Indian agriculture needs paradigm shift to sustain farm livelihoods and food security

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Half a century after a Green Revolution made India food sufficient, the government is waking up in a classic case of better late than never.

The Economic Survey released by the Indian government has spoken of a transformative change in its agriculture sector to ensure sustainable livelihood for millions of farmers and food security for everybody.

The last two years have been awful for the Indian farmer, many of whom have been forced to commit suicide after crops failed due to poor monsoon and drought.

The dependence on rain-fed agriculture only shows how India has failed to create systems to make farming sustainable.

“The transformation in agriculture has to be steered by raising productivity in agriculture, by investing in efficient irrigation technologies, and efficient use of all inputs,” the annual survey of the economy said, as it pointed to a decline in agriculture output and area sown with major crops.

There are several problems with India’s agriculture. Let’s start with irrigation. The country desperately needs to not only expand the acerage under irrigation, it also needs to adopt suitable technologies for efficient utilization of water through suitable pricing, the Survey said, given that flood irrigation has led to water wastage.

With only 34 percent of the total cropped are under irrigation, India has a huge challenge ahead. There is regional disparity in irrigated farming, with net irrigated area to total cropped area at more than 50 per cent in the states of Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The remaining states are at less than 50 percent.

The Survey said conventional systems of irrigation have become non-viable in many part of the country due to increasing shortages of water, wastage of water through over irrigation, and concerns of salination of soil.

“The introduction of efficient  irrigation  technologies which are  both economically  and technically efficient like drip and sprinkler irrigation  can improve water use efficiency , reduce costs of production by reducing labour  costs  and power consumption,” it said.

India also needs to expand mechanization of its farms to reduce drudgery, improve efficiency and productivity and reduce labour costs. “With shortage of labour for agriculture operations owing to rural urban migration, shift from agriculture to services and rise in demand for  labor in non- farm activities, there is need to use labour for  agriculture operation judiciously,  which makes a strong case for  mechanization of farming,” the Survey said.

The overall level of mechanization in farming is below 50 per cent in the case of majority of the Indian farms, and increasing fragmentation of landholdings and low rates of tractor penetration among small farmers opens up the market for tractor rentals driven by private participation.

Similarly, quality, affordability and availability of seeds need to be improved, the Survey said, adding that India needs to boost research and genetic engineering of sees for major crops.

 

The Survey urged stakeholders work towards introducing genetically modified (GM) seeds and crops in the next six months after a debate to answer concerns over affordability of hybrids and GM seeds, environmental and ethical issues  in cultivation of GM crops, risk to the food chain, and spread of disease that have stopped their introduction.

 

 

 

 

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