Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
General Studies 3
Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.
Agricultural Education in India: It’s time to revamp ICAR
As the 71st year of Independence dawns, farmers are still committing suicide by the thousands- a consequence of decades of short-sightedness, while economists and scientists are still equating food sufficiency to farmer sustainability. The occasion merits introspection on the core issues of farmers’ distress one of which is poor extension services and lack of technical education to farmers.
State of Agricultural education in India:
The deterioration in agriculture education is deplorable. Some state agriculture universities (SAU) are even conducting courses in fashion design.
More appalling is the over 1,000 unregulated private agriculture colleges which have sprouted across the nation churning out degrees like street food.
Many are without proper labs, infrastructure or farm land.
As agriculture is a state subject ICAR/Central government jurisdiction doesn’t apply to these proliferating private profiteers. They thrive because states haven’t enacted a regulatory framework. The Punjab government has notified a regulatory act; other states must follow.
ICAR and the states exercise authority and jointly fund SAU activities. Around 700 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK) funded by the ICAR are designated for capacity building and technology refinement and transfer but are neither fully staffed nor equipped.
As the Economic Survey 2015 notes, even in states where agriculture is relatively more important (as measured by their share of agriculture in state GDP), agriculture education is especially weak if measured by the number of students enrolled in agricultural universities.
Issues with ICAR:
The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) mandate is agriculture education, research and farm extension. It contributed during the most challenging years of food scarcity. Though that success came at an environmental cost we didn’t understand that when we were succeeding. The Green Revolution and a few small triumphs aren’t enough to justify the status quo.
Far from being an autonomous body, ICAR has become an extension of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.
ICAR has historically evolved with a strong bias in favour of crop sciences at the cost of animal husbandry. Yields for irrigated crops like rice and wheat are comparable with the best in the world, but research on rain-fed farms, pulses, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables lags considerably.
Technology transfer or farm extension is one of the biggest disappointment. Since India became a cereal secure nation, complacency set in and public extension collapsed. The abdication by the state public extension system has allowed the private shopkeepers to usurp the role of farm advisories to disastrous consequences for farmers, human health and the ecology.
Practically, state governments barely manage to fund the SAUs. To offset the constant paucity of funds, SAUs are forced to augment their resources by seeking research grants irrespective of the state’s priorities. For example, a particular state may want to focus on diversification from paddy in the kharif season, while much of the coordinated research is for the Rabi season crops. This happens because centre and state objectives differ.
At ICAR, recruitments are manipulated, inbreeding and nepotism are rampant.
Salary structures based on government promotion rules of time-bound promotion do not recognise research output and talent is ignored.
Most farmhands are women, but women are not even recruited in equal numbers.
Inter-departmental coordination is lacking within the 71 agriculture universities and the whopping 101 institutes across India. I
Research is routinely stolen from ICAR institutes by private companies. Thus, IPR registrations and internal resource generation like that in the developed world universities is improbable.
ICAR should be transformed into a truly autonomous body reporting directly to the prime minister like the Atomic Energy Commission.
Its functions should be restricted to farm research, education and oversight of non-ICAR agriculture institutes.
Farm extension services should be completely delegated to the state governments.
Evolving consumer preferences, changing the narrative from farm to food, environmental impact, climate resilient agriculture require a reorientation of priorities and mindsets. The capacities for market intelligence and forecasting models have not been cultivated.
Convergence between ICAR and state agriculture agencies has failed. If the PMO accepted the responsibility of agriculture research and education, SAU salaries would fall into the Central government basket and the KVKs could be transferred to the states. That would free up resources for states to focus exclusively on farm extension.
Budget allocations for agriculture R&D must be pegged as 2 per cent of the GDP from the less than 1 per cent at present.
A metric to audit outcomes and establish accountability is needed to resolve the crisis.
The grounded experience of the practitioner must be given preference over the theoretical knowledge of policymakers when the decisions are made.
In order to save the future of our farmers and permanently cure the ills of Indian agriculture, major policy interventions have to be made at the earliest. And one of the most important area which requires overhaul is the agricultural education segment.
Connecting the dots:
India’s agricultural research systems and education system needs an overhaul on the urgent basis. The ICAR must be revamped. Discuss
General Studies 3:
Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
Inclusive growth and issues arising from it; Effects of liberalization on the economy
Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security
General Studies 2:
Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.
Issues relating to poverty and hunger.
