Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Emulating Gujarat in rural and farm development
    Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, August 17, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

Long ago, inspired by Gujarat’s success in rural and farm development, Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot in his earlier regime, vowed to take Rajasthan forward in the same way. Some progress has been achieved from then until now but there is a big unfinished agenda. We are now faced with another drought and thus attention needs to be paid to planning for future.

Replicating success stories has been often touted but seldom practiced – more so if the issue is not in the glare of public and media. Not only Rajasthan but other States in India would do well to look at Gujarat and take inspiration from the quiet but significant strides it has made in agriculture. On the other hand, Punjab, which was known as a front ranking agricultural state, has been left behind well below the national average and is languishing at 13th position among 19 states reviewed by a study conducted by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Like Gujarat, many other states including Rajasthan have a big rural population often faced by recurrent droughts but also large chunks of land classified as arid or semi arid, limited canal network, a high percentage of irrigation from groundwater, whose extraction often exceeds natural recharge. Thanks to investment in agricultural infrastructure mainly irrigation, rural road network, infusion of new technologies and power reforms, Gujarat registered 9.6 percent growth n in farm production, followed by Rajasthan at 8.9 percent, according to the report

Gujarat has tackled the issue of ground water in association with grassroot organisations by adopting decentralised water harvesting by constructing check dams, village tanks and bori bunds (built with gunny sacks stuffed with mud). 10,700 such dams were built in the ten year period ending 2000 which helped drought proof 32,000 hectares. The state worked with NGOs and companies to bring in suitable technology to the farmers. It has also restructured the Agriculture University into four, which has helped strengthen research and development. Such initiatives are lacking elsewhere. Further, effective use of drip irrigation to conserve water in semi arid zones by fast tracking and simplifying procedures has paid rich dividends in Gujarat whereas success stories in other states are few and far in between. This could be extended to cover larger areas.

Rajasthan sadly lacks in rural road infrastructure as compared to Gujarat. It has one of the best rural road networks in India with 98.7 percent of the villages connected by pucca roads. In Rajasthan the percentage is only 66.8. Research has shown that availability of rural roads attracts not only investment for agriculture, but improves the mobility of people hugely thus helping them in getting jobs, attending to their healthcare needs etc.

Private seed companies could be encouraged to bring in new technologies for crops such as bajra and sarson. They could also be used for food retail chains sourcing produce directly from farmers. The concept of contract farming has not been formally approved in Rajasthan whereas Gujarat has made strides in reforming the agriculture marketing law.

While many of the above may have been experimented with in other states but there is one factor that probably exemplifies the fine line between major successes and otherwise. That is of replication of such projects in a small but intensive way as against larger projects that hold promise of bigger returns. The strides made by Gujarat probably lie in its choice of smaller but larger number of projects to start with.

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