Hyderabad : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday began state reviews of the agriculture sector, that plays a crucial role in the national economy, with a visit to Andhra Pradesh where the largest number of farmers' suicides have taken place in recent years.
He will visit a few other states in the coming days.
"Agriculture is a national priority and we need to work hard to ensure that this sector grows in tandem with the rest of the economy," Singh told a meeting held to review the performance of the state in various sectors, especially agriculture and industry.
"I am visiting the states to see that our intentions to revitalise agriculture turn into reality," he said while pointing that the recent meeting of national development council on agriculture announced major schemes for the sector.
Accompanied by union Agriculture Minister Sahard Pawar, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the prime minister reviewed the performance of agriculture in the state with Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, his cabinet colleagues and top officials.
After the session on a review of agriculture, Pawar told newsmen that this was the first in a series of state visits to be undertaken by the prime minister to review agriculture. "Next week he will visit Karnataka followed by visits to Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar," he said.
Pawar said his ministry was in the final stage of formulating a National Food Security Mission and a new Additional Central Assistance (ACA) scheme for agricultural development.
He noted that during the last few years the momentum of the growth of agriculture sector seemed to have dissipated. Pawar pointed out that the growth rate of food grain production had come down from two percent in the 1970s and 1980s to about one percent during 1995-96 to 2006-07.
"This aspect needs to be addressed since the country will need about 25 million tonnes of additional food grains to meet its demand by the end of the 11th five year plan. This calls for intensifying our efforts to rejuvenate the agriculture sector," he said.
He said a national food security mission would be launched with the objective of enhancement of production of rice by 10 million tonnes, wheat by 8 million tonnes and pulses by 2 million tonnes by the end of the 11th plan. The overall outlay for this mission would be Rs.50 billion.
"In order to promote states to allocate more resources for agriculture and allied sectors, the new ACA scheme has been devised with an outlay of Rs.25,000 crore (Rs.250 billion) for (the) 11th plan to enhance public investment in agriculture and allied sectors," Pawar said in his speech.
He said the state governments needed to prepare district and state agriculture plans to get benefit under the new scheme. The union minister said rice and pulses components of the food security mission would be launched in 11 and 14 districts of Andhra Pradesh respectively.
Pawar also underlined the need for a conducive and supportive environment for ensuring a vibrant and responsive rural financial system that supported total financial inclusion. He pointed out that only 26 percent of the farmers have access to institutional credit, despite introduction of man credit related schemes.
The prime minister complimented the state government for giving priority to agriculture and irrigation but voiced his concern over stagnation in agricultural growth in the last decade and large inter-regional gaps.
The meeting decided to achieve four percent annual growth in the agriculture sector in Andhra Pradesh. It also decided to launch food security mission to achieve additional production of three million tonnes of rice, 350,000 tonnes of pulses and 500,000 tonnes of oilseeds.
The leaders also resolved to achieve additional milk production of 3.2 million tonnes, meat production of 300,000 tonnes and egg production of 5 billion and inland fish production of 1.6 million tonnes in the livestock and fisheries sector during the 11th plan.