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Agricultural Policy

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We know that the labor of South Asians who live by farming is not utilized efficiently. Everyday the agricultural population in the area increases and labor force will rise at an annual rate of 2 or 3 percent.

From a planning point of view, speeding up migration from rural areas to the city slums is anyhow not a desirable means of reducing the underutilization of the agricultural labor force.

There are elements that seem to lighten the attitude for the productive absorption of more labor in agriculture. The chief among these is the fact that yields in South Asian agriculture is really low. Without any innovations and even without any investment other longer and more efficient work, agricultural yields could be raised largely.

Also, applying modern scientific agricultural technology increases yields. But it must be remembered that this modern technology developed in the West and does not always fit to South Asian farming.

We must note certain habits in discussing agricultural policies practiced in all the South Asian countries. For one thing, the underutilization of labor use has never become a main theme in the planning of agricultural reforms. There has been just as much ignore of institutional and attitudinal problems. Instead, there has been an increasing stress on technological reforms.

Generally speaking, the increase recorded in South Asian agricultural production in recent decades has been due more to expansion of the cultivated area than to a rise in yields per acre. So it is generally accepted that increasing the yield per acre should be the most important support of any program aimed at rapid transformation of South Asian farming.

One of the cheapest and most promising ways to increase the area available for effective cultivation would be to lessen the number of farm animals. Uncontrolled pasturing is one of the factors responsible for the low quality and efficiency of South Asia's domesticated animal population. A reduction in the total size of cattle population has also long been suggested. But such a rationalization of farm practices cannot be accomplished without changes in the institutional and attitudinal matrix.

Many planners on expanding South Asian farm production through irrigation have placed great hopes. A constant water supply could permit the growing of more than one crop a year, if the peasants were willing to work that hard. Broadly speaking, the farmers have not been fast to make full use of the facilities offered. A good part of the hold responsible for the failure to utilize these existing opportunities to the full must be placed on the inherited institutional system.

Irrigated crops regularly require large amounts of fertilizer. A clear case can thus be made for an increase in the use of chemical fertilizers. South Asia lags far behind in this also.

The nonexistence of rapid progress suggests that the advance of South Asian agriculture is slow because improvements are technically interdependent. The spread of literacy and education can play a catalytic role in such development.

Because South Asian agriculture is labor-extensive, there is a numerous waste of manpower and a low level of productivity as a result. Among the many inhibitions against improvement is the belief that the new methods of farming will reduce the number of farm jobs. This is not true. One thing practically, all technological reforms have in common is that they require a greater labor input. Also, some types of mechanization will be found necessary to the intensification of agriculture.

Another and more serious difficulty to the spread not only of mechanization but of all the technological improvements of agricultural practices is the cultivator's unwillingness to the embrace innovations that would change their work and life.

After gaining independence, all South Asian governments have attempted some degree of land reform and promised to carry out agrarian reforms. But the amount of land actually redistributed has not been very large. Their intervention has been limited to protective legislation for all or some of the paddy-growing tenants. Moreover, the larger part of the articulate and politically influential strata is against a more thorough land reform.

The reign of the intermediary as a semi-feudal chief has ended. A side result is that power in the villages is passing from the old absentee landlord class and its agents to the upper middle class



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