Noted anthropologist Arthur Keith had observed that the discovery of agriculture was the first big step towards a civilized life. His words ring true in India today, where to rediscover that civilized life, we must put all our energies behind agriculture once more. That seems also to be the thinking of the present NDA Government, which on taking oath had openly declared that this would be one for the poor, the peasant and the village. Ignoring this critical sector can only be at our own peril. Much has plagued our farmers over the last one and a half decades, and it is time to return to Keith’s “civilized life.” Of India’s work force of 500 million, about half is engaged in agriculture. Nearly 60 per cent or rural households depend on agriculture as the principal means of sustenance. Yet, the share of agriculture in India’s GDP is only 16.1 per cent. There is much scope for prosperity in this sector. Part of the challenge lies at the door of Mr Radha Mohan Singh, 5th-term Lok Sabha member, who is India’s Agriculture and Farmer Welfare Minister.
People leave their village farms for cities in search of jobs because over decades of mismanagement, India’s agricultural economy has been brought down to its knees. It has also been a deeply corrupted economy. In the distribution of thousands of crores of subsidized fertilizers meant for farmers, greedy middlemen have found fertile grounds of pilferage and loot. Much of that has been diverted to industries, through the back door, of course. The small and marginal farmers, hit by the vagaries of weather, have so often keeled over under the piling burden of debt. Water harvesting has been dismal. Green revolutions have been hard to come by. Irrigation is a subject that has seen much rancour, since water has been the cause of discord among several states. In this challenging scenario, Mr Singh’s task of giving the farmer his due is quite clearly cut out. He spoke to us on a range of subjects, including the steps being taken by his pro-farmer Government to increase crop yield, develop superior seeds, clone cattle that can produce more milk, finding effective ways of marketing produce—especially of those millions who are marginalized, and ensure that timely irrigation doesn’t remain a pipe dream for the majority of land holdings. The agriculture portfolio has traditionally been a heavyweight one in Government, and we have put Mr Singh on our cover.
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