There is a new mood of resurgence on Gujarat’s farms. Farm incomes have more than doubled during the past 10 years, and are likely to grow even more in the coming years. Gujarat’s agriculture is expected to grow by at least 9% year-on-year in the coming years, compared with just 2-2.5% for the rest of the country.
For the first time in India’s history, even farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been flocking to Gujarat just to see what makes the state’s farms so vibrant. Some have even begun purchasing land in Gujarat to grow crops in that state.
The roots of the agricultural revolution in the state lay in 2002-03 when Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s controversial chief minister, decided to revamp the supply of electricity to farms and to industry. Plagued by mounting power losses (caused by lines tripping and also by theft), Modi decided to supply quality power to the farms for at least four hours without any interruption — but only at night. He sold the idea to farmers thus: accessing power at night would allow them to run their pumps on three-phase electricity, thus saving them the cost of diesel-powered pumps.
This single move allowed him to authorise the switching off of power supplies to farms during the day when industry, too, could get quality power without frequent breakdowns. Moreover, since most electric pumps would work only for a limited number of hours, it saved on precious groundwater too.
The next was to allow for farmers to integrate with consumers. So in 2003-04, Modi introduced laws permitting contract farming. This helped farmers sell their produce to large purchasers at least a year in advance and also facilitated industry clients to invest in farmers on a long-term basis.
To galvanise the farming community, he began in 2005 an annual month-long event called Krishi Mahotsav (farm festival), where all government officers, vendors (of seeds, micro-irrigation — MI — equipment, fertilisers and pesticides) and even agricultural researchers and professors are required to visit each of the identified 18,600 villages.
This is when farmers meet large consumers, create marketing linkages and even consult agronomists and government officials. Modi monitors complaints from farmers personally, keeping all concerned on their toes, and creating the groundswell — a critical prerequisite for any mass movement.
He then proceeded to set up the Gujarat Green Revolution Company (GGRC) — the pivot around which Gujarat’s future agricultural growth will depend. GGRC focuses on MI. One of its moves was to extend subsidies on MI to all farmers instead of restricting it only to small farmers. The reason: big farmers are the first to experiment with new ideas. Most small farmers follow.
The GGRC masterstroke was to make the subsidy available only to vendors who could offer ongoing extension services in terms of advice on plant nutrition and protection from qualified agronomists. This move affected MI suppliers. One firm, the largest player in the country, saw its market share in Gujarat plummet from 80 per cent to 20 per cent, while an Israeli firm saw its market share rise from around 10 per cent to 60 per cent. The latter’s agronomists are more in demand than researchers from Gujarat’s farm universities.
The shift to MI is critical. Less than 37 per cent of Gujarat’s 95 lakh hectares of cultivable land is under irrigation (canal or tubewell). The rest is rain-fed. When rains fail, so does agriculture. Yet tubewells, which irrigate almost 18 lakh hectares, deplete groundwater reserves. To control this, Modi ordered the construction of check dams so that water from streams and ponds stays impounded and doesn’t flow into drains and the sea. Over the last eight years, almost two lakh check dams have been built which, in turn, have allowed groundwater levels to soar.
But even this water may not be adequate to meet Gujarat’s needs. That is why Modi has been pushing for increasing the height of the Narmada dam and for MI. MI saves on water as it allows for higher productivity using much less water and fertiliser. For example, in cotton, if rainfed land can yield 0.3-0.4 tonnes an acre, canal/tubewell irrigation can yield 0.8-1.5 tonnes. But introduce micro-irrigation (which combines drip irrigation with feeding fertiliser and pesticides directly to plant roots) and yields can rise to 2-2.5 tonnes — a near three-fold increase over regular irrigation. Besides, farmers save on water, fertiliser and pesticides, too. Similar is the case with wheat, sugarcane, potato and green chillies.
In the past five years, almost 1 per cent of the irrigated land has come under MI. Each one has a success story to tell — with yields doubling, often more. The demonstration effect of these farms is beginning to catch on with other farmers, and the conversion rate is accelerating. But Gujarat’s success story is far from over.