Rare agrarian success story

In the current issue of the Economic and Political Weekly, Tushaar Shah and his co-authors analyse the rapid growth of agriculture in Gujarat after 2000, while becoming more stable than in the previous decades. The full paper is here.

Interesting bits from the paper – 

“The Gujarat government has aggressively pursued an innovative agriculture development programme by liberalising markets, inviting private capital, reinventing agricultural extension, improving roads and other infrastructure”

On all the above counts, the state government seems to have pulled off a rare policy success. Inviting private capital is a contentious issue in Indian agriculture. The state government has utilised central government schemes where available and buffered by offering its own packages in areas such as micro-irrigation.

Canal irrigation has traditionally been Gujarat’s mainstay. With Gujarat’s push for the Sardar Sarovar Project hitting the headlines, it is clear how important the state government thinks canals are. However, as the authors point out, the state is also reaping huge dividends from its decentralised ground-water management projects – run by both by the government and NGOs and “the vast corpus of check dams, percolation ponds, boribunds and farm ponds” facilitated double-cropping and tremendous increases in agricultural production.

The authors also praise the state government for its management of GM seeds – yet another hugely controversial issue. Resolute regulation of seed prices by the state government seems to have worked. At the same time,

 “The role of the private sector in ushering in the Bt cotton revolution cannot be overstated”.

The Gujarat story is very interesting – not in the least because its neighbouring states are in the throes of a agrarian crisis which has been the cause for policy concern.

What I would love to read more about, regarding the Gujarat story, is about the distribution of gains made in the sector. How did the small farmers do? Did the combination of market-led reforms tilt the balance in favour of the large farmers?  

The paper also mentions that the area under food crop production has gone up by about 30% between 2004-5 and 2007-08. From the paper, though, I didn’t get the reason for that. I wonder why farmers would expand food crop cultivation instead of taking on the lucrative cash crops, especially in this favourable policy environment. In some ways, this might be part of the answer to the fears of those who feel that a mass shift from food to cash crops will make farmers more vulnerable/increase the risk of food insecurity. But I guess we would have to know a lot more about who is expanding on their food crop cultivation and why to begin to make the above argument.

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