By Neha Ahlawat and Ipsita Mitra
Strengthening the rural economy can be an answer to solving several problems that are plaguing developing countries, including India. The agricultural sector faces the problems of inadequate infrastructure, poor organization and lack of skilled and motivated manpower which leads to spatial, sectoral, and systemic exclusion of those involved in agriculture. A participatory approach involving all stakeholders in agriculture with a common objective and helping them work collectively can be a possible solution. Cluster Initiative in agriculture is one such approach aiming at forging collaboration among farmers, private enterprises, government agencies, international organizations, research institutes, and education centers in clusters making them vibrant spaces for growth and development.
Agricultural clusters can be an important source of innovation and have been adopted in several parts of Pakistan, Sri Lanka as well as India. Farmer clusters may be organised either horizontally or vertically, that is, they can extend downstream to channels and customers and laterally to manufactures, traders, private sector, etc. The fact that clustering takes all the stakeholders into its fold and ensures co-evolution of all actors, it can become a supporter of innovative means and approaches to ensure growth and development.
Clusters also allow and ensure the flow of knowledge and information in a way that knowledge is available for all involved. It is believed that a collaborative exercise of this kind can help in ensuring smooth transition from lab-to-land, and such a network would become conducive to even more opportunities for innovation. ICT interventions could further strengthen these networks by transforming informal social relations into network contacts to open more doors to knowledge and information sharing. Such a networking will bring about social, cultural and geographical harmony among the stakeholders.
While the advantages of clustering in agriculture are several, there could also be many challenges. The clusters will need to be organized in such a way, that responsibility is fixed and accountability is not diluted in any form. The interests of the rural farmers will have to be protected and there must be harmony and confidence among group members. One can gain by taking lessons from the grassroots experiment led by Dr. Verghese Kurien in Anand (Gujarat), which eventually brought together nearly two million farmers, dairy producers from ten thousand village dairy cooperative societies in Gujarat under theÂ brand Amul.
Adoption of agricultural clustering could be a way forward to ensure inclusive growth in the rural sector. It could also become a vibrant space for the development of agribusiness, related industries, micro-finance, etc.
But what future holds for agricultural clustering for India, only time will tell.