Friday, June 26, 2009

Beyond the Green revolution


THE green revolution of the sixties helped to instil self-confidence in our agricultural capability and also to purchase time in relation to achieving a balance between population growth and food production. Such revolutionary progress, particularly in the production of wheat and rice, became possible through synergy between technology and public policy supported by farmers’ enthusiasm generated through national demonstrations in the fields of resource poor farmers with small holdings. From the nineties onwards there has been a deceleration in the rate of growth of food production. It is widely felt that there has been a fatigue of the green revolution. Simultaneously, several environmental and economic problems hampering agricultural growth have appeared. Obviously, if farm economics and ecology go wrong, nothing else will go right in agriculture.
Looking back on our progress in agriculture since 1947 when Jawaharlal Nehru made the famous statement ‘everything else can wait, but not agriculture’, we see four distinct phases in our agricultural evolution.
Phase I (1947-64): This was the Jawaharlal Nehru era where the major emphasis was on the development of infrastructure for scientific agriculture. The steps taken included the establishment of fertilizer and pesticide factories, construction of large multi-purpose irrigation-cum-power projects, organization of community development and national extension programmes and, above all, the starting of agricultural universities, beginning with the post graduate school of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute established in 1958 as well as new agricultural research institutions, as for example the Central Rice Research Institute at Cuttack, and the Central Potato Research Institute, Simla.
During this period, population started increasing by over three per cent per year as a result of both the steps taken to strengthen public health care systems and advances in preventive and curative medicine. The growth in food production was inadequate to meet the consumption needs of the growing population, and food imports became essential. Such food imports, largely under the PL-480 programme of the United States, touched a peak of 10 million tonnes in 1966.

Phase II (1965-1985): This period coincides with the leadership of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi with Moraji Desai and Charan Singh serving as prime ministers during 1977-79. The emphasis was on maximizing the benefits of the infrastructure created during Phase I, particularly in the areas of irrigation and technology transfer. Major gaps in the strategies adopted during Phase-I were filled, as for example the introduction of semi-dwarf high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, which could utilize sunlight, water and nutrients more efficiently and yield two to three times more than the strains included in the Intensive Agriculture District Programme (IADP) of the early sixties.
This period also saw the reorganization and strengthening of agricultural research, education and extension and the creation of institutions for providing farmers assured marketing opportunities and remunerative prices for their produce. A National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) was set up. All these steps led to a quantum jump in the productivity and production of crops like wheat and rice, a phenomenon christened in 1968 as the green revolution. C. Subramaniam (1964-67) and later Jagjivan Ram provided the necessary public policy guidance and support.
The green revolution generated a mood of self-confidence in our agricultural capability. The gains were consolidated during the VI Five Year Plan period (1980-85) when for the first time agricultural growth rate exceeded the general economic growth rate, largely because of the priority accorded to irrigation. Also, the growth rate in food production exceeded that of population. The VI Plan achievement illustrates the benefits arising from farmer-centred priorities in investment and from the emphasis placed on bridging the gap between scientific know-how and field level do-how.

Phase III (1985-2000): This was the era of Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee with several other prime minister serving for short periods.
This phase was characterized by greater emphasis on the production of pulses and oilseeds as well as of vegetables, fruits and milk. Rajiv Gandhi introduced organizational innovations like the Technology Missions, which resulted in a rapid rise in oilseed production. The mission approach involves concurrent attention to conservation, cultivation, consumption and commerce. Rainfed areas and wastelands received greater attention and a Wasteland Development Board was set up. River pollution received attention and a Ganga Action Plan was started.
Wherever an end-to-end approach was introduced involving attention to all links in the production-consumption chain, progress was steady and sometimes striking, as in the case of milk and egg production. This period ended with large grain reserves with government, with the media highlighting the co-existence of ‘grain mountains and hungry millions’. This period also saw a gradual decline in public investment in irrigation and the infrastructure essential for agricultural progress as well as a gradual collapse of the cooperative credit system. Large grain reserves led to a mood of complacency as regards priority to agriculture.

