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– India began its journey as an independent nation in 1947 with fresh memory of the Bengal Famine of 1943 which claimed 1.5 to 3 million lives. Against this backdrop, the First Five Year Plan (1951-56) prioritized agriculture which, however, shifted to heavily industrialization in the second Plan.
The mid-1960s was a difficult time when consecutive droughts hit food production and India had to import about 11 million metric ton (MMT) of wheat per year – about 15% of its domestic food grain production – under US Public Law 480. With the availability of high yielding miracle seeds of wheat and rice accompanied by increasing use of chemical fertilisers, provision of minimum support price (MSP) for rice and wheat, expansion in irrigated area, and gradual mechanization of farms, Indian agri-food system fortunately took a definitive positive turn beginning late 1960s. As a result, India has become the largest producer of milk (187.7 MMT in 2019-20) and cotton (37.5 million bales in 2019-20) and the second largest producer of rice (117.5 MMT in 2019-20) and wheat (106.2 MMT in 2019-20), fruits (97.97 MMT in 2018-19) and vegetables (183.17 MMT in 2018-19). India today is not only food self-sufficient but also a net exporter of agricultural produce. In short, the success of Indian agriculture in last six decades has been nothing less than spectacular.
The success, however, has come with significant costs. The resource intensification that the Green Revolution requires has adversely affected natural resources and environment. India pumped 245 million cubic meters – about 25 percent of total groundwater withdrawn globally – for irrigation in 2011. As a result, ground water in 1,034 blocks (16% of total blocks) are over-exploited. Worse, ground water table has become critical in 4% and semi-critical in 10% of the blocks. Similarly, some 37% of land area in the country (120.4 mn ha) is affected by various types of land degradation. Subsidy policy-induced non-judicious use of fertilizers has led to the chemicalization of soil and pollution of water through leaching and run-off. Despite abundant supply of food grains, in 2020 41.7% of under-5 children suffered from stunting. India is home to 208.6 million – or over a quarter – of world’s undernourished people. Other challenges that Indian agriculture faces today include uneven regional growth, rising fiscal constraints, mounting and unsustainable level of subsidies, small holding size and further fragmentation of holdings and accompanying land tenurial issues, and low resource use efficiency, particularly of water. These factors act as serious impediments for sustained agricultural growth and farmers’ livelihoods.
Amidst the success and emerging challenges NITI Aayog, the apex public policy think tank of the Government of India and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) decided to facilitate a national dialogue among key stakeholders including government agencies, academia, civil society organisations, farmers, private sector, international organizations, media and others to articulate a vision for 2030 and pathways for the remandating of agriculture in India. To this end, 10 thematic papers were commissioned from distinguished professionals. A 3-day national dialogue entitled, ‘Indian Agriculture Towards 2030: Pathways for enhancing Farmers’ Income, Nutritional Security and Sustainable Food and Farm Systems” was held in January 2021. NITI Aayog and FAO have now come up with a publication with the same title (Chand, R., Joshi, P, and Khadka, S., Editors (2022), Springer).
In addition to the challenges enumerated above the books also deals with issues of climate change and its impact on agricultural production and farmers’ incomes and the strategies to mitigate such change; growing incidence of pests, pandemics, and transboundary diseases and threat to biosecurity affecting agricultural production; and alternative farming systems for transformative and sustainable agroecology and biodiverse future. The role of science, technology and innovation is identified as key to sustainable and resilient agriculture. Similarly, role of structural reforms and governance are discussed in detail and the role of price policies, market reforms and institutions are being highlighted for an efficient, inclusive and sustainable agriculture.
The National Dialogue identified pathways for transformation with emphasis on remandating Indian agriculture in a way that makes it more productive, efficient, resilient, resource conserving, nutrition centered and globally focused. These transformational outcomes are to be achieved by focusing on following pathways:
- • Increasing investment in agriculture, first to reverse the declining trend and then achieving ‘efficient’ growth rather than growth alone, increased adoption of improved technology, reorienting agricultural science, technology and innovations, applying digital solutions and artificial intelligence, better use of information and communication technology, application of One Health concept;
• Making Indian agriculture globally-focused, shifting attention from self-sufficiency to adding value through increased processing and achieving a high rate of export growth
• Enhancing the efficiency of the water and other resources, mainly by correcting distorted water pricing, adopting water conserving technologies and agro-ecological approach, changes in the cropping pattern, and reversing neglect of rainfed areas;
• Making agriculture climate resilient, by adopting several no-regret technological and institutional options as well as by undertaking more targeted research, use of big data analytics, and adoption of a science-based and green growth approach;
• Tackling nutrition and food safety, by diversifying diet, reducing post-harvest losses, encouraging bio-fortifications, empowering women, enforcing food safety standards, improving water sanitation and hygiene, and promoting food safety awareness and nutrition education;
• Focusing sharply on innovations, incentives and institutions that contribute to enhance productivity, enhance resilience to climate change, incentivize water and energy conservation, and by adopting more conducive regulatory environment such as for exploiting ground water; and
• Adopting appropriate policies and improving governance such as by reducing distortion caused by the MSP, accelerating rural infrastructure creation, ensuring greater engagement of the state governments, enhancing access to credit and extension services, and expansion of contract farming.
As emphasised by Honourable M. Venkaiah Naidu, Vice-President of India in his foreword, the book ‘provides a sound basis for reflection because they distil important lessons and present an array of policy options for the government to choose from’.
Shyam Khadka is a former senior official of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations who served as representative in India (2015-18) and was Senior Portfolio Manager in United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (1997-2014). An international development professional, Khadka works on policies, programs and projects that aim at developing agriculture, ensuring food security, and reducing poverty globally.
IPS UN Bureau