Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 17:40 UK

India urged to focus on farming

By Brajesh Upadhyay
BBC News, Washington

India farmers
The vast bulk of India's population still rely on farming

India must focus more on its agricultural sector in order to sustain long-term economic growth, a leading industrialist has said.

Bharti Group boss Sunil Bharti Mittal called for "serious intervention".

He said the government, private sector and foreign investors all needed to play their part if they wanted to see India's economy grow at the same rate.

"Without agriculture, India cannot move forward," said Mr Mittal in an exclusive interview with the BBC.

'Change needed'

Mr Mittal said the biggest concern for the Indian economy today was not rising oil prices but the huge disparities that exist in India.

Some reform in this sector has meant that the country has gone from being unable to feed itself to being the world's largest producer of milk and second largest producer of fruit and vegetables.

Yet the average size of a farm is just four acres and at least 40% of the harvest is wasted.

"A significant policy change is needed in terms of land reforms, cold-chains, farming techniques, alternate cropping and so on,'' said Mr Mittal, who is a former president of the Confederation of Indian Industries.

PepsiCo boss Indira Nooyi echoed similar thoughts, saying one could not imagine a successful India unless its agricultural practices improved markedly with the application of new technologies and techniques.

"India needs a second green revolution," Ms Nooyi told a gathering of US and Indian corporate executives and opinion makers in the US capital, Washington.

But she said that, for all the importance of the high-tech revolution, India would not advance by new technology alone.

"We need to recognise that the future of large segments of the Indian population will rest, for years to come, on improvements in agricultural processes,'' said Ms Nooyi, whose company has major agri-initiatives in Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal states.

Mr Mittal's companies are also venturing into agriculture.

Both he and Ms Nooyi said India needed to protect subsistence farmers in trade talks.

"Any damage to the 700 million people tied with agriculture would mean India will have to pay a heavy price in the future," Mr Mittal said.

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