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Killing fields, coming crisis

Is India heading towards a major agriculture crisis? Productivity of foodgrains has been decreasing steadily ? 212 metric tonne in 2001-02, 174 metric tonne in 2002-03, 213 metric tonne in 2003-04 and 210 metric tonne in 2004-05, a negative growth of 1.2 per cent.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2006 23:40 IST

Is India heading towards a major agriculture crisis? Productivity of foodgrains has been decreasing steadily - 212 metric tonne in 2001-02, 174 metric tonne in 2002-03, 213 metric tonne in 2003-04 and 210 metric tonne in 2004-05, a negative growth of 1.2 per cent.

National Accounts data show a serious setback to agriculture from the Ninth Plan onwards. Input use and productivity growth decelerated on the supply side. This was accompanied by low demand growth and higher farm income variability. Yield growth of foodgrains was less than the population growth by the end of the Ninth Plan. It decelerated to about 1 per cent per annum from 3 per cent per annum during the 1980s, indicating a potentially serious exhaustion of technological progress.

The declining trend is just not restricted to foodgrains. Production of cash crops declined to 1.1 per cent after 1996-97, down from 3.1 per cent during 1980-97. Sugarcane production fell from 295.96 million tonnes in 2000-01 to 234.67 million tonnes in 2004-05. In plantation, tea production increased 2.5 per cent per annum before 1990s, but has declined since 2001. Coffee production remained constant at 0.3 million tonnes since 2000.

To keep pace with the present population growth and consumption pattern, India's foodgrains requirement has been estimated to be 225 million tonnes by 2005, 240 million tonns by 2010 and 300 million tonnes by 2025. Availability, by current performance, would be around 218 million tones this year, 230 million tonnes in 2010 and 260 million tonnes in 2025 - way short of the projected demand. India's actual annual agricultural growth should be at 6.7 per cent to meet demand projections.

At micro level, the net availability of foodgrains per head has declined from 510 grams per day in 1990 to 495 grams per day in 1995 to 436 grams per day in 2003. The same is true for pulses - from 41.6 grams per day in 1991, it came down to 29.1 grams per day in 2003.

We are importing more food. The agri-import bill has risen from Rs 12,086 crore in 2000-01 to Rs 21,894 crore in 2003-04. Total arable land in India has remained stagnant at 162 million hectares for the past one decade. And the ratio of agriculture land to agriculture population has declined from 0.34 hectare per person in 1991 to 0.31 hectare per person in 2001. This raises the obvious question - do we have enough arable land to sow more and increase productivity?

Experts feel that the future growth in foodgrains production has to essentially come through increase in yield. This seems to be a daunting task considering the rapidly shrinking resource-base and fast declining input-use efficiency in major cropping systems. There are serious gaps both in farm yield realisation and technology transfer, as the national average yield of most crop varieties is low. Agriculture scientists argue that since area under cultivation cannot be increased, existing land should be used in a more efficient and sustainable way to increase yield. And one of the solutions is to adopt biotechnological methods - GM farming. In the next section we review Bt Cotton, India's sole GM crop, and see how GM farming can deliver.

First Published: Nov 16, 2005 19:37 IST