An analysis of the data for the last one decade, from 2003-04 to 2012-13, suggests that Gujarat agricultural growth remains highly volatile, despite efforts by a group of economists to suggest the trend has been reversed.
Ever since their paper in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW, December 29, 2009), “Secret of Gujarat’s Agrarian Miracle after 2000”, which a group of scholars, Tushaar Shah, Ashok Gulati, Hemant P, Ganga Shreedhar, R C Jain wrote to “prove” how annual growth rates of nearly all major crops significantly accelerated after 2000 compared to before, Gujarat agriculture is being projected as a “model” for other states to follow. The scholars said in the paper, as for wheat and pulses, the growth rate “nearly doubled, and, in cotton, it jumped over 3.5 times”, insisting, “The coefficient of variation for all crops and crop groups has been lower in the period after 2000 than before”.
Much water has flown down the Narmada river, which claims to have provided irrigation facilities to large parts of Gujarat, ever since the well-researched paper was penned. Ever since, there have been scholars who have continued to praise Gujarat’s growth model over the last decade. These include Prof Ravindra Dholakia of the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, and Prof Bibek Debroy of the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi. There was another group of scholars – M. Dinesh Kumar, A. Narayanamoorthy, OP Singh, MVK Sivamohan, Manoj Sharma and Nitin Bassi — from the Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, Hyderabad who in their still unpublished but widely circulated paper, “Gujarat’s Agricultural Growth Story: Exploding Some Myths” argued how wrong scholars could go when they take a bad agricultural year as base to prove a high rate of growth.
The Hyderabad institute scholars say, the ‘growth’ observed after 2002 is “nothing but a good recovery from a major dip in production occurred during the drought years of 1999 and 2000”, adding, “Criticality of rainfall for Gujarat to sustain its agriculture production has even gone up as compared to the pre-green revolution period.” Whatever increase has taken place in 2000s is because of several years of good rainfall, which “remarkably improved groundwater recharge, increased the storage in surface reservoirs throughout the state, and improved soil moisture conditions.”
They particularly point towards how “reduced pressure on aquifers for irrigation due to availability of water from surface reservoirs”, especially the Narmada canal in South, Central and some parts of North Gujarat “reduced irrigation water requirement for crops due to improved soil moisture regime”. All of it together helped increase the replenishment of groundwater recharge, and made a “positive impact on groundwater balance, making more water available for subsequent years.”
It is against this backdrop that they warn, “Agriculture has become highly vulnerable to the occurrence of meteorological droughts”. The warning now proving to correct three years after they wrote the paper, following drought-like situation in 2012-13, whose advanced estimates, made available by Gujarat’s agricultural department, suggest that for all major crops there was a sharp drop in agricultural output.
Scanning through the figures, one finds that Gujarat suffered a setback both in the total area brought under cultivation and also production. The area brought under paddy cultivation came down by 15.90 per cent and paddy production went down by 16.03 per cent. Respective figures for wheat are 22.28 per cent and 23.01 per cent, jowar 29.03 per cent and 17.14 per cent, bajra by 28.52 per cent and 33.56 per cent, groundnut by 23.25 per cent and 72.10 per cent, and cotton by 16.25 and 16.34 per cent.
These figures should come as a shocker to the writers of the EPW paper, who had tried to find several “stabilising influences” which allegedly helped increase agricultural output between 2000 and 2009. In their view, it was Gujarat government’s “unconventional initiatives in managing the groundwater economy”, initiated in late 1980s and accelerated under the BJP governments under Keshubhai Patel as well as Narendra Modi. “The scheme performed best in Saurashtra and Kachchh regions”, they say, adding, the places where large number of checkdams were set up helped improve groundwater, Saurashtra-Kutch and North Gujarat, output her hectare increased by 43.6 per cent and 35.5 per cent, respectively. This was against an output increase of around 30 per cent in South and Central Gujarat, where Narmada waters are available for cultivation.
The argument was later stretched by Prof Dholakia in a working paper to point towards how volatility in Gujarat agriculture, resulting from excessive dependence on rains, considerably went down during the last decade compared to earlier decades. In fact, he suggested, volatility in Gujarat agriculture has lately come down so much that it has become less than the all-India average, and a major reason has been that the farmer has been getting a better price for his agricultural produce (click HERE). The high growth trajectory, which these scholars say they have witnessed vis-à-vis Gujarat – around 10 per cent on an average – took place at a time when there was enough rainfall, on one hand, and incomplete Narmada canal network began being used by farmers by pumping out waters straight from the canal, on the other.
However, a calculation of figures suggests that over the last one decade, between 2003-04 and 2012-13, suggest that the growth rate of Gujarat agricultural production is not without huge volatility.
Crop-wise figures show that that for the five years between 2003-4 and 2007-08, oil seeds agricultural production grew on an average by 11.56 per cent per annum, but slipped into minus (– 2.71 per cent) in the next five years (2008-09 to 2012-13). For cotton, the average production per annum increased by 19.09 per cent between 2003-04 and 2007-08, but dropped to a mere 2.45 per cent in the subsequent five years – 2008-09 to 2012-13. And for food grains, the average production per annum increased by 6.29 per cent between 2003-04 and 2007-08, but went down in the following half decade, 2008-09 to 2012-13, by 3.27 per cent. While the year 2012-13 was the worst, volatility, as the adjoining charts would illustrate, was there during the entire decade (2003-04 to 2012-13).
Even the per annum decade from 2003-04 to 2012-13 was quite low, much lower than what scholars arguing in favour of Gujarat “model” of agricultural growth have suggested. Thus, the decadal average for oil seeds production was 3.63 per cent, for cotton 9.85 per cent, and for food grains 2.45 per cent. Economists have given two major reasons for this type of low growth: The first argument is that this could be because of the failure of the incomplete Narmada network to reach up to the tail-ender farmers, thus keeping the small farmers out of the irrigation frame (Prof YK Alagh). The second one is that a slowdown in exports, which was one of the key reasons which encouraged rich Gujarat agriculturists to produce more and better variety cotton and other crops (Prof Indira Hirway).