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1. Small and fragmented landholdings:
The seemingly abundance of net sown area of 141.2 million hectares and total cropped area of 189.7 million hectares (1999-2000) pales into insignificance when we see that it is divided into economically unviable small and scattered holdings.
The average size of holdings was 2.28 hectares in 1970-71 which was reduced to 1.82 hectares in 1980-81 and 1.50 hectares in 1995-96. The size of the holdings will further decrease with the infinite Sub-division of the land holdings.
The problem of small and fragmented holdings is more serious in densely populated and intensively cultivated states like Kerala, West Bengal, Bihar and eastern part of Uttar Pradesh where the average size of land holdings is less than one hectare and in certain parts it is less than even 0.5 hectare.
Rajasthan with vast sandy stretches and Nagaland with the prevailing ‘Jhoom’ (shifting agriculture) have larger average sized holdings of 4 and 7.15 hectares respectively. States having high percentage of net sown area like Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have holding size above the national average.
Further it is shocking to note that a large proportion of 59 per cent holdings in 1990- 91 were marginal (below 1 hectare) accounting for 14.9 per cent of the total operated area. Another 19 per cent were small holdings (1-2 hectare) taking up 17.3 per cent of the total operated area.
Large holdings (above 10 hectare) accounted for only 1.6 per cent of total holdings but covered 17.4 per cent of the operated area (Table 22.1). Hence, there is a wide gap between small farmers, medium farmers (peasant group) and big farmers (landlords).
The main reason for this sad state of affairs is our inheritance laws. The land belonging to the father is equally distributed among his sons. This distribution of land does not entail a collection or consolidated one, but its nature is fragmented.
Different tracts have different levels of fertility and are to be distributed accordingly. If there are four tracts which are to be distributed between two sons, both the sons will get smaller plots of each land tract. In this way the holdings become smaller and more fragmented with each passing generation.
Sub-division and fragmentation of the holdings is one of the main causes of our low agricultural productivity and backward state of our agriculture. A lot of time and labor is wasted in moving seeds, manure, implements and cattle from one piece of land to another.
Irrigation becomes difficult on such small and fragmented fields. Further, a lot of fertile agricultural land is wasted in providing boundaries. Under such circumstances, the farmer cannot concentrate on improvement.
The only answer to this ticklish problem is the consolidation of holdings which means the reallocation of holdings which are fragmented, the creation of farms which comprise only one or a few parcels in place of multitude of patches formerly in the possession of each peasant.
But unfortunately, this plan has not succeeded much. Although legislation for consolidation of holdings has been enacted by almost all the states, it has been implemented only in Punjab, Haryana and in some parts of Uttar Pradesh.
Consolidation of about 45 million holdings has been done till 1990-91 in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. The other solution to this problem is cooperative farming in which the farmers pool their resources and share the profit.
Seed is a critical and basic input for attaining higher crop yields and sustained growth in agricultural production. Distribution of assured quality seed is as critical as the production of such seeds. Unfortunately, good quality seeds are out of reach of the majority of farmers, especially small and marginal farmers mainly because of exorbitant prices of better seeds.
In order to solve this problem, the Government of India established the National Seeds Corporation (NSC) in 1963 and the State Farmers Corporation of India (SFCI) in 1969. Thirteen State Seed Corporations (SSCs) were also established to augment the supply of improved seeds to the farmers.
High Yielding Variety Program (HYVP) was launched in 1966-67 as a major thrust plan to increase the production of food grains in the country.
The Indian seed industry had exhibited impressive growth in the past and is expected to provide further potential for growth in agricultural production: The role of seed industry is not only to produce adequate quantity of quality seeds but also to achieve varietal diversity to suit various agro-climatic zones of the country.
The policy statements are designed towards making available to the Indian farmer, adequate quantities of seed of superior quality at the appropriate time and place and at an affordable price so as to meet the country’s food and nutritional security goals.
Indian seeds program largely adheres to limited generation system for seed multiplication. The system recognizes three kinds of generation, namely breeder, foundation and certified seeds. Breeder seed is the basic seed and first stage in seed production. Foundation seed is the second stage in seed production chain and is the progeny of breeder seed.
Certified seed is the ultimate stage in seed production chain and is the progeny of foundation seed. Production of breeder and foundation seeds and certified seeds distribution have gone up at an annual average rate of 3.4 per cent, 7.5 per cent and 9.5 per cent respectively, between 2001-02 and 2005-06).
