In India the agriculture sector accounts for about 18.0% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs 52% of the total workforce. There is a continuous steady decline in its contribution towards the GDP.
A national sample survey, conducted recently, showed that 40 percent of the farmers want to opt out of their current profession (59th Round of NSSO). GDP per agricultural worker is currently around Rs. 2000 per month, which is only about 75% higher in real terms than in 1950 compared to a four-fold increase in overall real per capita GDP. The majority of farmers are economically worse off than the lowest-paid government employee. The average monthly income per household from cultivation has been reported as Rs.1, 578 for small farmers and Rs.8, 321 for the big farmers as against the minimum salary of Rs.10, 000 a month to the lowest-paid government employee (Business Standard, 2008).
The grim situation is reflected in the quote by an eminent agriculture scientist and the Chairman, National Commission on Farmers- Dr. M.S. Swaminathan “The farming sector is fast heading for total collapse if no rapid remedial measures are taken”.
The strategy delineated in the XIth Plan to accelerate agricultural growth to 4% per annum in the Plan includes action in the following broad areas of bringing technology to the farmers; improving efficiency of investments, increasing systems support, and rationalising subsidies; diversifying, while also protecting food security concerns, and fostering inclusiveness through a group approach by which the poor will get better access to land, credit, and skills.
Enhancing the economic value of time and labour of landless workforce by bringing about paradigm shift from unskilled to skilled work is one of the important challenges as per the Chairman, National Commission on Farmers (Swaminathan, 2005).
Skill Development in Agriculture
The concept of Human Resource Development (HRD) in agriculture sector remained a far cry for a considerable period, compared with industrial and service sector. Its weak human capital base and lopsided growth corroborates it i.e. – education is least among agricultural labourers; half of those engaged in agriculture are illiterate; proportion of educated workers (secondary and higher levels) in profession is quite low (just 5% have completed Higher Secondary); only 5-6% of the total graduates are catering to the agriculture system and ratio of para-professionals to professionals is quite low. The system does not exists for preparing middle level human resource i.e. technicians/ supervisors/ entrepreneurs. Even families operating farms now suffer from much smaller holdings and farming members in such families are twice as likely to be illiterate as non-farming members. Ensuring food security and farmer welfare thus require support systems to extend technology and scale benefits in a sustainable manner to a huge existing workforce in agriculture that lacks non-farm skills.
Vocational Education and skill development Programmes
The Vocational Education and Training (VET) concept beginning from “Nai Talim” has been advocated in all the policy formulations, yet the output in terms of productive human resource is marginal. Thirty