Food security: Sonia's NAC should learn from Modi's Gujarat

If food security is as much about stoking an agricultural revolution as about redistributing available food to the poor, Gujarat is the place to seek answers from.

Gujarat is the one state in India that has consistently outperformed the rest of India in terms of agricultural production - and a large portion of this credit goes to Narendra Modi's long-term vision.

Unlike industry - where Gujarat has always had an edge - agriculture is a freshly-minted success story.

This is not the view of Modi's acolytes or of BJP partisans, but the Planning Commission, which is run by the PM's pal Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

According to a report in Business Standard, a Planning Commission working group set up to suggest booster shots for agriculture during the 12th plan - which starts next April - said that Gujarat and Chhattisgarh were the states to emulate.

 Food security: Sonias NAC should learn from Modis Gujarat

If food security is as much about stoking an agricultural revolution as about redistributing available food to the poor, Gujarat is the place to seek answers from. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

In the period from 1999-00 to 2008-09, Gujarat reported a huge 11.5 percent annual average growth in agriculture (at 1999-00 prices). This dwarfs the national average of 3.5 percent during the five-year period 2007-12 and just 2.2 percent in 2002-07.

Should one credit Modi for this miracle? Apparently, so. For, the real change happened after 2002 - the year after Modi took over. Says the Planning Commission working group: "A closer examination of the data in respect of Gujarat shows that the state made remarkable increase in raising agriculture production after 2002-03."

The Planning Commission isn't the only one impressed with agriculture's progress in Gujarat. Another fan of Modi's achievements is Shankar Acharya, former chief economic adviser to the government of India and honorary professor at Icrier in Delhi.

In an article titled Agriculture: be like Gujarat, Acharya gives six reasons why the state cracked the agricultural jinx.

Remember, Gujarat is not a state blessed with lots of irrigated land. Most of its land is semi-arid, and getting any crop out of it is a big effort.

So what did Modi do right? Six things, principally.

First, he focused on sustained water conservation and management programmes. Gujarat is one of the biggest users of drip irrigation in India today, and built many check dams, small ponds and minor irrigation sources. In 2008, Gujarat had 113,738 check dams and 240,199 little ponds dotting the state.

Second, the state launched a massive and well-coordinated extension effort - telling farmers what to grow, when to grow, how to grow and how to maximise output.

Third, Modi completely overhauled rural power supply. Even though supplies are subsidised, farmers get assured power. This contrasts with other states that offer free power, but irregularly and unpredictably.

Four, says Shankar Acharya, agriculture's allied sectors - like livestock development - were given a boost. This ensured steady and sustainable growth in rural incomes - a prerequisite for comprehensive food security.

Five, Modi also promoted non-food crops and horticulture, Bt cotton, castor, and isabgol. Contrast this with the endless debates we now have about the dangers - or otherwise - GM seeds.

Six, Gujarat made huge investments in infrastructure - especially rural roads, electricity and ports.

A report by IIM professors Ravindra Dholakia and Samar Datta says it all in one paragraph.

"The phenomenon of high agricultural growth in Gujarat is not confined only to Bt cotton but is widely experienced in several sub-sectors, including animal husbandry, milk and egg production, fruit and vegetable production, and high value commercial crops...All this in the last decade or so has been achieved through massive effort on rain water harvesting through check dams, farm ponds, recharging of wells, etc; providing stable electricity for agriculture on a regular basis to all villages; market-oriented reforms; opening of agricultural exports; provision of supportive infrastructure like ports, linking roads, storage, internet and telecom facilities at village level; and, significant effort on agricultural extension by covering a large number of farmers with soil health cards, advice on nutrients, pesticides, crop selection, etc."

The big question: is the Gujarat model replicable? Dholakia and Datta answer with an emphatic yes.

Clearly, there is no short-cut to food security. We do not know whether Gujarat has been as successful in making food available to it poor as it has been in raising rural incomes and agriculture. But it has got at least one part of the food security equation right.

Maybe the National Advisory Council of Sonia Gandhi would be better off taking a train to Gujarat to find out how key elements of food security - an agricultural revolution, among them - can be put in place.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 07:42:01 IST