Right policies, funding can transform agriculture in Odisha

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Right policies, funding can transform agriculture in Odisha

Saturday, 27 November 2021 | ARABINDA KUMAR PADHEE

Agriculture sector in Odisha has shown noticeable performance in recent years. As per SAMRUDHI, the State Agriculture Policy 2020 of the State, “Odisha’s agricultural GDP nearly doubled in real terms, clocking an annual growth rate of about 4.5 percent, higher than the all-India average of 3.1 percent” between 2000-01 and 2016-17. The State’s Economic survey (2019-20) informs that agriculture and allied sectors contributed 19.9% to the State’s GVA (gross value added). The share of agriculture and allied sectors has been fluctuating over time, as we all know, mainly because of natural shocks. The growth in livestock and fisheries sub-sectors has shown upward movements consistently for the last decade.

What could be the policy pathways to transform agriculture in Odisha, while keeping in focus the interests of small and marginal farmers, who account for as high as 92 per cent of the farm holdings? The policy intentions of the State Government broadly address them.

But I wish to suggest the following priorities for consideration.

I. Shifting to more sustainable systems or diversification: To tackle the twin challenges of climate change and malnutrition, diversifying existing cropping systems to more nutritious and environment-friendly crops has often been advocated.

Rice is synonymous with agriculture in Odisha. So, diversification from rice to any other crop, even if scientifically prescribed, is not going to be easy. Research findings have already shown the potential benefits of crop diversification, particularly in those tracts where rice yields are low. It is now time, diversification to crops like pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, suiting to specific agro-ecological regions of Odisha, be planned, and implemented. A range of agroforestry models such as trees on field bunds, inline agroforestry, high density fruit orchards, etc. are available to help diversify existing farming systems and achieve medium to long term sustainability. The State Government may weigh all these options and consider giving incentives to farmers, at least during the transition, for such diversification.

Allied sectors of agriculture like livestock, fisheries, and aquaculture have huge potential to positively impact Odisha’s rural economy, besides contributing to the food and nutrition security. Odisha’s fisheries sector has shown impressive growth in recent years. So, policy support for growth of these sub sectors will be very important.

II. Strengthening value chains: As agribusinesses are important generators of employment and income, improving the efficiency and sustainability of agriculture value chains will benefit large segments of Odisha’s farmers. Since agriculture in the State is dominated by smallholders, aggregating small farms could help reduce transaction costs for accessing value chains. This will also offset scale disadvantages and benefit the farmers to access inputs, technology, and the market.

As far as practicable, the Government should push for establishment of primary processing facilities closer to the farm gates. Digital agriculture tools, in the process, could assist producers to gather market intelligence and provide inputs for better management of the entire value chain. The Government policies to incentivize agri-tech start-ups and the private sector, and to develop logistics to strengthen value chains, must also be put in place. Operationalizing local procurement of cereals, pulses, millets, and other nutritious food items for Government schemes and programmes must be given priority to achieve nutritional outcomes, and at the same time, enhance livelihood opportunities for rural people engaged in the production, primary processing, value addition and supply of these items.

State Government can facilitate enhanced usage of the agriculture infrastructure funds, as committed by the Government of India, which can play a great role in creating and augmenting critical logistical facilities in the value chain. Promotion of FPOs, with initial handholding and capacity building of the producers and stakeholders, as envisaged by the State Government, will also benefit a large section of farmers.

III. Modifying consumer behaviour: For the intended diversification to succeed, healthy and diversified diets need to be incorporated and promoted in the menu of consumers.  Interestingly, there is already an increasing consumer interest on safe and nutritious foods. Post Covid-19 pandemic, this positive trend for healthy foods may further rise.

Initiatives of the State Government through Odisha Millets Mission, establishment of nutrition gardens in schools, Anganwadi centers, and individual households, etc. coupled with effective awareness campaigns and consumer education have the potential to fructify enhanced dietary diversity.

IV: Recognizing role of women and empowering them: The importance on the role of women in agriculture and, on closing the gender gap is often being discussed in policy circles. The Mission Shakti initiative of Odisha is a unique programme in the entire country.

Large numbers of women SHGs and of late, few FPOs, formed under various schemes are actively involved in production as well as primary processing of farm produce like rice, millet, pigeon pea, ginger, turmeric, and a variety of vegetables. However, they are often deprived of access to improved cultivars, production technology, quality seeds, primary processing, and value addition opportunities. Strengthening of backward and forward linkages would be the key when we aim at establishing and promoting commodity-based value chains. Thus, targeted women SHGs and FPOs should be linked with right markets and value addition opportunities. All these activities cumulatively would contribute to increased household income and promotion of rural livelihoods.

V. Legalising Land leasing: This is a sensitive political and economic question. This is in fact the elephant in the room when we discuss reforms in State’s agriculture sector. The numbers for sharecroppers remain indirect in absence of any authoritative statistics, largely due to the concealed tenancy in the State and under-reporting from the tenants/farmers in surveys like NSSO. The NSSO (2012-13) reported 36 per cent tenancy in coastal Odisha with sharecropping as dominant tenancy system. Odisha treats sharecropping as the synonym for tenancy. Interestingly, beneficiaries of KALIA- the income support or cash transfer scheme- include landless sharecroppers, besides small and marginal farmers. Interestingly, leasing in all forms is banned as per Odisha Land Reform Act, 1960. There is also no formal procedure to identify and record the lists of tenants in any revenue law of the State.

A piece of legislation to legalize or formalize the land lease market in Odisha will have significant positive impact on the agricultural production systems.

VI. Investing more in agri research and innovation: Investments in research and innovation will play a key role in transforming Odisha agriculture. This is no secret that the agriculture R and D ecosystem is currently underfunded. Capacity building of scientists of OUAT- the State Agriculture University and relevant officials of the State departments, as well as of lead farmers, should also be a core and integral part of Odisha’s agricultural development strategy. Inter-State, regional, and even international exposure visits and trainings on best practices, new farming technologies and systems need to be prioritized. This would motivate the machinery to take up and implement Government schemes and programmes. Collaboration, partnerships, and complementarity of OUAT, national and international research centers would also be much desirable.

VII. Ensuring inter-sectoral synergy: The silos between relevant departments and stakeholders are often attributed to poor delivery of intended objectives. As we know, agriculture sector cuts across many Departments of the State Government and therefore, their coming together and breaking the silos will ultimately help the farm sector and farmers.

Science-led and evidence-based integrated food systems solutions have the potential to bring inclusive development of agriculture sector in Odisha.

(The writer is Country Director-India, ICRISAT based at New Delhi. This article is an abstract of his keynote address at the 29th Annual Conference of Agricultural Economics Research Association held recently at Bhubaneswar. Views expressed are personal)

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