Farm laws set to be repealed, but urgent need for measures to hike crop yield that’s among lowest in world
Though India has pockets where productivity is high, average yield for most crops is among lowest in the world despite having the most fertile land both in the Gangetic plains and southern peninsula
On a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the three contentious farm laws will be repealed, clearly aimed at pacifying the agitating farmers in the run up to assembly elections in several crucial states, it is worthwhile to ponder over how to make Indian agriculture smart.
The green revolution of the 1960s ensured that India became surplus in food grains production and the country no longer had spells of famine. No deaths were reported due to the non-availability of food even during the difficult COVID times when many people lost jobs. But what has not happened in India so far is an increase in the average productivity of agriculture to global levels so that the country becomes a food bowl of the world.
Indian farming has come a long way and today India is among the top nations in rice and wheat production, the largest producer of milk, fruits, vegetables, pulses, sugar and so on. But the problem is that though India has pockets where productivity is highly comparable to the global level, the average yield for most crops is among the lowest in the world despite having the most fertile land both in the Gangetic plains and southern peninsula.
There are many reasons for it, including fragmentation of holding, poor techniques, un-optimal use of water, non-availability of quality seeds and fertilizers etc.
The average landholding of most of the poor farmers is less than 2 acres. India may have the largest irrigated land in the world, which is closely followed by China and is more than double that of irrigated land available in the United States. But the problem is that a little over half of India’s farmland is still rain-dependent.
Dryland farming through drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation methods has not caught on substantially barring a few states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. China has only one-seventh of its huge landmass as arable, unlike India where the majority of its land is arable. Yet China’s average productivity is one of the highest in the world as compared to India’s, one of the lowest.
Nearly 50 per cent of the Indian population is still dependent on farming for livelihood but agriculture accounted for only 15 per cent of GDP, resulting in low income in rural India and a high rate of under-employment. So where have Indian policymakers gone wrong leading to this kind of paradoxical situation?
In one word, the answer is that Indian agriculture needs to be made ‘smart’. We may have smart city projects but so far there is no plan evolved to make Indian farming smart. Perhaps experts could look into the matter and come out with a smart solution.
If India could replicate what Noble laureate Norman Borlaug did in Mexico for Green Revolution to fructify through the adoption of hybrid wheat in Punjab and Haryana, why not replicate now the efforts of Uruguay to make India the food bowl of the world? Verghese Kurian’s efforts in Gujarat brought about White Revolution with practically all states replicating the Amul model. But in several other areas like oilseeds and pulses, India is far behind.
The Uruguay model is worth emulating. To protect milch animals and improve the productivity of farm products, Uruguay has done a scientific study for over a decade using data collected with the help of drones and satellites. ‘Gou rakshaks’ would do well to adopt the Latin American way of protecting cows so as to raise farm income manifold for poor farmers.
Uruguay is a country in which on average every farmer has 4 cows and is in the number one position in that respect worldwide. It is a country with only 33 lakh people but has 1.2 crore cows. Every cow has an electronic chip on its ear. Through the electronic chip, the owner can track and watch the movement while the farmer is sitting inside a machine to harvest the crop. The screen in front of his harvester not only keeps track of the cow but also provides data on his crop as well as the cow. The farmer can thus self-analyse the yield per square metre through the data collected.
Through this smart agriculture, the farmer has not only ensured optimum use of his farmland to get maximum yield but also keep and get maximum milk yield. As a result, the productivity and income of farmers there have gone up manifold. In 2005, Uruguay’s 33 lakh people produced food grains for its 90 lakh people. Today, Uruguay produces food grains for 2.8 crore people and the surplus is exported.
Behind this success was a decade long study by 500 agricultural engineers who were hired to oversee the whole farming sector by keeping an eye on the farmer’s activity and the cows with the help of drones and satellites. Based on their study through the data collected, the engineers determined the optimal farming method for grain and milk production.
Today all these farmers, who were at subsistence level, earn much more. The minimum income of a farmer in Uruguay now is $1,90,000 annually, which is equivalent to earning Rs 1,25,000 per month.
One only hopes that farm experts in India too do a similar study to make Indian agriculture smart for poor farmers so that their income not only doubles but increases manifold. At present, India’s farm exports accounted for only $40 billion annually. In the next few years, it is proposed to be taken up to $100 billion and perhaps to $200 billion in a decade or so.
The ‘gou rakshaks’ could also employ scientists to improve milk productivity by proper monitoring of cows. Many cows in India die after consuming plastic waste and this too could be tackled through data analysis.
Views are personal