Phase IV (2001 to present day): Despite the efforts of Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, this phase is best described as one characterized by policy fatigue resulting in technology, extension and production fatigues. No wonder that farmers who keep others alive are now forced to take their own lives and quit farming if there is an alternative option. The agricultural decline is taking place at a time when international prices of major food grains are going up steeply, partly due to the use of grains for ethanol production. Land for food versus fuel is becoming a major issue. International trade is also becoming free, but not fair.
Compounding these problems in the possibility of adverse changes in rainfall, temperature and sea level as a result of global warming. Melting of Himalayan ice and glaciers will result in floods of unprecedented dimensions in North India. If agricultural production does not remain above population growth rate and if the public distribution system is starved of grains, there is every likelihood of going back to the pre-independence scenario of recurrent shortages in the physical and economic access to food. The grain mountains have disappeared and we are today in the era of diminishing grain reserves, escalating prices and persistence of widespread under-nutrition.
Fortunately, serious steps have been initiated during the last two years to halt and reverse the decline. Rural infrastructure development has been intensified through Bharat Nirman. Schemes to accelerate food grain, vegetable and fruit production, such as the National Food Security and Horticulture Missions and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana involving altogether an outlay of over Rs 50,000 crore have been initiated. Nearly 40 million farmers have been enabled to get back to the formal credit system through a massive loan waiver scheme. Landless labour families are being enabled to earn some income to ward off total deprivation through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. All these steps are beginning to bear fruit and if implemented properly, these programmes will help to reverse the declining and depressing trend seen in our agricultural scenario until 2007.

What population rich but land hungry countries like India need is an evergreen revolution, which can help us to improve farm productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm. The National Commission on Farmers, which I chaired during 2004-06, examined this question in detail. Based on the NCF recommendation, a National Policy for Farmers was placed in Parliament in November 2007. This policy calls for a paradigm shift from measuring agricultural growth purely in terms of million tonnes of grains to measuring the growth rate in the net income of farmers. The pathways through which such a paradigm shift can be achieved have been described in the reports of the National Commission on Farmers. I had summarized some of the major recommendations in the last report of the commission, and would like to draw attention to a few of them.
The persistence of widespread under- and malnutrition in the country arises from policies which fail to recognize that the farming population including landless agricultural labour constitutes the majority of consumers. Unfortunately, the term ‘consumer’ seems to cover only the urban population in the minds of the policy-makers. This is one of the reasons why we are off-track in achieving the UN millennium development goal of reducing hunger by half by 2015. Enhancing small farm productivity and profitability, as a single step, will make a major contribution to reducing hunger and poverty. This in turn will depend on our ability to assure remunerative prices for their produce.
In industrialized countries, farmers constitute two to four per cent of the population. The per capita income of farmers is high both because of the size of the farm operated and the extensive support extended by government. They are technology, capital and subsidy rich. Public policies concurrently promote conservation, cultivation, consumption and commerce. Extensive support is given to promote conservation farming. The collapse of the Doha round of negotiations in agriculture is an indication that farming cannot survive in industrialized countries without substantial support from public funds to ensure its economic viability.

The Eleventh Five Year Plan document refers to the need for overcoming the prevailing technology fatigue. Technologies, which can help to enhance land, water and labour productivity, are urgently needed. They should lead to an evergreen revolution in small farms, i.e. increase in productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm. The smaller the farm, the greater is the need for marketable surplus in order to generate cash income. The small farm can lend itself to higher productivity and profitability, provided the small farmer is enabled to overcome his/her handicaps arising from lack of capital and credit and access to appropriate technologies and inputs and remunerative markets.

There is need for a small farm management revolution, which can result in conferring the power and economy of scale on small producers both in the production and post-harvest phases of farming; if this does not happen, mounting debt arising from adverse economics will continue to affect them. The strategy for a small farm management revolution will have to be developed by panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) with technical help from agricultural, rural and women’s universities as well as IITs and IIMs, since much of the action will be location-specific. Cooperative farming, service cooperatives, stakeholder companies, formation of compact production and processing estates by self-help groups and farmer-centric contract farming can all help to improve the economics of small holdings and thereby foster improved management. To promote group cooperation in a watershed or command area of an irrigation project, it will be useful to introduce attractive group insurance policies. Group endeavour can be promoted only if cooperation results in a win-win situation for every member of the group.
At the production end, there is need for integrating frontier technologies like biotechnology, information and communication technologies, space and nuclear technologies and renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, biogas and biomass based energy systems with traditional ecological prudence. Bio-energy based on pyrolysis and gasification of biomass can be a decentralized source of energy. Bio-fuels also offer scope wherever ecological and economic conditions are favourable. Biomass is an under-utilized resource. Biomass parks can be promoted in every block to convert the available biomass into a wide range of economic products, including energy and manure.

