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Production Slows Down:Second Agricultural Revolution NEEDED, by Dr. Vinod Mehta, 13 January 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 13 January 2006

Production Slows Down

Second Agricultural Revolution NEEDED

By Dr. Vinod Mehta


Today we may not be worried about feeding our population because over the past many years we have made steady progress in increasing our food production through the introduction and use of high yielding varieties of seeds, especially in the production of wheat.  At the moment we are self-sufficient in meeting our foods requirements.  But this may not be true for all years to come.

As one study has pointed out, things will not be the same by the year 2020.  In this study, prepared few years back for the International Food Policy Research Institute, it has been stated that if the food productivity continues to decline the demand for cereals will exceed domestic production by 23 million metric tonnes by 2020.  India by then will be a net importer of foodgrain to feed its population.

This eventuality, the study points out, can be averted if we make endeavours to maintain the high growth in the productivity of the earlier green revolution years. The available data show that in less than three decades the foodgrain output has increased from 72 million tonnes in 1965-66 to a little less than 220 million tonnes in 2002-03.  Imports are negligible as of now. But keeping in mind the growing population and changing eating habits, there could be a problem in the future. It was in this context that the Prime Minister called for a Second Revolution in the Agriculture, so that we are not only able to meet our own domestic demand but also able to meet the demand of neighbouring countries.

However, in the past one and a half decade the growth in productivity of grain production has slowed down to a significant extent mainly because of falling public investment in agriculture.  As for the private investment in agriculture there has been no appreciable increase. Therefore, as the PM has desired that India will have to think seriously in this direction, plan and execute an agricultural policy which will help India to remain self- sufficient in grain production or even overshoot self-sufficiency by sufficient margin.  The potential is there.

A comparison of the productivity of Indian agriculture to that of productivity in other countries shows that Indian agriculture is far behind and has a long way to go to realize its goals. To reach their levels we will have to make conscious efforts to increase our productivity and bring it at par with their levels.

Take, for instance, China which has a large number of population to feed.  With only one hundred million hectare of agricultural land, China is producing 400 million metric tonnes of grain (in Chinese statistics, the term grain includes potatoes and around 10 to 20 per cent of grain are actually potato crop) while India with its 146 million hectares of agricultural land produces on an average 185 million metric tonnes of food. India's aspiration is to realize the target of 200 million metric tonnes of grain production by the year 2000 !

If we take the production per hectare of individual crops we will find that we are much behind other countries.  The average production of rice per hectare in India is around 1,756 kilogram compared to 5,475 of North Korea; we are harvesting only 2117 kilogram of wheat per hectare compared to 7,716 by the Netherlands.  Similarly, India produces 1606 kilograms of corn per hectare compared to 9091 of corn per hectare by Greece.

If we take these comparisons seriously, which we as a nation should, then India has a lot to explain and lot to do.  It may be all right to have a record harvest and overflowing granaries in a relative sense   but we are just able to meet the domestic demand for foodstuff and may have surplus to see us through one or two bad harvests.  For a country which also looks forward to entering the international agricultural market this is not enough.  It is necessary to have a substantial surplus of agricultural products every year on a fairly continuous basis if we are to emerge as one of the important exporters of agricultural products in the world like Australia or USA or EEC countries.

The figures also show that the potential of increasing agricultural productivity is immense.  If other countries can get three to five times the production per hectare of any agricultural product why can't India at least double its output per hectare of the agricultural produce?  The potential for such an increase exists and there is no reason why India cannot achieve this. 

Another point which emerges is that despite of the fact that India is spending so much on agricultural research, we have not yet been able to produce seeds of high yielding varieties of international standards--seeds which can change the face of Indian agriculture.  There has to be some match between the funds we spend on agricultural research and the actual results we get in the form of produce per hectare. The figures also reveal that India is not using its agricultural inputs to the optimum level. 

The lessons, which the experience of other countries in the field of agricultural sector holds for us, are that we have still a long way to go to tap the full potential of our agricultural sector and that by following an appropriate strategy we can increase our produce of agricultural products several-fold. But the kind of bureaucratic environment that exists in our agricultural research institutes is not conducive to research that is needed for the development of high yielding varieties of crops or milch animals.  

The number of suicides in the ICAR in the past goes to show how callous we are towards the agricultural research scientists.  Therefore, as a first step we must revamp the setup of our agricultural research institutes and agricultural universities and fix some goals for the development of high yielding strains of food crops, edible oil seeds, sugarcane etc.

Pending the development of our own high yielding strains, we should make the best use of available high yielding seeds of various crops that are available in the international market.  If the seeds being sold by the multinational companies can substantially raise the agricultural productivity per hectare, why should not the country go in for the use of such seeds immediately, even if they are expensive?  The use of such seeds would also increase the earnings of the farmers.  What the agricultural research institutes can do is help identify the seeds being sold by multinational companies which would be more suitable to Indian climatic and soil conditions and would yield the maximum produce per hectare.

The country also needs to pay attention to the irrigation system.  Fiftyfive years after independence our agriculture is still dependent on rainfall and any shortfall in rainfall during any year can severely upset our crop targets as it happened last year.  And whatever water we have for the agricultural sector, most of it goes waste because of mismanagement.  A large number of countries have gone in for drip irrigation system, which at the moment can be said to be the best irrigation system for a number of crops.  Therefore, we need to rethink our irrigation policy and either develop our own system or scout for one available with other countries and if possible outright buy the technology and implement it.

The development of agriculture has been uneven in the country; some states like Punjab and Haryana have gone through the phase of green revolution while states like Orissa and Bihar have yet to go through this phase.  This implies that we have still a vast untapped potential for the development of agriculture in the country.  Instead of having an all India agricultural strategy it may be more meaningful to have a state specific agricultural strategy within the overall general national agricultural strategy so that the specific local cultural, social and economic factors could be taken into account for the rapid development of the agricultural sector.

In sum, the country urgently needs another "green revolution" which can help us substantially increase our agricultural output in the shortest possible time so as to enable us to meet our food requirements from our own efforts without ever resorting to imports.  This is important if we have to become a significant economic power in the world.


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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