New Delhi, Oct 18 (IANS) India's agriculture sector is facing a crisis, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday, calling for a paradigm shift in agrarian policy and development.
In a speech covering all aspects of the farm sector, Manmohan Singh identified the many problems confronting farmers and suggested ways and means of overcoming them.
'There is a crisis in agriculture in many parts of our country,' Manmohan Singh told the Agriculture Summit. 'The more I travel to interior areas and meet farmers, I get the feeling that in many parts agriculture is being carried out in adverse conditions.
'The problems may be attributable to a wide range of causes but the end result is that there are large tracts where farmers seem to be in acute distress.'
Manmohan Singh made no mention about the thousands of farmers who have committed suicide due to rising debts but his remarks appeared to be about them.
He admitted that in many areas agriculture was seeing a major transformation for the better, helping farmers to reap the benefits of new technology, additional irrigation, better infrastructure, improved marketing methods and advanced risk management strategies. 'It is this duality that we need to tackle.'
The prime minister said the challenge was to help pull subsistence farmers out of marginal existence and propel advanced farmers onto the global platform.
'I believe the time has come for us to adopt a fundamentally new perspective on rural development and agriculture,' he said.
While a large number of people will continue to migrate from rural to urban areas, and while urbanization will continue apace, the rural economy must retain its people and ensure a remunerative livelihood for farmers, he said.
He said so far the Indian approach to rural development and agriculture had been incremental. 'We have not sought a paradigm shift in agrarian policy and agrarian development.'
Manmohan Singh called for better returns for farmers. 'This may hurt some sections of the middle class to a small extent, but it benefits the farmers who are the backbone of our economy.
'We need a balanced approach where we provide for the food security of the poorest sections without compromising the returns to farmers... Our strategy must be based on improving the real incomes and quality of life of our farmers.
'The challenges in agriculture are many and complex. What we need is a focused, inter-sectoral approach to these challenges, covering all dimensions, so that we can achieve the required growth rates in a short time span.
'We need viable and credible strategies for the more backward of our regions, dryland areas, specific crops and specific categories of farmers.'
He said the government's endeavour would be to bridge public investment and credit deficit, infrastructure deficit, market economy deficit, and knowledge deficit. 'Taken together, they are responsible for the development deficit in the agrarian and rural economy.'
The prime minister referred to the credit front.
'What do farmers need - lower rate of interest or reliable access to credit at reasonable rates? Is our existing institutional framework adequate for meeting the requirements of our farmers who are a diverse l