Conservation farming is the pathway to an evergreen revolution. The greatest problem with applying conservation agriculture concepts in dry land areas is the lack of adequate quantities of crop residues. The removal of crop residues for alternative uses accelerates the already fast decline of soil organic matter content in dry land areas. Long-term sustainability of dry land soils may be significantly enhanced by reduced tillage that leaves more crop residues on the soil surface.
Besides enhancing soil fertility and soil organic matter, the need for the economic and efficient use of irrigation water cannot be over emphasized. Increasing crop water use by 25 to 35 mm can substantially increase the average yield of cereals in dry farming areas. This can be readily achieved by conservation agriculture. High input costs, uncertain rainfall and poor income lead to widespread indebtedness. The younger generation will be reluctant to take up farming as long as income prospects are poor. Declining terms of trade between farm and non-farm sections is a matter of concern.
It is in this background that we have to examine the opportunities opened up by new technologies. New agriculture technologies like genomics and information technology together with improved agronomic management should form the cornerstone of increasing agriculture productivity and profitability of small farms both in irrigated and rainfed areas as well as in problem soils and coastal areas. Recombinant DNA technology has already resulted in the breeding of crop varieties possessing tolerance to salinity and drought as well as to serious biotic stresses caused by the triple alliance of pests, pathogens and weeds. It is, however, essential to have a professionally and socially credible national biotechnology regulatory authority, on the lines recommended by the Swaminathan Committee in 2004.
The bottom line for any biotechnology regulatory policy should be the safety of the environment, the well-being of farming families, the ecological and economic sustainability of farming systems, the health and nutrition security of consumers, safeguarding of home and external trade, and the biosecurity of the nation. The Government of India is currently developing a Biotechnology Regulatory Act and it will be useful if such an act, which will lead to the establishment of an autonomous and statutory authority, which can promote the safe and responsible use of biotechnology, is enacted soon.

The Village Knowledge Centre (VKC) or Gyan Chaupal will help to bridge the growing gap between scientific knowledge and its field application. It will also facilitate the removal of many intermediaries from the marketing chain. The wholesale fruit and vegetable markets are likely to lose their importance under the growing influence of contract farming and direct supply relationships between producers and major market chains. Changes in intermediary relationship will occur as internet based marketing tools are adopted by both producers and suppliers. Bharat Nirman has rightly given priority to knowledge connectivity, in addition to physical connectivity through roads. As a single step, the gyan chaupal will bring about a transformation in the economic conditions and social relations in our villages. Bridging the digital divide is a powerful method of bridging the gender divide, since rural women master the ICT technologies with ease.

India is poised for a major ICT revolution in rural India. The broad strategy proposed by NCF is as follows:
* Establishment of a village resource centre (VRC) in every block with the help of the Indian Space Research Organization. These VRCs will be linked to satellites and will have telecommunication facilities.
* Every panchayat headquarter will have a gyan chaupal or village knowledge centre (VKC). This will have internet connectivity. Alternatively, the gyan chaupal can be established in the village school or any other public space where there will be social inclusion in access to the technology.
* The last mile and last person connectivity will be through FM/community radio and/or mobile phones. The internet-radio-mobile phone synergy is a very powerful tool for social inclusion in access to all the needed information, including warning of impending natural disasters. Villagers give priority to health and marketing information. In addition, an entitlements database can empower them with information on all the government schemes designed for their well being. Gender-specific information is equally important. Every farmer in the village should be issued with an entitlements passbook. Artisanal fishermen can now be assisted with a cell phone, which can provide GPS data on wave heights and location of fish shoals.
We are thus on the threshold of both a biotechnology and information technology revolution. Biotechnology does not imply only GMOs. Non-GMO applications are many, such as tissue culture for multiplying elite germplasm, bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and bio-remediation of ground water as well as marker-assisted breeding. In the case of GMOs, safe and responsible use should be ensured. Organic farming procedures permit the use of varieties developed by marker-assisted breeding.

