India Business
Poor farm growth cause for rural distress: PM
May 14, 2007 - 4:41:08 PM

New Delhi, May 14 - Terming the poor farm output growth a cause for 'rural distress' and concerned over suicides by farmers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday called for a short-term plan and state-specific focus on agriculture.

'At less than 2 percent, poor agricultural growth is a cause of rural distress,' Manmohan Singh told a Planning Commission meeting, attended by Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, among others.

'Since agriculture is a state subject, it is important to evolve state-level strategies, tailored to the specific needs of the agro-climatic conditions prevailing in each state,' he told the meeting he personally requested.

'I would only like to emphasise that whatever strategies we choose to adopt must deliver some results in the short and medium term so that tangible benefits are visible - to farmers, consumers and the rural economy as a whole,' he said.

'This is important if we have to avert any crisis in the agrarian sector and fulfil the needs of a growing economy.'

Monday's meeting came in the backdrop of the sharp deceleration of agricultural out growth from 3.62 percent in 1984 -1996 to less than 2 percent in 1999 -2005, and efforts to push it up to four percent over the next five years.

Politically, the United Progressive Alliance government - wants to show fast and tangible results to ward off criticism by Left allies that its policies have failed to lift the agrarian economy, on which 70 percent of India's population still depends, officials said.

According to the prime minister, there were substantial yield gaps in all states between actual production and the potential despite agro-climatic constraints and existing technologies.

'These yield-increase potentials vary from 40-100 percent. Increased production in the next three-to-four years can only come from bridging this yield gap or expanding area,' he said.

'The scope for area expansion is extremely limited, except for what can be done through increased cropping intensity via irrigation, hence, the need to focus on yield-gap reduction.'

The prime minister said some measures had been taken in suicide prone districts, programmes launched for horticulture, rain-fed areas and fisheries and general fiscal allocations enhanced for the agriculture sector.

'The central government should devise ways of helping states which are willing to evolve such strategies.'

The meeting of the full commission was earlier slotted for April 18. But it was deferred since the agriculture ministry and the plan panel first wanted to make separate presentations to the prime minister, officials said.

Monday's meeting will be followed by a conference of the National Development Council - May 29 that will also be attended by all state chief ministers. The prime minister also intends to visit several states for support.

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