The New Challenge

Diminishing returns in agriculture and looming food crisis…

Jammu and Kashmir government’s Economic Survey 2013-14, tabled during the ongoing budget session of state Legislative Assembly portrays a dismal picture of states agriculture sector.  The survey reveals a key but weakening aspect of farming sector—the constantly increasing food grain imports. Huge import of 10 lakh metric tons in 2012, double as against 5.03 lakh metric tons in 2002 is alarming and gives a depressing picture of ailing agriculture sector.
This exponential increase in food-grain imports is not a healthy trend for agriculture as the promising age old source of livelihood and sustenance of mankind. Certainly, this sizable increase in import of food grains cannot be read in isolation, manifold increase in population and significant improvement in living standard of people essentially influence the food-grain import scenario but even then the statistics of imports are not in accordance with our huge efforts to revive the farming sector.
Beyond food-grain import theory; the agriculture sector in Jammu And Kashmir State is not growing in line with the national and international trend of growth and recompense, where agriculture production has touched new benchmarks of quality production and economic viability. The reasons are many! But the main bottlenecks in healthy growth of agriculture sector in the Jammu and Kashmir state are misuse (rather abuse) of cultivable land and failure of administration in creating an atmosphere so as to make the sector more remunerative for farming community.

The pages of history reveal agriculture had been the main source of income for the government and almost the only source of livelihood for rural people of this state till the cession of autocratic rule of Dogras in 1947. The economic survey under discussion and the official records also reveal agriculture sector used to contribute more than fifty percent to state’s GDP (gross domestic product) till 1970, whereas now it has gone down to an irrelevant level of nineteen percent. 
The surprising revelations in economic survey about decreasing number of cultivators  from 9.49 lakh in 2001 to 5.66 lakh and overall decrease in area under cultivation is nothing less than a shock for this sector. The reason for decrease in area under cultivation is directly linked to abusive land use. Conversion of grade one irrigated land into residential areas and for industrial purposes has been going on for many decades, but during the last more than three decades the unabated misuse of cultivable land has caused considerable decrease in area under cultivation. Much talked about SLUB (State Land Use Board) established long ago for monitoring proper land use is almost defunct and is a dumping ground for undesired officers. In the absence of proper and stringent land use laws, law enforcing agencies are unable to contain the land abuse carried out undauntedly by powerful land mafia with political patronage. The peripheral areas of Srinagar city once with long stretches of fertile and irrigated cultivable land earlier contributed a lot in meeting the food grain and other agrarian requirements of city dwellers but haphazard horizontal expansion of the city has changed the whole picture.
The declining economic viability (cost benefit ratio) of agriculture has disillusioned most of the farmers. Reasons! Diminishing returns due to increased cost of inputs, farm machinery and labour; lack of timely working capital and above all fluctuating market rates dictated exclusively by the middlemen make the agriculture the least paying occupation. The overall diminishing trend of 1.50 percent in operational holders and 0.041 percent in operated area as mentioned in the data tabled by the survey report is not a good sign and clearly indicates visible trend of indifference towards agribusiness by farming community.
However, at present the positive and optimistic part of our agriculture scenario at administrative level is that authorities have adopted a holistic approach of revival. On-demand credit for working capital in the shape of KCC (Kissan Credit Card); efficient seed replacement policy with thrust on healthy seed and good genetic characteristics; latest farm machinery and scientific technology both for intensive and extensive agriculture procedures are some of the salient features of revival strategy. But yes, the only shortfall that in one way or the other is severely hampering implementation of this strategy is flawed human resource development and management for running and managing such schemes which can be summed up by popular Kashmiri adage, “Kari najar ba dastie gilkaar”.