T.T. THOMAS

There is every sign that agricultural productivity is stagnating and food production flattening

THE PRIME Minister has again spoken of a second Green Revolution. The Planning Commission maintains that 4 per cent growth in agriculture is essential for making a steady GDP growth rate to 8 to 10 per cent. But the situation is that the growth of the agricultural and allied sectors from 2000-01 to 2004-05 has been only -0.1, 6.3, -7, 9.6 and 1.1 per cent. There is every sign that agricultural productivity is stagnating and food production flattening. The call of the Prime Minister is to revive production, and improve the value chain thereafter.What ails Indian agriculture is well diagnosed - there is low public investment, productivity stagnation, soil deterioration, post harvest waste, low value addition, low technology application in rain fed areas and appropriation of value by market intermediaries at the cost of farmers. Knowledgeable committees have given their recommendations, at the Central and State levels on reversing the trend. In the last few years, in every budget, the Finance Ministers have spoken of the need and steps proposed to be taken to improve agricultural production. But why are things not moving even after 5-6 years of public discussion?To usher in a second Green Revolution, we should recollect and learn what was the process that made the first Green Revolution possible. It was a huge collaborative effort over three decades among the Central, State governments, agriculture universities, research stations, input suppliers, particularly the fertilizer industry, community extension services of the government et al to pass on the first generation technologies of fertilizer application, use of high yielding varieties of seeds, plant protection and water management by direct farmer level contacts. The sixties and seventies were dark ages, compared to the present day, in information technology, communication facilities, research infrastructure and financial resources. Yet by 2000, the area under high yielding varieties was raised to 80 million ha, compared to 1.8 million ha in 1966-67, 1.8 lakh additional agro input supply points were opened, fertilizer consumption was raised to 18 million tonnes by 1999-2000, compared to 7.8 lakh tonnes in '65, and foodgrains production nearly touched the 200 million tonnes mark by 1997. Food security was achieved though the population grew from 440 million in1965 to 1003 million by 2001.The foodgrains stock in the country reached 63 million tonnes in 2002, India holding 25 per cent of world rice and 33 per cent of wheat stocks. The transformation of Indian agriculture was led by leaders like C. Subramaniam, scientists like M.S. Swaminathan, Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug and others.The missionary zeal seen then is absent in the present efforts. In the absence of a real food crisis (though imports are taking place), a syndrome of satisfactory underperformance has overtaken the administrators and political leadership. Indian farming is the largest or the second largest in the world in terms of population dependency (650 million people live off the farms), its arable land and land under permanent crops 169 million ha, comparing well with China's 135 million ha. There is no development model available for such a farming system. We have to shape our own model. The National Commission on Farmers has given a model for the second phase of India's agricultural revolution. Leadership with fire in the belly has to emerge at all levels to start and carry forward the second revolution. The Indian state has to take the initiative. We cannot leave the second phase of our agricultural development to domestic or multinational retail chains, or to corporatisation of agriculture, and hope for the best.There is a need to transfer the next level of technology using the bio sciences, space science, experience of countries such as Israel in water conservation and precision agriculture, biotechnology, etc., to the farmers and to establish market linkages.In this IT age, perhaps, only a fraction of the effort of the past is needed to usher in a second revolution in Indian agriculture.

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