriculturist earned 10 times more than an agriculturist. He also said that it was important to balance such a huge gap which existed between the two with corporates and banks seizing the full opportunity realising the fact that there should be highly productive farmers in the country so that the cost could go up.

Another significant point he stressed on was the supply of fruits and vegetables to every doorstep in the city, which had a population of over 1.23 million in the near future (in the same fashion as milk is supplied). He said that it was not impossible to achieve as establishing the biggest supply chain was the biggest challenge in the country.

Dr Goel said that India, being an agrarian land, needed public-private partnership adding that the government should not refrain from doing its bit. He mentioned that the government and the banks were already giving their assistance through various projects and banks with financial support to the sector but the corporates must play a significant role involving themselves in various projects for the same benefitting the farmers of the country. He said that the reforms are there, but they have to be exploited to the fullest in order to establish a value chain in the agriculture.
He then insisted on the need for a visionary approach for sustainable agriculture by focussing on contract farming, formation of farmer self-help groups (SHGs), creating backward linkages, establishing integrated value chains from production to marketing which must see a win-win situation for both the farmers as well as the industry and consumers.

According to CII, with the burgeoning population of the country that was estimated to touch 1.3 billion by 2018 and other industries gradually increasing their pie in country's gross domestic product (GDP), the agriculture sector of India is in peril. Although it had achieved self-sufficiency in food grains, the growth rate of Indian agriculture for the last two decades sought to be lagging behind its potential.

It also stated some of the reasons such as land fragmentation and land holding which perpetrate the marginal and subsistence nature of farm, the input delivery mechanism through extension was unable to meet the challenges, the lack of proper investment in pre and post-harvest infrastructure and fragmented supply chain with number of intermediaries and that there was need for urgent intervention to ensure a science-based and predictable regulation on biotech crops.

Further it said that the transition to modern levels of financing and insurance was progressing at a real slow pace which meant nearly 45.9 million farmers out of the total 89.3 million households were unable to have an access to credit either from the institutional or non-institutional sources.

Other speakers were Dr Jimmy Mirchandani, chairman and managing director, Aries Agro Ltd, who emphasised the need for raising productivity without impacting the environment.

“The focus on social and ecological sustainability is very important for agricultural sustainability”, he said.

Mirchandani mentioned that innovation in the agriculture sector was happening in a piecemeal manner and that there was a need to focus on partnership and collaboration for increasing the farm produce and quality.

He then pointed out the need of short-term and long-term policy reforms, wherein short-term policies should focus on immediate intervention for marketing, extension, export and incentivising corporate for development activities in rural areas, and long-term policies should focus on infrastructure development and extending knowledge to the farming community especially among the rural youth.

Talking about the challenges in the agriculture, Dr Gyanendra Shukla, director, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech said, “Technological interventions and deployment can be a catalyst and is one of the powerful solutions to help farmers feed and clothe the world’s growing population – e.g. Bt cotton doubled production, reduced pesticide usage, improved lives – in short, made cotton farming sustainable.”

He said that the sustainable agriculture required focus on increasing the agriculture productivity and improving the social well-being of resource-poor farmers, the technological interventions and deployment and finally protecting and improving the environment through a better utilisation of input resources.

Awards were also given to many farmers, stakeholders and agri-business professionals at the conference for their good performance in their respective streams.

The session was followed by a panel discussion on various aspects by some of the key speakers who exchanged their ideas and answered the farmers' and stakeholders' queries.

Some of them were Dhiren Seth, president, Cotton Association of India, who spoke on the importance of Bt Cotton mentioning that the doubling of cotton production in the country today had helped cotton farming become remunerative for the farmer and to evolve the Indian cotton industry as a whole.

M G Shembekar, MD, Ankur Seeds, also mentioned discussed how each seed has its own variety and struggles to meet the tastes of the industry. He also pointed out that lack of research in agriculture posed as a hurdle today at the backdrop.

Lastly, Asitava Sen, senior director and head, food and agribusiness research and advisory, Rabobank Group in India, said that wastage of food would be reduced if there was a match between the demand and supply of the food. He then stressed to inculcate a Dutch way of technology to be introduced in the industry.

“Sustainability was a collective responsibility and that every commodity has a value chain which needed to be well-organised, “ Sen said, adding that the today the basic challenge that posed was to produce with limited resources in the country which was a concern for food safety.