ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Some Policy Priorities

Making Indian Agriculture More Resilient

Contemporary debates on Indian agriculture need to shift from the traditional focus on physical productivity targets towards smart policies, strengthened and relevant institutions, and an enabling environment, all of which are needed to foster a more profitable, sustainable and resilient agricultural sector capable of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

India has emerged as a major global economic power, yet food security concerns linger and continue to remain at the top of the policy agenda, dominating priorities in the agriculture sector. In reality, India has made impressive strides over the past 50 years, from chronic food deficits and aid dependency to become a food-surplus country, and a consistent net food exporter since about the early 1990s. Agriculture is now significantly less sensitive to rainfall variation than it was in the early 1980s (reducing variability in agricultural growth by more than half)—a result of rapid irrigation expansion and the spread of modern technology. But monsoons continue to drive large annual fluctuations in agricultural growth, affecting rain-fed areas (about 55% of total cultivated area) especially hard, and the hundreds of millions of rural households who directly or indirectly depend on agriculture for their income (Chand, Saxena and Rana 2015).

The latest reminders of the vulnerability of agriculture are the consecutive droughts due to deficient monsoons in 2014 and 2015. Farmers with access to irrigation are undoubtedly better able to absorb annual fluctuations, but even they have difficulty coping with consecutive shocks as groundwater tables fall faster (with additional pumping and reduced recharge) and surface water sources run low or dry. This impact was most vividly evident in the last series of droughts between 1997 and 2003, which resulted in a steady deceleration in agricultural growth (World Bank 2014). That unusual and prolonged series of weather shocks had large, cumulative, and widespread impacts on productivity and incomes. Growth rebounded sharply after 2004–05 for a few years, but deficient monsoons in 2009, 2012 and again in the last two years continue to restrain agricultural performance.

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