Rebuilding India 15

Explore Indian Wisdom to Revive Agriculture  

In the Indian system agriculture has been considered as the most important activity of human life. As such farming was considered as a noble profession. India is known for her superior agricultural systems since the ancient periods.

Scholars and experts from foreign countries who visited India during the earlier centuries were surprised to see the very high performance of the agricultural sector. The famous agricultural scientist Albert Howard, who came to India during the British period, regarded the Indian farmers as ‘professors’ and “decided that he could not do better than watch their operations.”

The colonial period witnessed the state interfering in the agricultural sector. The British administration followed similar policies over the subsequent years resulting in the decline of agriculture. Bajaj and Srinivas note: “The abundance of food began to turn into a state of acute scarcity within decades of the onset of British rule. As the British began to dismantle the elaborate arrangements of the Indian society and began to extract unprecedented amounts of revenue form the produce of lands, vast areas began to fall out of cultivation and the productivity of lands began to decline precipitously.”

Very high levels of taxes forced several thousands of farmers to move out of agriculture. At the same time, the death of handicrafts, village based industrial and service activities compelled the displaced population to depend on land based activities. Hence there was higher proportion of population in the already unviable sector, leading to a mismatch.

After suffering for a long period during the alien rule, the independence gave a hope for the farming community. There were several attempts and new initiatives during different periods over the past decades to help the sector. With the result, there were progress in certain areas such as food production. India ranks second world-wide in farm output.

But unfortunately, the farmers continue suffer in large parts of the country. Their plight has increased manifold in the globalized system. Most of the smaller farmers are not able to make living out of agriculture, as it is no longer profitable. While thousands are committing suicides every year, several thousands are leaving agriculture.

The share of contribution of agriculture has been continuously going down over the years. Table 1 below shows the declining share in the Gross Value Added during 2011-12 to 2014-15.
Table 1
Share in GVA at factor cost at current prices
(2011-12 series, in percentages)
Agriculture & allied activities
Source: Central Statistical Organisation, Govt. of India

But still almost half of the employment is provided by the agricultural sector, as it continues to remain the primary activity in the country. Table 2 provides the share of employment of different sectors during 2011.
Table 2
Share of Employment, 2011 (in percentages)
Agriculture & allied activities
Source: Central Statistical Organisation

Several scholars reiterate that India has a very good potential for successful agriculture, due to the presence of strong fundamentals. Balasubramanian notes: “India is richly endowed with plentiful natural resources and tremendous density and diversity of bio-resources. Its cultivable area of 160 million hectares is about 60 per cent of the total land area against the world average of 10 per cent. The average rainfall throughout India is 105 cm per year, higher than what other large areas of the world receive.” 

Agriculture has become a complex subject for the modern experts and economists, who take decisions based on the text book approaches. They have complicated it over the years with lack of understanding of our agricultural history and the Indian systems. The ordinary farmers, with their enormous common sense and knowledge of ground realities, do not have much say in the policy making process.

The traditional Indian wisdom and practices that helped India to remain as a powerful agricultural nation remain ignored to a large extent. Balasubramanian writes: “India has one of the largest networks of organisations and infrastructure for agriculture anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, traditional Indian agriculture has hardly any space in the research or extension and dissemination services of the central or state governments.”

Even the large body of modern scientific evidence supporting the use of the traditional Indian systems remain unnoticed. He notes further: “The Indian Council of Agricultural Research launched a nationwide mission mode project on collection, documentation and validation of indi­genous technical knowledge under the national agriculture technology project in 2000. Info­rmation on indigenous technical knowledge was collected from primary sources through voluntary disclosure and collection and compilation of the Indigenous Technical Kno­wledge volume was made from available literature.

The compilation has five documents in seven volumes (published betw­een 2002 and 2004). The first two documents consisting of four volumes listed 4,879 indigenous practices. The third and fourth documents describe eff­orts at validating and cro­ss-validating these practices. Of the 4,879 practices documented, a set of 111 pr­actices were selected and subjected to experimental testing in efforts that were conducted by ICAR institutes and state agricultural departments and universities. These pertain to various topics such as pest control, crop protection, farm implements and weather forecasting. The results of these validation experiments were published as separate volumes.”

“ The chart shows that slightly more than 80 per cent of these practices were valid and about 6 per cent of the practices were partly valid. …. In summary, there was overwhelming evide­nce in favour of the validity of these practices. How­ever, it is strange that this entire exercise seems to have left no impression whatsoever on our body of scientists nor have the validated practices been disseminated through our extension services.

In fact, the existence of this voluminous body of information is hardly kno­wn, much less publicised widely. Information about the series could be procured only after filing a petition under the RTI Act! ”

Agriculture is critical for India as we are home to one sixth of the humanity. We cannot depend on others for our food. India cannot fail in agriculture, with her superior agricultural history, knowledge systems and hardworking farmers.

All possible steps should be taken to study and understand the Indian wisdom and try to make use of it for a higher performance in the coming years. India’s emergence as an economic power would be complete only when we succeed in reviving agriculture and making farming a respectable economic activity.

1.  J.K.Bajaj and M.D.Srinivas, Annam Bahu Kurvitha, Centre for Policy Studies, Madras, 1996
2.   A.V.Balasubramanian, “A hand to the plough”, The SandTHE series, May 2015
3.  Central Statistical Organisation quoted in Economic Survey 2014-15, Govt. of India
4.  Albert Howard quoted in Winin Pereira, Tending the Earth, Earthcare Books, Bombay,1993

( Yuva Bharati, Vivekanda Kendra, Vol.42 No.11, June 2015)