The third technological revolution relevant to agriculture is the ecotechnology movement. This involves the appropriate integration of frontier sciences with the ecological prudence of farming communities. The ecotechnology revolution underpinning the evergreen revolution movement has many pathways as indicated below.
Green Revolution: Commodity-centred increase in productivity. Evergreen Revolution: increasing productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm.
Farming system based agronomy.
Change in plant architecture, and harvest index. Organic Agriculture: cultivation without any use of chemical inputs like mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
Change in the physiological rhythm – insensitive to photoperiodism. Green Agriculture: cultivation with the help of integrated pest management, integrated nutrient supply and integrated natural resource management systems.
For most small farmers, green agriculture will be the most feasible form of eco-agriculture. Crop-livestock integrated systems of production will be ideal for organic farming. More research is needed on nitrogen fixing tree species and shrubs, as well as green manure plants. Our soils are hungry and thirsty and they need both nutrients and water.

How can such a technological, ecological and managerial upgrading of small farm agriculture be brought about? This is where training, re-training, re-tooling and redeployment of both farmers and farm graduates become important. Fortunately, we have nearly 50 agricultural and animal husbandry (including fisheries) universities. Nearly 20,000 farm graduates including about 7000 postgraduates are becoming available each year. There is a vast chain of national research institutes and centres, national bureaus and all India coordinated projects under ICAR. There are also a growing number of R&D institutions in the private sector and a number of civil society organizations working on agricultural issues. The Indian National Agricultural Research System (NARS) is thus a formidable one.
NCF has recommended the following steps to bridge the knowledge gap:
* Promote farmer-to-farmer learning by establishing farm schools in the fields of outstanding farmer-achievers.
* Revitalize and upgrade krishi vigyan kendras by adding a post-harvest technology wing.
* Organize 60,000 lab to land demonstrations in the areas of post-harvest processing, marketing and value addition to primary produce all over the country.
* Establish gyan chaupals in every village based on the integrated use of the internet, cable TV, community radio, cell phone and local language community newspapers. If Mission 2007 – Every Village a Knowledge Centre – is accomplished, the knowledge deficit currently prevailing in villages can be removed and the ‘know-how’-‘do how’ gap can be bridged.
* Establish capacity building centres for those operating gyan chaupals.
* Train one woman and one male member in every panchayat as farm science managers.
* Establish at the district level a SHG training and mentoring centre, in order to build a local level cadre of SHG catalysts, capable of organizing sustainable livelihood banks based on micro-credit.
* Establish in coastal areas ‘fish for all’ training centres to provide training in all aspects of fisheries ranging from capture/culture to consumption.

Training of farm and home science graduates also needs revamping. NCF has proposed that the major mission of our agricultural, veterinary, fisheries, rural and women’s universities should be to help every scholar to become an entrepreneur. They can then organize service cooperatives, stakeholder companies, agri-clinics, agri-business centres, bio-parks, food-parks and other enterprises, which can help to improve the efficiency and economics of farming. Home science colleges could be restructured as college of human sciences, where both men and women learn the science and art of nutrition, agro-processing and home economics.
A reorientation in the mindset of farm graduates can be brought about only by innovative changes in curricula and courses. In all applied areas, business and financial management should be added to the disciplinary training. For example, a course in seed technology can be restructured and designated as ‘seed technology and business’. Similarly, nutrition courses could be reorganized as food safety and nutrition security programmes. Courses in agronomy could be developed into agronomy and agri-business programmes.
If the business, financial and trade aspects are integrated with disciplinary training, such courses will give the farm/home science graduates the self-confidence essential for embarking upon a career of self-employment. We recommend that attention be given to imparting a business orientation to all the applied courses in agricultural universities. A large number of graduates are now being trained in the field of biotechnology. However, many of them are not able to utilize their training after taking degrees due to lack of appropriate employment opportunities.

