India's food production crossed 235 million tonnes during 2010-11 as per the latest estimates and this is the highest since Independence, S. Ayyappan, Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, said on Saturday.

The previous highest production, at nearly 233 million tonnes, was achieved in 2008-09, while the output declined to around 218 million tonnes during 2009-10, he said interacting with journalists on the sidelines of a function held here to mark the inauguration of a jaggery park.

In 2010-11, the country produced 30.2 million tonnes of oilseeds, and 17.2 million tonnes of pulses — which had never crossed the 15 million tonne-mark in the past — apart from 94.5 million tonnes of rice and 84 million tonnes of wheat.

Maize production was 30 million tonnes, sugarcane 340 million tonnes and cotton 39 million bales.

Agriculture also recorded a 5.4 per cent growth — a first again — compared to the four per cent growth achieved all these years, Dr. Ayyappan said.

The record food production was possible, thanks to a good monsoon, spread uniformly across the country barring parts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and a few districts of West Bengal. More important, it was backed up by vigorous monitoring of crops with timely technological interventions, and integrated pest management modules were implemented. Timely supply of inputs and a strong disease surveillance mechanism helped to augment production.

Nutrient-based subsidy

Dr. Ayyappan attributed the rise in production partly to the introduction of a nutrient-based subsidy, which encourages farmers to use micronutrients depending on deficiency, unlike the earlier rampant use of nitrogen fertilizers.

Food production could be doubled if a good variety of seeds were made available to farmers, if weeds and pests were controlled and if post-harvest losses were reduced, he said. However, Indian agriculture was grappling with major problems including a reduction in land due to urbanisation. An area of 142 million hectares was under agriculture but it could be shrinking.

To overcome this problem, authorities were contemplating increasing cropping intensity by which farmers would be encouraged to opt for multiple cropping, diversify into horticultural crops and take up inter-cropping and short-duration crops, all of which could help to maintain soil fertility.

Degradation of land, soil alkalinity and emergence of new crop diseases in the wake of changing climatic conditions were other factors that could affect agriculture. Hence the government was establishing laboratories to study the biotic and abiotic stress factors on crops, said Dr. Ayyappan.

To augment food production, the emphasis would shift from primary to secondary agriculture in the next Five-Year Plan, he said. Secondary agriculture includes value addition, post-harvest crop management and quality assurance.