Drawing attention to the crisis in agriculture in many parts of the country, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday urged Directors of District Rural Development Agencies to draw up "district agriculture plan" setting out clear goals and dove-tailing all programmes into a larger goal of improving agricultural incomes.
Addressing the annual conference of District Rural Development Agencies, he said even now agriculture sustains over 70% of our rural population. Government schemes can only act either as social safety nets or as inputs to better agriculture, he added.
"Till we focus on the larger goal of improving the economics of agriculture itself, we cannot alleviate rural distress. As young officers directly involved in work at the grassroots, I want you to focus on this task," he added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "Our next big growth story could be rural India. There is a conjuncture of circumstances, including the high growth rate of our economy, which holds great potential for rural India. We must bridge the developmental gap between urban and rural areas."
He said the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) opens up the opportunity to improve agricultural productivity in dry land areas.
"It is heartening that the dry land states have used NREGA funds to the maximum. Improvement of small farms through construction of wells, field bunds, land levelling, etc can increase productive capacity of dry lands especially at a time when the production from well endowed areas is plateauing," he said.
Calling NREGA as a programme for societal transformation, he said, it needs effective watchdogs from society and NGOs and citizens' groups should use instruments like the Right to Information Act to increase accountability and transparency under the NREGA, he said.
Stating that National Rural Employment Guarantee programme's strength is that it provides an effective safety net to the poorest, he said, nearly 88 lakh people are working in over 2,42,000 development works.
As over 1,58,000 works are in the area of water conservation, he said, it is a huge opportunity opened by NREGA to create community level water security, if this pace is kept up, he added.
He also suggested development of maps of human resources and skills in each district and district-level Rural Employment Reports on an annual basis as a public document.
He said there was need to strengthen the planning system at the district level and commit greater professional resources at the district level.