Development of agriculture is critically important for ensuring food and nutritional security for the hundreds of millions of people that still live below the poverty line, for raising rural incomes and generating employment opportunities, and for stimulating industrialization and overall economic development of the country. Raising the productivity of irrigated and rain-fed agriculture, combined with rainwater harvesting and water conservation techniques and assured access to remunerative markets for agricultural produce through linkages with agro-industries can dramatically raise rural incomes, generate millions of on-farm and non-farm employment opportunities, eradicate poverty and usher in a prosperity movement throughout rural India.
In 1991 the International Commission on Peace & Food (ICPF) conducted a country study of employment potentials in India. The study found that India would need to create an average of 10 million jobs a year for the next 10 years in order to provide employment opportunities to all job seekers and also to the approximately 35 million unemployed at that time. The Commission drew up a strategy entitled |Prosperity 2000 which included practical and specific measures designed to generate 100 million additional employment opportunities within 10 years.
The thrust of the Prosperity 2000 strategy was to directly utilize agriculture as an engine to raise on-farm incomes and purchasing power, generate additional on-farm employment opportunities, and stimulate rural industrialization and services. These would in turn increase demand for agricultural products, manufactured goods and services throughout the economy, creating a multiplier effect that generates jobs in other sectors. The specific focus on the strategy was on raising on-farm productivity and fostering closer linkages with industry and markets through innovative approaches to the organization of the rural economy. The strategy was based on the perception that due to the relatively low level of nutrition in the Indian diet, rising income levels would result in a dramatic increase in demand for fruits, vegetables, sugar, dairy products, fish, meat and cotton textiles. The strategy sought to leverage this latent demand to spur job creation and higher rural incomes which would in turn act as a stimulus on other sectors of the economy.
The strategy was presented to the Prime Minister, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao, in December 1991, examined by the Planning Commission and related government departments, and formally adopted by the Government of India as official strategy within three months from its initial presentation. Manmohan Singh, then Finance Minister, now Prime Minister of India, included funding for the program in the 1992 Budget. A specialized agency, the Small Farmers' Agri-Business Consortium, was also established by the Government to implement the strategy.
Two subsequent studies were conducted that confirmed the feasibility of this strategy at the local level: a study of Pune District by the Agricultural Finance Corporation for the Government of Maharasthra and a study of Pondicherry by the Mother's Service Society.
The original purpose of the study had been to demonstrate a theoretical and practical potential. It had not been seriously envisioned that the Government would adopt the strategy for implementation. In fact, in formulating the strategy the Commission had stipulated that government could only effectively play a catalytic role and recommended the establishment of autonomous agencies with strong private sector participation to preside over implementation. In actuality, after a delay of two years in working out bureaucratic modalities, the government attempted to implement it through normal department channels. Shortly afterwards, a new government came to power and the program was dropped for political reasons. In spite of this fact, employment did record a significant surge in the following years and to approximately double the level prevalent in 1991.
In the national parliamentary elections conducted in the Spring of 2004, the issue of employment was raised to the top of the agenda and the winning coalition led by the Indian National Congress (I) Party was elected on a platform the included a commitment to introduce legislation to guarantee a minimum level of employment to all job seekers in the country. It is noteworthy that the goal of creating 10 million jobs a year was revived at this time. In the summer of 2004, the Commission conducted a review of the original strategy. It found that some of the potentials it had identified have been partially exploited, such as the dramatic increase in production of fruits and vegetables, export of grapes and mangoes from Maharashtra to Western Europe, the rise in production and per capita consumption of sugar, and grow of inland aquaculture. The original report examined the current levels of food consumption and dietary nutrition among the Indian population-at-large and projected growth in demand that would result from the gradual rise in living standards for fruits, vegetables, sugar and dairy products. The actually rise in demand for fruits and vegetables has nearly matched ICPF's projection. In retrospect, ICPF found that the technological and market potentials identified in the original study remained valid 13 years later. The scope for improving farm productivity, the potential for improving linkages with processing industries, and the scope for dietary enhancement remain as great as before. However, the organizational mechanisms required to fully tap these potentials needed to be re-examined in the light of the changing role of government and private agencies in the development process. In addition, the Commission found need to take into account changing external conditions that open up new opportunities and present new challenges, especially the rise in international energy prices and the increasing opportunities for textile exports after the removal of quotas in January 2005.
In retrospects, the Commission drew the following lessons and conclusions from the India study:
At the request of the National Farmer's Commission, ICPF revised and updated the strategy in the light of developments that had occurred since the original study, lessons learned and new emerging opportunities. The revised strategy was submitted to the Government of India in December 2004 and portions of it have been incorporated in | official policy.
The revised strategy retained many of the elements of the original program though the approach for implementation changed significantly. The new program also included number of significant new elements. Most notable among the new feature was the emphasis on production of energy crops to meet India's surging demand for fuel and power which were projected to triple between 2000 and 2020. The study pointed out producing energy from biomass, bio-fuels and ethanol provided multiple benefits. It would reduce dependence on energy imports. It would distribute the benefits of energy expenditure to the rural population rather than to foreign energy producers. It would act as a substantial stimulus for the development of efficient, low cost decentralized power plants and other agro-based industries. It would generate enormous employment potential in rural areas.
The major findings and recommendations can be summarized as follows: