10 Sept 2017

Farm Productivity is not an End in Itself!

Heard at a recent lecture, the expert recommendation that India should direct greater resources for raising the field level productivity of crops, to alleviate two core concerns: the food security needs of the nation and to improve incomes for farmers. 

As someone who might have believed in these platitudes till a few years ago, I think it is imperative to set some records straight, and offer a more nuanced picture.

While one cannot ignore the 'general sense', it should be understood that productivity in itself is not a 'silver bullet', and except at individual enterprise level, such focus is in many ways contraindicated.

Higher productivity from farms is not a silver bullet. It will cause greater hurt, without delivery systems 
India produces more than enough food to feed herself, and the country can claim to be food secure on the production side. Then, farmers' income growth no longer depends on how much he/she produces, but on the institutional arrangements for marketing, such that they can capture value from every grain, every ounce or every drop produced. Today, when farmers produce a bumper harvest, the prices crash, and when the food prices respond positively to the 'demand curve', the consumer affairs department rushes in to make strategic imports to keep prices 'reasonable' for the consumer. Both situations make a dent in farmers' income.

Increasingly, we output more wheat, rice, pulses including cotton, sugar than we can consume or export, the global inventories are at an all-time high, and commodity prices are down as never before. Yet, nutrition deficit is evident and all food is not affordable to all people, a poor reflection on the output supply chain. Conversely, awareness and demand for nutritional foods; fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy and meats; is fostered by growing affluence. Being perishable, such produce continues to face high losses on route between farms and markets, detracting from availability and feeding inflationary swings. Markets seem inaccessible & disorganised, with real demand not being suitably communicated or connected with.

In truth, efforts to produce more, by ramping up farm level productivity, should be on the basis of the right market signals - either domestic or the global markets, and on the ability to connect with these markets! Essentially, farm level productivity improvement can offer an incremental gain but risks higher losses if the farm output has no enhanced market access. Further, there is need to factor in the ecological dimensions of our production system. Growing more foodgrains in Punjab and Haryana based on the current strategy of drawing more groundwater and applying more fertilizers will be an ecological nightmare, and an eventual economic blunder.

So where should future interventions be focused? In the first instance, we must ensure that production 'losses' are minimised. Focus on minimising losses will lead to improved logistics infrastructure and better inventory management at all levels - and this will create 'near farm jobs'. We must also remember that we lose not just the final commodity (say rice) but also everything that has gone into its production, viz water, fertilizer, human effort, power and diesel.
Productivity assessments need to be applied system wide and not in isolation!
Second, we must focus on real demand from consumers and promote the production of what the markets demand. This means high value agriculture, and particularly the fruits and vegetable sector which benefits both needs of national nutrition and farmer's income. However, this means specialised post-production handling with associated market linkages. Market linkages will also benefit in increasing trade, including globally, in the surpluses in other crops types.

Over the next decade, the focus should be on 'agri-logistics infrastructure', preferably in the PPP mode or by the private sector so that a sustainable revenue model can be applied. However the priority regions for this investment should be driven by the 'end-user-demand', rather than the 'supply points'. Investments need to be planned backwards from fork-to-farm, such that they direct a targeted flow of produce from far-to-fork. There is also need to invest in agri-logistics infrastructure closer to the ports so that in the case of export opportunities, precious time is not lost in intra country movement of commodities.

If agri infrastructure is important for cereals, it is critical for the perishables sector – especially in trade of fruits and vegetables, where losses are at least 50% higher due to their shorter saleable life. This subject immediately draws attention to available cold storage capacity. Contrary to common perception, the gap between the cold storage requirement in India and the capacity already created in the country is not that large. What is most worrying, is the shortfall in the other infrastructure items that are integral to cold chain. The country is wide off mark, in the requirement and availability of pack-houses at village level and cold-chain transport modes. This results in a debilitating hiatus, in cold-chain handling, between point of harvest and storage at consumption end. As frequently pointed out by myself when heading the National Centre for Cold-chain Development (NCCD), these pack-houses are the first stage interventions for extending the holding life of most perishable commodity, and for the subsequent productive use of cold-chain as a market link.

These village located pack-houses are not equally capital intensive, as cold stores, and can be designed and constructed locally. Attached to these would be almost an equal number of reefer vehicles to complete the farm-to-market logistics connectivity. Such integrated logistics networks will empower access to more markets, improve food supply systems and provide the appropriate commercial motivation to produce more. The establishment of a network of these pack houses can actually set in motion a 'virtuous cycle': there will be a manifold increase in near farm jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities in the tertiary sector. The consequence of cross-regional market connection through cold-chain, would be inherent impetus in farm-level productivity, to produce more efficiently for optimising on their earnings.

In this context, the National Agriculture Market, can play a stellar role. When price discovery and marketing opportunities have a pan India dimension, it will have an even greater impact on farmer's incomes. The Internet and the mobile have opened several new options - at least information on demand, quality and associated price can be made available on tap, and virtually free. The market signals from across the country just need to be met with matching agri-logistics.
Productivity must follow demand, if it is to be meaningful for farmers and country!
Before closing, it is reiterated that while productivity gains cannot be placed on the back-burner, they must be applied holistically, in context of physical market connectivity.


  1. Anonymous14:10

    It's actually a nice and helpful piece of information. I am happy that you just shared this
    helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Anonymous10:12

    Hello! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers
    and starting a new project in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You
    have done a extraordinary job!

  3. Anonymous15:29

    Ι қnoԝ this website pгesents quality depending posts and extra
    material, іs there any other web site ѡhich offеrs theѕe іnformation іn quality?

  4. Anonymous14:34

    Howdy! I just want to give you a big thumbs up for the excellent information you have got right here on this post.
    I will be returning to your website for more soon.

  5. Anonymous10:49

    You are so awesome! I don't think I've read through a single thing like this before.

    So great to find somebody with original thoughts on this issue.
    Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up.
    This site is something that is needed on the web, someone with a bit
    of originality!

  6. Anonymous05:26

    When someone writes an paragraph he/she retains the plan of
    a user in his/her mind that how a user can understand
    it. So that's why this paragraph is outstdanding.


  7. Anonymous12:18

    Good way of describing, and good article to take facts concerning my presentation subject matter, which
    i am going to deliver in school.

  8. Anonymous13:22

    Great delivery. Solid arguments. Keep up the great work.

  9. Anonymous13:24

    I enjoy your writing style, good information, many thanks for posting.

  10. Anonymous04:50

    whoah this blog is great i like reading your articles.

    Keep up the good work! You realize, a lot of people are hunting around for
    this info, you could aid them greatly.

  11. Anonymous18:16

    This is my first time visit at here and i am genuinely happy to read
    all at one place.

  12. Anonymous09:08

    Heya just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the images aren't loading properly.
    I'm not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I've tried it
    in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

  13. Anonymous02:10

    Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. Nevertheless just imagine if you added
    some great photos or videos to give your posts more, "pop"!
    Your content is excellent but with pics and videos,
    this site could definitely be one of the greatest in its field.
    Wonderful blog!

  14. Anonymous21:04

    I think this is one of the most vital info for me.

    And i am glad reading your article. But want to remark on some general things, The web site style is ideal, the
    articles is really excellent : D. Good job, cheers

  15. Anonymous03:41

    Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I'm impressed!

    Extremely useful information specifically the last part :
    ) I care for such info much. I was looking for this certain info for a long time.

    Thank you and good luck.

  16. Anonymous02:37

    Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your website?
    My blog is in the very same niche as yours and my visitors would truly benefit from some
    of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this alright with
    you. Appreciate it!

  17. Anonymous03:20

    Hi, of course this article is truly pleasant
    and I have learned lot of things from it regarding blogging.

  18. Anonymous05:43

    It's awesome to pay a visit this web page and reading the
    views of all colleagues on the topic of this post, while I am also
    zealous of getting experience.

  19. Anonymous03:51

    A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I think that you should publish more on this topic, it may not be a taboo subject
    but typically people don't discuss such topics. To the next!


Contribute through suggestions and comments