3. Manures, Fertilizers and Biocides:
Indian soils have been used for growing crops over thousands of years without caring much for replenishing. This has led to depletion and exhaustion of soils resulting in their low productivity. The average yields of almost all the crops are among t e lowest in the world. This is a serious problem which can be solved by using more manures and fertilizers.
Manures and fertilizers play the same role in relation to soils as good food in relation to body. Just as a well-nourished body is capable of doing any good job, a well-nourished soil is capable of giving good yields. It has been estimated that about 70 per cent of growth in agricultural production can be attributed to increased fertilizer application.
Thus, increase in the consumption of fertilizers is a barometer of agricultural prosperity. However, there are practical difficulties in providing enough manures and fertilizers in all parts of a country of India’s dimensions inhabited by poor peasants. Cow dung provides the best manure to the soils.
But its use as such is limited because much of cow dung is used as kitchen fuel in the shape of dung cakes. Reduction in the supply of firewood and increasing demand for fuel in the rural areas due to increase in population has further complicated the problem. Chemical fertilizers are costly and are often beyond the reach of the poor farmers. The fertilizer problem is, therefore, both acute and complex.
It has been felt that organic manures are essential for keeping the soil in good health. The country has a potential of 650 million tons of rural and 160 lakh tones of urban compost which is not fully utilized at present. The utilization of this potential will solve the twin problem of disposal of waste and providing manure to the soil.
The government has given high incentive especially in the form of heavy subsidy for using chemical fertilizers. There was practically no use of chemical fertilizers at the time of Independence As a result of initiative by the government and due to change in the attitude of some progressive farmers, the consumption of fertilizers increased tremendously.
In order to maintain the quality of the fertilizers, 52 fertilizer quality control laboratories have been set up in different parts of the country. In addition, there is one Central Fertilizer Quality Control and Training Institute at Faridabad with its three regional centers at Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
Pests, germs and weeds cause heavy loss to crops which amounted to about one third of the total field produce at the time of Independence. Biocides (pesticides, herbicides and weedicides) are used to save the crops and to avoid losses. The increased use of these inputs has saved a lot of crops, especially the food crops from unnecessary wastage. But indiscriminate use of biocides has resulted in widespread environmental pollution which takes its own toll.
Although India is the second largest irrigated country of the world after China, only one-third of the cropped area is under irrigation. Irrigation is the most important agricultural input in a tropical monsoon country like India where rainfall is uncertain, unreliable and erratic India cannot achieve sustained progress in agriculture unless and until more than half of the cropped area is brought under assured irrigation.
This is testified by the success story of agricultural progress in Punjab Haryana and western part of Uttar Pradesh where over half of the cropped area is under irrigation! Large tracts still await irrigation to boost the agricultural output.
However, care must be taken to safeguard against ill effects of over irrigation especially in areas irrigated by canals. Large tracts in Punjab and Haryana have been rendered useless (areas affected by salinity, alkalinity and waterlogging), due to faulty irrigation. In the Indira Gandhi Canal command area also, intensive irrigation has led to sharp rise in sub-soil water level, leading to waterlogging, soil salinity and alkalinity.
5. Lack of mechanization:
Despite the large-scale mechanization of agriculture in some parts of the country, most of the agricultural operations in larger parts are carried on by human hand using simple and conventional tools and implements like wooden plough, sickle, etc.
Little or no use of machines is made in ploughing, sowing, irrigating, thinning and pruning, weeding, harvesting threshing and transporting the crops. This is specially the case with small and marginal farmers. It results in huge wastage of human labor and in low yields per capita labor force.
There is urgent need to mechanize the agricultural operations so that wastage of labor force is avoided, and farming is made convenient and efficient. Agricultural implements and machinery are a crucial input for efficient and timely agricultural operations, facilitating multiple cropping and thereby increasing production.
Some progress has been made for mechanizing agriculture in India after Independence. Need for mechanization was specially felt with the advent of Green Revolution in 1960s. Strategies and programs have been directed towards replacement of traditional and inefficient implements by improved ones, enabling the farmer to own tractors, power tillers, harvesters and other machines.
A large industrial base for manufacturing of the agricultural machines has also been developed. Power availability for carrying out various agricultural operations has been increased to reach a level of 14 kW per hectare in 2003-04 from only 0.3 kW per hectare in 1971-72.
This increase was the result of increasing use of tractor, power tiller and combine harvesters, irrigation pumps and other power operated machines. The share of mechanical and electrical power has increased from 40 per cent in 1971 to 84 per cent in 2003-04.
Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest average sales of tractors during the five-year period ending 2003-04 and/West Bengal recorded the highest average sales of power tillers during the same period.
