Farmers leave field, rice may soon disappear from your plate

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New Delhi, May 1: With normal rice at Rs 50 kg and agricultural output at a very low 3 percent, the Census figures on the decline of cultivators is scary. It is scary because rice is above Rs 50, cereals, pulses touching Rs 100 kg and vegetables are upwards from Rs 40 kg.

Even though, in the past decade,consumption of food items has moved more towards high-value ones such as fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and fish, the ratio of cereals and pulses is still over 50 percent .

Hence, the Census data released yesterday showing that while the proportion of cultivators to the total workforce has been falling steadily, this is the first time since 1971 that the number of cultivators has fallen in absolute terms is a cause for concern.

The data clearly indicates that there are now nearly 9 million fewer farmers than there were in 2001. For the first time in four decades the absolute number of cultivators has fallen. Over the last 50 years, the proportion of farmers to the total population has been in steady decline, but the fall has not been big enough for the absolute number to go down. However, the current numbers point to alarming decline in farm sector despite encouraging policies and subsidies.

It has been emphasized often that India will have to boost its annual food-grain output by 20 million to 25 million metric tons from the current level by 2016-17 to feed its growing population and to meet the requirement of a proposed food security programme.

Expressing concern over falling output, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had urged the nation to strive towards an agricultural growth of 4 per cent per annum or even higher in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). The 4 per cent target had, however, also been set for the 11th Plan period and had been vastly under-realized. The 4 percent curse has been tagged to Indian agri sector since the 9th Plan (1997).

Meanwhile, a study, jointly prepared by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and consultants McKinsey & Company says that India has the potential to increase its value of agricultural output by 130 per cent (at farmgate prices), from Rs 12.7 lakh crore in 2011 to Rs 29.3 lakh crore in 2030, if it follows a 12-point plan to improve yields across all crops, augmenting processing capability and strengthening the quality of farm produce.

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