August 19, 2010

food production going to stagnate?

Green revolution of the sixties and seventies was made possible with new varieties of main crops [wheat and rice], expansion of irrigation and progressive farmers using inorganic fertilizers in copious quantities. But this happened in western UP, Punjab and Haryana and a few other pockets. The otherwise potential areas of West Bengal, Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh remained untouched by it.

Of late, the government and experts seem to have realised that it is no gain trying to increase agricultural production from the areas that have already given the last hike since there is not much scope of yield increase there. For the rest of the country, they brought in a mega scheme called national food security mission. But then there seemed more scope of yield jump in the eastern part, with fertile lowlands and good amount of water available.

But what they did not account for is the mighty rain god. As if to remind them of their folly, the rain god skipped only that part of the country during July and the first half of August – the main months for planting kharif crops. The time for late planting is also fast running out of hand.

This shows how even the best of our efforts might not succeed if monsoons do not favor us with rains evenly spread over time and space. That good scenario takes shape only rarely.

Now we are in a situation where we cannot expand irrigation because of our inefficiencies and low remaining potential for major irrigation schemes.

Soils in Punjab and Haryana are showing signs of poor health due to too intensive cropping and overuse of chemicals. There are also issues relating to over-drawing of ground water.

There is some scope for improving yields of pulses and oil crops if we grow them in irrigated lands, but there is competition among food crops and cash crops for good lands. Land is also becoming degraded and some is being diverted to non-farming purposes.

ICAR, its institutes, agriculture universities and other research bodies have not come out with any revolutionary technology. The new varieties that they develop routinely do not show promise of increasing yields.

Over half of the cultivable land is rainfed, so nothing is guaranteed.

Climate change is staring at us, with likely changes in climate patterns, long spells of droughts, extreme temperature variations, frequent occurrences of storms, cloudbursts and hail, and new physiological and pathological diseases and pests.

India may well achieve 4% growth that the planning commission has targeted, but only with the help of non-foodgrain areas such as cash crops, horticulture, dairy, fisheries, animal husbandry and food processing. But the production of foodgrains and oilseeds is not likely to grow beyond 2% or so. The demand is supposed to overtake the current level of production in a few years. Is there a solution in hand?

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