Agriculture has been the biggest employer since the time immemorial. Even today, around 60 per cent of the Indian population is employed in it. With 20 agri-climatic regions, all 15 major climates in the world exist in India. India is the largest producer of pulses, milk, tea, cashew and jute; and the second largest producer of wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables, sugarcane, cotton and oil seeds. India is also among the 10 leading exporters of agricultural products in the world; the country accounted for 2.07 per cent of global agricultural trade in 2012.
India is among leading consumers of food grains too. A great share of what we produce goes to meet the demand of our large population. India’s population set to touch 1.5 bn mark by 2025. To feed such a large population, a steady growth in agricultural
is required, which can happen only when modern technology is incorporated into every step of farming, from tilling of land to delivery of end products. We have to endeavor to bring the best of technologies to raise agricultural yield.
Consider this, with an annual output of 130 MT, our country is the largest producer of the milk in the world. It also has the largest milk-producing animal population of over 118 million. Yet, milk yields per animal are among the lowest in the world. So, if we can improve the breeds of cattle, we can surely have more yield even if the number of cattle remains the same. Similarly, India is the biggest producer of pulses in the world at 19 MT and their biggest importer 3.5 MT. If we have high yielding varieties (HYV) seeds, much more pulses can be grown and there wouldn’t be any need to import it. In short, we are doing well because of resources on a large scale are involved, not because of our efficiency. Needless to say, adoption of new technology and the increase of farming efficiency is imperative if India has to feed its burgeoning population. The question of low yield is, therefore, a source of concern for farmers and the government alike.
In layman’s term, agriculture, like any other any commercial activity, has a set of inputs which generates a predefi ned set of outputs after certain farming process. In farming, the list of inputs includes land, seeds, weather conditions, tilling and irrigation
tools, etc. Quality of inputs, like in any other industry is crucial here too. Quality seeds and technologically superior processing, which means better farming methodologies have the biggest role to play in increasing the yield, especially in context of India, which stands at a low technological level when it comes to farming. Right from tiling a land up to the delivery of end products, technical know-how plays a very critical role. The Indian agriculture scenario is full of paradoxes. On one hand, farmers in Panjab are making money, but the Vidarbha region makes headlines only for the number of farmers’ suicides. Because farmers in some states make more money, they can invest in technology which further increases yield. But poor farmers of certain regions are unable to invest any money in technology because they start poor and therefore grow less. It is therefore a vicious cycle.
The low purchasing power is the perennial problem of the Indian farmer. We know that for new crops, improved breeds of animal, or changes in agricultural practices and crop choice, technology plays a critical role and can sharply increase yields, reduce spoilage and risk, and improve the nutritional quality of food. But technology does not come free and therefore, the majority of farmers can’t afford the best equipment or know how. The government can address this to a large extent by allowing private players to come forward with a model similar to microfinance. In this model, to help a group of farmers purchase equipment. This will not only reduce fi nancial burden on individual farmer, but will also serve a group.
Lesser exposure to bio-technology has been another bane of Indian farming and to a large extent, research institutions have also not delivered on this front. We need to increase farm yield and for that we need HYV seeds that can also withstand biotic and abiotic stresses. Our experience with bt-cotton has shown us that genetically-modifi ed crops not only increase the total yield and profi tability of the farmers, but it has, simultaneously, reduced the use of chemical pesticides drastically. Despite this example, many farmers have no access to GM seeds as they await clearance from the government. Only recently, the government has approved 17 GM crops for trials. The momentum has been slow and the government needs to be more proactive on this because the longer it takes, the longer the farmers will have to wait for them. Agricultural research is a critical
area of any country which has a large agrarian population. India has many research institutions working in agricultural area, but little research is demand driven. An agriculture specialist told this magazine that farmers have little or no voice in the farm research and are always at the receiving end. If scientists develop a variety of seed or a new breed of, say, ducks, farmers have no other choice but to accept them. Given that the farming is an eco-sensitive practice, a new HYV seed or new breed of duck may fit only to a set of environmental conditions. What the government can do is to consult farmers in research so as to take their views on the kind of products they want. This will make adoption of new technologies easy, especially in a country like India, where farmers are not very open to innovations to increase yield. Then there is the usage of technology and its deployment in weather forecasting and information which lies completely in the government domain. Indian farmers have mostly no idea about the weather forecast system, despite being so heavily dependent on the monsoon. A major section of our farmers is illiterate. It still looks at the sky to predict rain. Not only this, our farmers have no idea about the amount of moisture that their soil have at a given part of the year. India has considerable capacity in short, medium and long range weather forecasting, but that has yet to percolate to the farmer level to make any impact on the farming practice. Generic information about weather has to be translated into location- specific land-use advice, based on cropping patterns and water availability.
The government can avail information in the form of bulletin at the Panchayat level functionaries to give appropriate land-use suggestions to farmers with the least possible time lag. Like for marine fisheries, data on wave heights and location of fish shoals available would be transmitted to the fishermen. Frontline technologies such as internet- FM/HAM radio/cellphone services would be very helpful to fishermen in this regard. While government is putting such systems in place, but the impact on the ground has been minimal at best. No single strategy can solve the problem of poor yield in agriculture. The government, especially, the state government will have to create a system wherein the farmers can take risks without worrying. Adoption of
superior technology can not be left in the hands of farmers in poor country like India. The government has to play a dominant role in ensuring that good equipment and high quality seeds are available to farmers who are informed of the best farming methodologies and processes which is backed by high end research. That would perhaps be the best form of providing agro subsidy.