Strenuous efforts are being made to encourage the farmers to adopt technically advanced agricultural equipments in order to carry farm operations timely and precisely and to economise the agricultural production process.
6. Soil erosion:
Large tracts of fertile land suffer from soil erosion by wind and water. This area must be properly treated and restored to its original fertility.
7. Agricultural Marketing:
Agricultural marketing still continues to be in a bad shape in rural India. In the absence of sound marketing facilities, the farmers have to depend upon local traders and middlemen for the disposal of their farm produce which is sold at throw-away price.
In most cases, these farmers are forced, under socio-economic conditions, to carry on distress sale of their produce. In most of small villages, the farmers sell their produce to the money lender from whom they usually borrow money.
According to an estimate 85 per cent of wheat and 75 per cent of oil seeds in Uttar Pradesh, 90 per cent of Jute in West Bengal, 70 per cent of oilseeds and 35 per cent of cotton in Punjab is sold by farmers in the village itself. Such a situation arises due to the inability of the poor farmers to wait for long after harvesting their crops.
In order to meet his commitments and pay his debt, the poor farmer is forced to sell the produce at whatever price is offered to him. The Rural Credit Survey Report rightly remarked that the producers in general sell their produce at an unfavorable place and at an unfavorable time and usually they get unfavorable terms.
In the absence of an organized marketing structure, private traders and middlemen dominate the marketing and trading of agricultural produce. The remuneration of the services provided by the middlemen increases the load on the consumer, although the producer does not derive similar benefit.
Many market surveys have revealed that middlemen take away about 48 per cent of the price of rice, 52 per cent of the price of groundnuts and 60 per cent of the price of potatoes offered by consumers.
In order to save the farmer from the clutches of the money lenders and the middlemen, the government has come out with regulated markets. These markets generally introduce a system of competitive buying, help in eradicating malpractices, ensure the use of standardized weights and measures and evolve suitable machinery for settlement of disputes thereby ensuring that the producers are not subjected to exploitation and receive remunerative prices.
8. Inadequate storage facilities:
Storage facilities in the rural areas are either totally absent or grossly inadequate. Under such conditions the farmers are compelled to sell their produce immediately after the harvest at the prevailing market prices which are bound to be low. Such distress sale deprives the farmers of their legitimate income.
The Parse Committee estimated the post-harvest losses at 9.3 per cent of which nearly 6.6 per cent occurred due to poor storage conditions alone. Scientific storage is, therefore, very essential to avoid losses and to benefit the farmers and the consumers alike.
At present there are number of agencies engaged in warehousing and storage activities. The Food Corporation of India (F.C.I.), the Central Warehousing Corporation (C.W.C.) and State Warehousing Corporation are among the principal agencies engaged in this task. These agencies help in building up buffer stock, which can be used in the hour of need. The Central Government is also implementing the scheme for establishment of national Grid of Rural Godowns since 1979-80.
This scheme provides storage facilities to the farmers near their fields and in particular to the small and marginal farmers. The Working Group on additional storage facilities in rural areas has recommended a scheme of establishing a network of Rural Storage Centers to serve the economic interests of the farming community.
9. Inadequate transport:
One of the main handicaps with Indian agriculture is the lack of cheap and efficient means of transportation. Even at present there are lakhs of villages which are not well connected with main roads or with market centers.
Most roads in the rural areas are Kutcha (bullock- cart roads) and become useless in the rainy season. Under these circumstances the farmers cannot carry their produce to the main market and are forced to sell it in the local market at low price. Linking each village by metalled road is a gigantic task and it needs huge sums of money to complete this task.
10. Scarcity of capital:
Agriculture is an important industry and like all other industries it also requires capital. The role of capital input is becoming more and more important with the advancement of farm technology. Since the agriculturists’ capital is locked up in his lands and stocks, he is obliged to borrow money for stimulating the tempo of agricultural production.
The main suppliers of money to the farmer are the moneylenders, traders and commission agents who charge high rate of interest and purchase the agricultural produce at very low price. All India Rural Credit Survey Committee showed that in 1950-51 the share of money lenders stood at as high as 68.6 per cent of the total rural credit and in 1975-76 their share declined to 43 per cent of the credit needs of the farmers.
This shows that the money lender is losing ground but is still the single largest contributor of agricultural credit. Rural credit scenario has undergone a significant change and institutional agencies such as Central Cooperative Banks, State Cooperative Banks, Commercial Banks, Cooperative Credit Agencies and some Government Agencies are extending loans to farmers on easy terms.
There has been a steady increase in the flow of institutional credit to agriculture over the years.