Interview

‘The Contract farming ordinance is no gamechanger… it will drive adoption to 5%, at best’

The agriculture sector is poorly understood and planned for, so Ajay Jakhar of Bharat Krishak Samaj schools investors 

This May, when finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced reforms in agricultural marketing, headlines announced it as the “1991” moment of agriculture. The current government may or may not have appreciated this compliment, which measured its achievement against one of Congress government’s crowning moments. But what does the targeted population of farmers think about these reforms and the hype around them? Chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj and citrus farmer, Ajay Jakhar talks to Outlook Business editor N Mahalakshmi on the Virtual Expert series of talks, hosted by Asian Markets. Jakhar is unsparing in his criticism, but gives credit where it is due.

Ajay, can you give us an overview of the Indian agriculture sector today? 
Before anything else, I need to clear certain misconceptions that people have about the agriculture sector. First, people should not be under the illusion that farmers can be made self-reliant. They will need to be supported by the government in perpetuity. Second, this is not a food surplus country. We are under this impression because our buffer stocks are overflowing and because we have had good crop for the past two to three years. But, we have one of the lowest per capita consumption of fruit, vegetables and protein in the world, because people do not have purchasing capacity. We do not eat as a prosperous state. Therefore, farmers do not make enough income. Most of them, maybe 85%, have small holdings and they cannot rely only on their produce. Similarly, most of our farming is dependent on rainfall. Therefore, the government has started building these huge buffer stocks, like the Chinese have done. As a country, we have never procured so many pulses as this government has so nicely done. Then there is the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, which is encouraging production in India, which I think is a good approach. 

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