Published on Fri, Mar 06, 2009 at 22:25 Source : CNBC-TV18

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has another reason to brag during the elections. Not only has he grabbed the Nano plant from West Bengal, he has also stolen Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's thunder in agriculture. CNBC-TV18's Economic Policy Editor Vivian Fernandes reports how India's foremost industrial state is making gains on the farming front.

Here is a verbatim transcript of Vivian Fernandes's comments on CNBC-TV18. Also see the accompanying video.

Whether it is investments or his drives for improved child nutrition, girl child enrolment, hospital deliveries or rural sanitation, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is never short of bragging points. Now, he has more reason for immodesty. Against a national average of 2.8% in a five year period to 2006-07, the latest year for which state-wise data is available, Gujarat has become the fastest growing state agriculturally. It clocked a growth rate of 12.8% after a decline during the previous five years and higher growth during the early 1990s, but a smart bounce nonetheless in view of a severe drought in 2002-03.

Ashok Gulati, Director-in-Asia, The International Food Policy Research Institute, said,"There is a mystery a bit of it but that is also a way that Gujarat can show to the rest of the country that agriculture is not a 2% growth, it can be 12% growth story per annum."

In contrast, West Bengal is the worst performing in agriculture. Farming in the state is in secular decline from 5.3% in the early 1990s to 3.9% during the next five years, and less than half that growth during the latest five year period. Poor farming performance should be a cause of concern for the left front government that parades its land reforms.

"Large number of people are dependent on agriculture and one has to find out what has gone wrong afteroperation burgerwhich was acclaimed so much but no more.," Gulati added.

There are several factors for Gujarat's agricultural performance. Among them water from the Narmada, investments in check dams, widespread cultivation of genetically-modified cotton, a dedicated power grid for the farming sector that assures regular supply during non-peak hours, and rejuvenation of the extension system by Chief Minister Narendra Modi. These factors will be further analysed to find out how much growth can be attributed to each of them.

Another surprise is Bihar whose average agricultural growth has virtually doubled over a 10 year period. Perhaps, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has something to do with it.

The researchers do not have a handle on why West Bengal's agriculture performance is sagging. They will have to study, among other things, why rice yields are stagnating at half the potential in a water-rich state, and why there is inadequate diversification into higher-value fruits, vegetables, livestock, and fishing and dairy .

West Bengal's agricultural decline would have been understandable if industry had picked up the slack. Overall, the state ranks middle among Indian states, but it is a story not of growth but of decline over time.

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