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This monsoon, we can bring about a sea change in our agriculture and food security by implementing steps based on knowledge and technology, writes MS Swaminathan.

india Updated: Jun 05, 2010 02:28 IST
Hindustan Times

The India Meteorological Department has predicted that the 2010 South-West Monsoon is likely to be normal. A recent article in Nature points out that the current national emission targets are not sufficient to limit global warming to 2° Celsius during this century as called for in the Copenhagen Declaration. Present pledges, including that of India, are likely to lead to a world with global emissions of 47.9 to 53.6 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2020. This is about 10-20 per cent higher than today’s levels. A 1° Celsius rise in mean temperature will lead to a reduction in wheat production in India by 6-7 million tonnes per year.

A climate-resilient agriculture, which we urgently need, will have to be based on a two-pronged strategy: maximising farm productivity and production during a normal monsoon period; and minimising the adverse impact of unfavourable weather as witnessed during 2009. Unfortunately, we are yet to develop an anticipatory research and extension programme to minimise damage during unfavourable monsoon periods. For example, the deficiency in rainfall during the South-West Monsoon of 2009 was 23 per cent. The growth in agriculture and allied sector gross domestic product (GDP) was -0.2 per cent last year. The highest growth rate in agriculture GDP of 5.2 per cent was observed during 2005-06 when the growth in total GDP was 9.5 per cent. Had we had a scientific monsoon management strategy, we could have minimised the loss last year.

Similarly, if we have a strategy for maximising the benefits of a good monsoon, we can hope to achieve at least a 5 per cent growth rate during 2010-11 in agriculture and allied sectors. In parts of China like the Yunnan province, which has experienced 60 per cent less rainfall than normal, there is a move to grow different crops together in the same field, thereby distributing the risk arising from monoculture. It is time to develop a proactive monsoon management strategy in India consisting of the following five components:

One, we must improve soil health and help farmers to benefit from the nutrient-based subsidy regime that was introduced in April 1, 2010. If used properly, this revised approach to fertiliser subsidy should promote balanced fertilisation with concurrent attention to both macro- and micro-nutrients as well as soil organic matter. To benefit from this revised approach, farmers should have access to soil health cards (SHC) containing credible information on the chemistry, physics and microbiology of their soils. Some states like Gujarat have started the practice of empowering farm families with SHC. Factor productivity is low now because of the lack of attention to micro-nutrients and soil organic carbon content.

Two, we must maximise the benefits of all available water sources: rain, ground, river, treated effluents and sea water. The lessons learnt from the over-5,000 farmer participatory projects designed to maximise yield and income per drop of water organised by the Ministry of Water Resources should be extended to all farms. Every farm in rain-fed and dry farming areas that constitute 60 per cent of our total cultivated area should have a farm pond, a bio-gas plant and a few fertiliser trees. This will help to build soil carbon banks (SCB) and also farm level water banks that will help to undertake crop life, saving irrigation when needed. Energy management is another important requirement for irrigation water security. Electricity and diesel are essential for both groundwater use and for lift irrigation.

Three, we should launch a programme for spreading the best available technologies including the most appropriate seeds in the 128 agro-climatic zones of our country. During June 2010, the faculty and post-graduate students of agricultural and animal sciences universities, the staff of the various departments of government related to agriculture and irrigation and representatives of lead banks and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) should go from village to village in every zone to check whether seeds and other essential inputs are available or not.

Such monsoon management teams may be constituted jointly by the state government, financial institutions, state agricultural and animal sciences universities, concerned Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutions, farmers’ associations and panchayati raj bodies. If these teams are constituted immediately, they can plan their visit to every village in each one of the 128 agro-climatic zones during June, so that farmers can benefit from an intensive exposure to new technologies and climate-resilient agronomic methodologies. June 2010 may be declared as ‘Monsoon management month’.

Four, both credit and insurance agencies should do their best in taking credit to the last mile and last farmer and get them the benefit of the 5 per cent interest rate for farm loans announced by the finance minister. Similarly, insurance companies should deliver the benefits of insurance to every farm family. Under the Mahila Kisan Shasakthikaran Pariyojana, all women farmers should be enabled to have access to credit, technology, inputs and market.

Finally, the economic viability of farming will depend upon access to assured and remunerative markets. The minimum support price announced for nearly 25 crops must be enforced. A national grid of grain storages starting with the ‘pusa bin’ (silos made of earth or sun-dried bricks with a capacity of 1-3 tonnes) at the farm level, storage godowns at the village level and modern silos at the regional level should be established without further delay. It is painful to observe the spoilage caused to food grains and perishable commodities due to poor storage conditions.

Many of our problems in the field of food and nutrition security are not related to the lack of schemes, but to the over-abundance of disjointed programmes operated by different ministries. There is, for instance, little coordination among large national programmes like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, the Food Security Mission, the Horticulture Mission, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme and many other projects. If there is convergence and synergy among these programmes, our progress in improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of small farm agriculture will be fast.

The South-West monsoon is just beginning. We have only a few weeks to launch a ‘Maximise the benefit of a good monsoon movement’ and for ensuring last mile and last farmer connectivity with reference to knowledge, technology, seeds, credit, insurance and market. Unless the central and state governments take immediate action in organising monsoon management teams in each of the 128 agro-climatic zones, the finance minister will have serious problems in linking outlay with outcome when he presents the budget next year.

There is no time to relax and every day lost will be a blow to the food security of our country, which is already suffering from extensive malnutrition. The future belongs to nations with grains and not guns. Guns can be purchased easily in the global market. But grains, as our efforts to import pulses to contain food inflation revealed this year, cannot be purchased.

M.S. Swaminathan is Chairman, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, and a Rajya Sabha member

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jun 05, 2010 02:26 IST