December 20, 2023


Can Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s agricultural success be a model for India?

One of the surprises of the recent round of assembly election results was the BJP’s victory in Madhya Pradesh. The party seemingly defied the odds to come out on top. Beating some pre-poll predictions, the party put forward a manifesto in competition with Congress.

In the aftermath of the results and the analysis, much of the praise went to former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his ‘agricultural revolution’. Farm and agriculture issues dominated the discussion during the campaign for the state. How much can Chouhan’s policies be replicated? Was it really that revolutionary?


Madhya Pradesh wasn’t always known for its agriculture sector and certainly not for performing well. In 2014-15, the state recorded a 20% growth in food production. Only a decade prior, it was -4.7%. It went on to become the second-largest producer of wheat in the country. This was even more impressive since agricultural output nationally was 1.1% in 2014-15.

When Chouhan came to power, the issue seemed personal to him. He often visited his farm in the Vidisha district, about 60 km from Bhopal, to oversee his pomegranate plantation. He counted himself as one of the nearly 10 million farmers in the state. He spoke at public meetings and propagated the adoption of progressive agricultural practices. Now, some estimates put about 70% of the state’s population engaged in agriculture.

While soybean cultivation helped usher in mechanisation and rural prosperity since the 1980s, by 2005, it was a different story. Returns plummeted, and farmers were looking for something else. Basmati paddy was their saviour and turned out to be successful. The state government’s initiatives on irrigation facilities and restructuring the water sector with help from the World Bank helped.

As the years went by, the state continued to perform well in the agricultural sector. Last year, the state partnered with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to leverage public, private, and philanthropic partnerships to implement innovative technologies for food and agriculture. The Agriculture Infrastructure Fund helped streamline private investment. Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of sanctioned proposals under this scheme, with 3,609.

Agriculture continues to be an economic talking point because, in 2020-21, it engaged 46.5% of the workforce. Among the so-called BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) states, Madhya Pradesh clocked in a GDP growth of 7.3%, the highest. Keep in mind, given the period we’re talking about, both the UPA and NDA governments were at the Centre.

In the run-up to voting last month, manifestos from the BJP and Congress put agriculture and farmer issues at the forefront. The second point in the BJP manifesto was the Minimum Support Price (MSP). The Congress promised the same. The Congress announced an MSP of ₹2,600 per quintal for wheat and ₹2,500 per quintal for paddy. The BJP promised ₹2,700 per quintal for wheat and ₹3,100 for paddy.

Given how important the agriculture sector was and is to the state and Chouhan’s involvement, can his and the state’s model be replicated across the country?

VIEW: Learn from the best

In many aspects, Chouhan’s largely unbroken tenure as Chief Minister and the state’s agricultural performance are inextricably linked. The numbers illustrate the success story. Looking at the past decade, the state’s farm sector registered a 6.1% average annual growth rate. That’s more than the national average of 3.9% for the same period. The gross cropped area increased by nearly 49%. It’s currently the highest among all Indian states at 300 lakh hectares. Clearly, he did a lot of things right.

While every state has its own needs in terms of cultivation, you can’t negate the role of government policies. Irrigation is arguably the silver bullet here. Expanding irrigation coverage is Chouhan’s most significant farm policy win. Most of it was due to increased groundwater use. The net area irrigated under canals has almost doubled under Chouhan’s tenure thanks to new investments and completing last-mile projects.

The other big thing to focus on is MSP. From the 2007-08 crop year, the government has been paying a ₹100 per quintal bonus in addition to the Centre’s MSP. This was increased to ₹150 from 2012-13. By 2011-12, the state overtook Haryana as the highest contributor to the central pool. Other measures, like an effective procurement system and online registration, can be replicated elsewhere.

COUNTERVIEW: Be wary of the narrative

There’s no doubt Madhya Pradesh has witnessed an agricultural revolution over the past two decades. However, it’s not all good news. While production has increased over time, so has the cost of production. There’s also a lack of market security for farmers. This has meant their quality of life and per capita income haven’t improved all that much. For many local leaders, farmers have become only an election issue. This is the same elsewhere.

While replicating irrigation projects across the country is simple and can be done, Madhya Pradesh’s dependence on groundwater shouldn’t and can’t be blindly copied. One of India’s sustainability challenges is groundwater depletion in several regions. With global warming only getting worse, the rate of depletion of groundwater in the country during 2041-2080 will be three times the current rate. As groundwater tables fall, irrigation will become increasingly difficult.

MSP has been a hotly contested issue across the country for several years. Not all governments are in favour of it, and some economists have cautioned against it. Broadly speaking, some are concerned that Madhya Pradesh’s agricultural boom could go the way of Punjab in the 1960s-70s with the Green Revolution. High growth came at an economic and ecological cost.

Reference Links:

  • MP Assembly Elections: Cong Manifesto Promises to Buy Cow Manure, Farm Loan Waiver, IPL Team – NewsClick
  • Madhya Pradesh assembly elections: Will MSP promises make a difference? – Down to Earth
  • This Indian state is overhauling its agriculture strategy — and innovation is at the forefront – World Economic Forum
  • Why BJP defied predictions to win Madhya Pradesh: Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s agricultural revolution – The Indian Express
  • Votes of paddy and wheat farmers fail the mathematics of MSP – Rural Voice
  • MP is riding on an agri boom, but there are echoes of Punjab’s Green Revolution ‘failures’ – The Print
  • Madhya Pradesh: Rural Workers Get Lowest Daily Wages, Below National Average – The Wire

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s agricultural success can be a model for India.

b) Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s agricultural success can’t be a model for India.


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