New technologies that would help India’s teeming small and marginal farmers are needed to free rural households from poverty, as shrinking farm holdings that are expected to rise substantially by 2030 are creating very different challenges for the country’s beleaguered sector, the agriculture minister said.
According to the Agriculture Census, the total number of operational holdings in India numbered 138.35 million with an average size of 1.15 hectares. Of those, 85 per cent are in marginal and small farm categories of less than two hectares.
Radha Mohan Singh said in Jabalpur over the weekend that this number would rise to as much as as 91 percent in the next 15 years, giving rise to concerns about sustainability fo small farms.
These small farms, though operating only on 44 per cent of land under cultivation, are the main providers of food and nutritional security to the nation, but have limited access to technology, inputs, credit, capital and markets, he said.
“Even though the small and marginal farmers cultivate 44 percent of the area but their contribution towards national food security is immense. Today we technologies and other infrastructure facilities and financial institutions and markets that will enable to bring the small farmers out of poverty,” Singh said.
While there is a need to focus on sustaining the productivity gains in the irrigated agriculture, the major emphasis should be on the development of rainfed agriculture, promotion of integrated farming, high value agriculture, secondary and specialty agriculture, he said, listing the major challenges before the Indian agriculture as water, climate change, soil degradation, genetic erosion, biotic and abiotic stress, post harvest losses, energy management, market access and market information and uncertainties of agricultural markets.
“Hence far more innovative research on genomics, quality seeds, rain-fed agriculture, farming systems, conservation agriculture, farm mechanization , non conventional energy sources, health foods, fodder and feed coupled with enabling policies and effective delivery of services, supplies and markets are imperative,” he said.
India’s agriculture sector contributes only 18 percent to the economy, but employs 50 percent of the country’s workforce, which means farmer incomes are low and few people want to take to farming.