Agricultural biotechnology is an area where there are considerable opportunities for remunerative self-employment. It would therefore be appropriate that support is extended to the creation of a national association of genome entrepreneurs who could be supported with venture capital funds in order to enable them to convert the rich knowledge available in government institutions in the field of functional genomics into commercially viable products. They could also undertake work for other countries in the area of preparation of genome maps of the crops of interest to those countries. The National Centre for Plant Genome Research set up by the Department of Biotechnology at New Delhi could organize short-term courses on functional genomics and business development. Mainstreaming entrepreneurship and business skills in all applied courses, rather than keeping business management course as a separate entity, is essential if small farm agriculture is to become economically sustainable and educated youth are to be attracted to a career in agriculture.
Another urgent need is the establishment of a chain of regional institutes for food safety and security. They can be established in appropriate agricultural, veterinary or fisheries universities. To begin with seven such centres may be established during the 11th Plan period. Home science graduates can be employed in such regional institutes to launch a movement for food safety, including awareness of codex alimentarius standards. They should also spread quality literacy among farmers through gyan chaupals.
Training of all engaged in agricultural administration in the basic principles and economics of farming is essential. In the United States, practicing farmers often occupy leading positions in agricultural departments for specific periods. It would be useful to begin posting active and accomplished farm/fisher women and men as directors in state departments of agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, fisheries, etc on a five year tenure. Unless there is an upgradation in the practical knowledge of those responsible for developing agricultural programmes and policies, there is no hope for Indian agriculture in a globalized economy.

Bharat Nirman should help to improve the infrastructure essential for a technological upgrading of farm operations. Post-harvest infrastructure, particularly for perishable commodities, is extremely weak. This is why the Swaminathan Committee recommended in 1981 the establishment of a national horticulture board, solely devoted to the cause of improving post-harvest infrastructure, processing and marketing. Unless this is attended to on an urgent basis, farmers will not be able to get adequate return for their labour.
Fortunately, the National Horticulture Mission is likely to fill this need. Similarly, facilities for food safety, water quality, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and biosecurity need to be improved. The Small Farmers’ Agri-business Consortium (SFAC) started by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 1992, when he was Union finance minister, is yet to serve the purpose of enabling small farmers to take to market driven agri-business. It is high time that SFAC is restructured, revitalized and financially strengthened as indicated by the Union finance minister in his 2004 budget speech.

Credit at the right time and in adequate amount is a basic requirement of small farm families. In keeping with its commitment to inclusive growth, the Government of India is promoting financial inclusion (FI) in respect of access to credit. The RBI policy statement for 2006-07 has asked SLBC in all states/UTs to identify at least one district in their area for achieving complete financial inclusion, by providing a ‘no frills’ account and a general purpose credit card (GCC). Some of the other considerations which need to be kept in view are the following:
* Expand and strengthen the Bank-MFI-SHG route with support services for capacity building and training.
* Launch a massive campaign of financial literacy in the local language.
* Open farmers’ counselling centres at taluka level. Bank of India is already doing this at the district level in Wardha.
* Take an integrated credit requirement approach and combine investment, production and consumption requirements.
* Examine and replicate innovative schemes already in operation like the Kalinga kisan gold and silver card schemes launched by the Orissa State Cooperative Bank and the financing of tenant farmers cultivating land on ‘oral lease basis’ in Andhra Pradesh through Rythu Mitra scheme, to address the genuine credit needs of farmers.
* Devise innovative insurance schemes, both credit card linked and otherwise to cover crop, animal life, human life, healthcare.
* Link with government departments at the district level to ensure integrated delivery of schemes to the people.

