Agriculture secretary PK Basu came into office at a time when few would dare to: India's worst drought in three decades was beginning to ease but food prices were still at a peak. Basu's brief was to speed up the recovery. A physicist by training, Basu talks about getting science to work for agriculture. Excerpts:
Food output is returning to healthy levels. Of course, a good monsoon in itself was a big factor. But what was the overall strategy?
The response measures to the drought were effective. These include major interventions like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Food Security Mission. Despite a drought in 2009-10, food production was a million tonnes more than in 2006-07, which was a normal monsoon year.
We are still a net importer of pulses and edible oils. Lentils were the single-biggest driver of food inflation last year. When will we produce enough pulses?
We have deployed well-tailored schemes that are showing quantifiable results. The Accelerated Pulse Production Scheme, loosely called A3P, was rolled out in 1,000 hectares. The first step was to increase the minimum support price of lentils. The second thing was to mechanise pulses farming. So, from 4.3 million tonnes of pulses last kharif, we expect pulses output to be around 6 million tonnes.
According to (UN’s) Food and Agriculture Organization, India needs to raise its yields sharply to meet growing pressure on food. But overall yields are flattening…
The government is alive to this very real concern. That is why we have been redoubling investment and initiating tailored programmes, such as the Green Revolution in eastern states, with R400 crore as initial outlay. This year, some eastern states were struck by a repeat drought.
That came as a setback. Yet, the initiative has been rolled out. Most targeted states in the eastern region have shifted to hybrid rice for higher raise yields.
Apart from business ties, agricultural collaboration with the US is set to gain further momentum with President Obama's visit. What's in store?
Deeper cooperation in food security and climate issues is on the anvil. I am particularly excited about an Indo-US project to hone our monsoon prediction model, one of the initiatives that will be unfurled during the US President’s visit. Our scientists will work with the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Agency to devise a model to predict the monsoon more accurately, as southwest monsoon is critical for our agriculture and overall economy.
What is the key lesson you have learnt about Indian agriculture, as India’s chief bureaucrat overseeing farm production?
If you frame the right policies, farmers respond to you. Our farmers are very intelligent and responsive. That’s the big lesson I have realised.