Press Information Bureau
Government of India
President's Secretariat
03-December-2010 16:17 IST
Speech by her Excellency the President of India Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil at the Inauguration of the Conference on 'Rural Prosperity through better Agriculture'
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to inaugurate the Conference on 'Rural Prosperity through Better Agriculture'. This topic is of great importance and relevance to the country, and for me rural prosperity is a cause to which I am deeply committed. Agriculture development, to my mind, is a core area and a key to success for our national agenda of prosperity and inclusive growth. It is economically, socially and culturally important for the nation. I recall that after assuming the office of the President, my first public engagement was on 6th August, 2007, when I attended a special lecture on 'Agriculture Cannot Wait'. Indeed, agriculture needs to be developed with urgency and in a focused manner for a myriad of reasons. Among them is the goal for achieving the national objective of food security for all, and for promoting the welfare of the large agriculture-dependent population of our country. It has been estimated that growth in agriculture is on an average two or three times more effective in raising incomes of the poor. Agriculture also needs to have linkages, both backward and forward, with the other sectors of the economy, as we look at the integrated growth of the country. Proper development of rural areas where there are facilities of education, health and physical infrastructure will be important for reducing the rural-urban differentials, and also for creating livable habitats both in rural and urban areas, so necessary for a country of a population of over 1.1 billion.

Basic to rural prosperity, is the holistic development of agriculture and the allied sectors, of course including agro-processing industries to a very great extent, which have to play a very important role. However, to realize its full potential as a promoter of growth and as an alleviator of poverty and unemployment, agriculture itself needs to grow. I will recall some facts and figures to highlight the profile of agriculture in the context of our growth strategy. India has about 3 percent of global land and less than 5 percent of the world's water resources, but it supports about 18 percent of global population, and over 15 percent of livestock. The per capita availability of resources is about 4 to 6 times less as compared to the world average. Yet, we are one of the largest agrarian economies of the world and among the largest producers in the world of rice, wheat, sugar, cotton, some spices, fruits and vegetables. There are about 145 million rural households in over 6 lakh villages. Small and marginal farmers are about 82 percent of the total land owners. The average holding is around 1.5 hectares as compared to 500 hectares in the U.S. Agriculture remains by far the largest employer of our national workforce, providing livelihood to about 60 percent of our people with 65 percent of farm work undertaken by women.

In the over 60 years as a free nation, India has made major strides in agriculture. India has tripled her food production over the last four decades, to reach the level of about 230 million tons last year. It is, however, estimated that the growing population will raise the annual demand for food to 320 million tons by 2025. The Green Revolution which made the nation self sufficient in foodgrains has run its course, its outcomes need to be boosted by another cycle. We need a Second Green Revolution that maximizes productivity and generates income and employment opportunities for the rural population. I will mention a few areas for this purpose.

First, while our food production has grown, we still face the challenge of enhancing our productivity levels, which are low as compared to the rest of the world. We need to bridge these productivity gaps to overcome the underlying problem of low productivity levels of Indian agriculture. Our need, therefore, is for a critical mass of agricultural scientists who work towards an agricultural renaissance. I believe that there is enough intellectual capacity in our country to meet scientific challenges. I call on agricultural universities and agricultural scientists to fulfill this role. Recently I had been to Syria. My interest in agriculture took me to the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), at Aleppo. It was a learning experience for me. I think India needs to co-operate closely with this centre to find answers to some of our problems in dryland farming. I would request you to focus on it. As I was glancing through the topics which you will be discussing at this Conference over the next two days, I noticed that I did not see focused attention being given to increasing production in rainfed agriculture - which is about 60 percent of our agriculture.

Secondly, while scientific breakthroughs, better techniques and innovations are the vehicles for accelerated growth, it is equally important to effectively channelise these to the end-user. It is seen that successes in the laboratory are often missing on the field, as the pace of technology dissemination from the lab to land is slow. The extension machinery which is weak needs to be strengthened, so that inputs like seeds, manure, fertilizers, pesticides and new technologies can reach the farmer on time.

Thirdly, large agricultural areas in India are dry land farms. 60 percent of cultivated area in India is in this category. As a part of our endeavour to strengthen the rural sector, it is important that there be concerted focus on rainfed agriculture to tap its potential.

Fourthly, India though one of the largest producers of food in the world has a very low level of post-harvest processing, product development and value-additions, thus leading to significant losses, especially in perishable commodities. Industry should seriously look at the food processing sector as an investment option.

Lastly, the economic limitation of small-sized land operations is the main challenge of the 21st Century, for sustained increase in production. This calls for structural and organizational changes in managing the farm sector in India. I have been calling for the development of some basic "models" to bring farmers into partnership arrangements with the corporate world. Voluntary formation, autonomous functioning and democratic control, should be the essential principles of such "models". It should be a transparent process, where farmers see such arrangements as a measure to empower them and are confident about retaining the ownership of their land.

Farming is the biggest private enterprise in our country. Agriculture requires substantial inputs, in terms of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and implements, among others. There exists an array of activities, where industry can involve the agriculturist as a stakeholder. There are many examples of successes that have been achieved by institutions and companies who have worked in rural India. By training and educating farmers for proper use of fertilizers and pesticides, not only has productivity gone up, but companies have gained experience about their use, including about those which have a higher success rate, and are good for the soil. Similarly, in cases where production of small and marginal farmers has been marketed from the farm gate, it has brought benefits both to farmers as well as the marketing entity. Necessary reforms in agricultural marketing could be undertaken to promote farmer-industry linkages and to better serve both. By making farmers aware of better utilization of water, drip irrigation companies can increase their sales. There can be many other such win-win opportunities which need to be explored.

I am told that these days particularly in rainfed areas; due to the vagaries of the Monsoon, high cost of inputs and non-availability of labour for agriculture in some areas, farmers are not cultivating their land. This is certainly not good and measures to bring all cultivable land under cultivation are needed to be undertaken. I think you would ponder over this issue as well.

I conclude by congratulating all Ministries and institutions, such as Crop Care Foundation, involved in organizing this Conference on rural prosperity and agriculture. I hope that it would generate some specific actions to propel growth in the agriculture sector. The nation is committed to a new deal to rural India through the revival of agriculture, and all stakeholders have a role to play in this mission. Moreover, it would be well to remember that agricultural prosperity does not bring rural prosperity alone, but is a factor for the prosperity of the whole nation.

Thank You.

Jai Hind!