Facilities for soil testing, particularly estimation of micro-nutrient status, also need considerable strengthening. Unless more investment is made in strengthening the support services needed by farmers for the scientific upgradation of farming, the average productivity will continue to remain low and youth will not be attracted to farming. Simple but safe storage bins need to be popularized on a large scale, along with low cost refrigeration facilities for perishable commodities. As recommended by NCF, a livestock feed and fodder corporation, a land use advisory service, an Indian trade organization, living heritage gene banks to conserve unique local breeds of farm animals, inter-nationally recognized certification agencies for organic farm products, an agricultural price stabilization fund, integrated insurance products like parivar bima policy and other essential support services are needed to help increase the productivity and profitability of small farm agriculture. The National Fisheries Development Board and the National Rainfed Area Authority recommended by NCF have fortunately come into existence.
It is essential that such bodies serve as professional powerhouses in their respective fields and help to upgrade the technological, ecological and management aspects of culture and capture fisheries on the one hand, and rainwater harvesting, conservation, sustainable use, aquifer recharge, more crop and income per drop of water and other issues relating to achieving the goal of jal swaraj in rainfed agriculture, on the other.

Producer oriented market holds the key to remunerative and sustainable farming. Quality and trade literacy should receive high priority in gyan chaupals. Facilities for farmers’ markets need to be expanded rapidly. In commodities essential for maintaining the public distribution system, the procurement price should be the market price at the time of purchase. Those providing essential commodities for the PDS should be recognized through the provision of smart cards, which will entitle them to certain benefits while purchasing essential farm inputs, including agricultural implements and machinery.
The Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) should be an autonomous statutory organization with its primary mandate being the recommendation of remunerative prices for the principal agricultural commodities of both dry farming and irrigated areas. The minimum support price (MSP) should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production. The ‘net take home income’ of farmers should be comparable to those of civil servants. CACP should become an important policy instrument for safeguarding the survival of farmers and farming. Suggestions for crop diversification should be preceded by assured market linkages. The membership of CACP should include a few practicing farm men and women. The terms of reference and status of CACP need review and appropriate revision.
The pricing policy for farm commodities should have the following three components:
* Minimum support price (MSP) announced before the sowing season; MSP should be cost plus 50 per cent (i.e. 50% more than the total cost of production).
* Procurement price at the time of purchase which should be the best available market price,
* Post-procurement adjustment through smart cards issued to those who sell their produce for public good like PDS, ICDS, and school noon-meal, among others. In case government has to import food grains at a price much higher than given to our farmers, the smart card should enable them to obtain essential inputs at a concessional price.
Thus, a farmer friendly integrated MSP, procurement price and post-procurement adjustment system will help our farmers to tap the existing unutilized yield reservoir and thereby improve the productivity and profitability of small farms.

To sum up, imports or exports of food grains may be necessary from time to time, but the bottom line of our import-export policies must be the livelihood security of both the farm and non-farm populations of rural India who constitute 70 per cent of our population. Time has come for government to set up a pan-political national food security and sovereignty board, chaired by the prime minister with its membership including the minister for agriculture and food and other concerned ministers of GoI as well as a few chief ministers of food surplus and deficit states, leaders of all national political parties, a few experts including specialists in the gender dimension of agriculture and food security, and mass media representatives.
We are confronted with the need to safeguard the food security requirements of both resource poor farmers and resource poor consumers. The bulk of such resource poor farmers are small or marginal farmers and landless agricultural labour in unirrigated areas. It is these linkages, which need to be understood and attended to. The proposed national food security and sovereignty board can attend to these complex linkages in a holistic manner and develop and implement a transparent national food security policy in the interests of all regions of the country and all sections of our population.
India will remain during most of the 21st century a predominantly agricultural country, particularly with reference to livelihood opportunities. Therefore there is need for both vision and appropriate action in the area of shaping our agricultural destiny. Our major agricultural strengths are a large population of hard working farm women and men, varied climatic and soil resources, abundant sunshine throughout the year, reasonable rainfall and water resources, a long coast line and rich agro-biodiversity. Converting them into jobs and income is the challenge.
We should look upon agriculture not just as a food producing machine for the urban population, but also as a major source of skilled and remunerative employment and the backbone of the rural livelihood system. Unless there is such a change in mindset, the food security situation will remain precarious and rural poverty will persist. Food and fuel are going to be the commodities in greatest demand in the future. We should therefore take full advantage of our vast untapped potential in crop and animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry and agro-processing.

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