Inequities in the Agreement on Agriculture at WTO
Unfair rules need to be challenged even if they seemingly have been democratically framed. This is exactly what India and China have done with their latest paper at the WTO on elimination of the so-called trade distorting subsidies. The countries have demanded that the developed world should give up their huge disproportionate entitlements to such sops before discussing further reforms.
The India-China study report:
The paper, ‘Elimination of AMS to reduce distortions in global agricultural trade’, reveals that developed countries cornered the right to a lion’s share in the total trade distorting subsidies allowed for agriculture (or amber box subsidies at the WTO), also called aggregate measure of support, worldwide. This amounts to 90 per cent of the total entitlement for such subsidies.
The study shows that developed members including the US, the EU and Canada have, using the flexibility, subsidised a large number of items heavily at some point of time over the past two decades.
In the US, the product-specific support was 10 per cent or more of the value of production for 30 products in at least one year during 1995-2014.
The study further shows that even the latest figures of 2014 reveal that product-specific support for items such as sugar and sesame in the US was over 50 per cent, while for items such as peanuts, millet and cotton, it was 14-16 per cent.
For the EU, in respect of 43 products, the product-specific support was 10 per cent or more of the value of production in at least one year during 2000-13. Canada provided product-specific support at 10 per cent of the value of production, or more, to seven products in at least one year during the period 1995-2013.
Developed countries dole out several times higher subsidies to their farmers than the rest of the world. They label most of the sops as non-trade distorting (green-box subsidy at the WTO) which, supposedly, have minimal effect on world trade.
Most developing countries, on the other hand, cannot risk increasing the amber box subsidies to more than the de minimis (ceiling) of 10 per cent of total production value of a specific commodity as they could then be penalised.
High entitlements for AMS actually result in developed countries giving high levels of subsidies.
The product-specific subsidies apply largely to the developing world, whereas the developed world, by having an overall ceiling for all farm products, can manipulate the subsidies for individual products.
In effect, the developed world can give as much as $160 billions of trade-distorting subsidies that affect prices and production every year without attracting penalties. It could go up to 300 per cent or more for certain items in some countries.
Compared to such high product-specific subsidies in the developed world, it seems a bit bizarre that India is consistently warned by countries like the US, Australia, the EU and Japan about its rising MSP support to food grains and cereals like rice, wheat and pulses when they are actually all well below the de minimis limit of 10 per cent at the moment.
Equally unfair is the fact that even with low over-all subsidies, India has to worry about breaching the 10 per cent ceiling for rice once the food subsidy programme is fully implemented as it could then get into trouble. How can subsidies given by developing countries to support their poor be open to challenge when they barely cross 10 per cent, while many rich countries are entitled to trade distorting sops several times the de minimis ceiling?
This exposes the hypocrisy of the rich nations which routinely reprimand countries such as India and China for their minimum support price programmes for poor farmers.
While developing countries face the 10 per cent ceiling of the production value for their product-specific AMS, the same for developed countries, or some of them, stands at just 5 per cent.
Developed countries exercised an option of either accepting a product specific ceiling of 5 per cent, or an overall cap. For instance, if a country’s overall AMS limit is $10 billion, it could concentrate the entire amount on one crop.
On the other hand, developing countries such as India are stuck with product-specific de minimis limits of 10 per cent. This means that for no crop can the AMS limit be higher than 10 per cent of its value of production.
This outrageously unfair arrangement came about because at the time when the Uruguay Round was negotiated, very few countries, including India, understood its implications. Back in the 1990s, they did not have either the technical prowess or the human resource to negotiate well, and allowed developed countries and a handful of developing countries get away with high AMS limits.
China and India have rightly challenged and should continue to in more such revealing reports. The joint paper with China on AMS could well be the first step in this direction. It needs to keep up the momentum and adopt a more offensive posture by laying bare more such inequities in the Agreement on Agriculture that is habitually brushed under the carpet by the powerful.
India can hope to get its long-standing grievances in the area of food security and inadequate safeguards against import surges seriously discussed, deliberated upon and possibly redressed at the forthcoming WTO ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires only if it manages to have developed countries on the defensive.
Connecting the dots:
Recently, India and China together released a study paper titled ‘Elimination of AMS to reduce distortions in global agricultural trade’. Critically analyze the report.
The WTO rules related with Agreement on Agriculture are unfair to developing countries like India while the developed ones dole out several times higher subsidies to their farmers than the rest of the world. Discuss.
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