The Prayas ePathshala

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15 May 2024 – The Hindu


Food Systems in India

  • The Indian economy is centred on the agricultural industry and related industries. Throughout its G20 presidency, the Indian government, very appropriately, encouraged technology-enabled sustainable farming, including natural, regenerative, and organic systems, keeping this and a sustainable future in mind. The issues that farmers face—such as low productivity, high input costs, market volatility, climate change, indebtedness, and a lack of institutional support—have been addressed by the government through a variety of initiatives.
  • In keeping with this, the current administration has requested that different ministries prepare announcements for the first 100 days of their third term. The ministries are reaching out to different specialists to assist them in formulating an appropriate policy framework that aligns with the Viksit Bharat@2047 vision.

What are the many obstacles that India faces in ensuring sufficient agri-food systems?  

 Overuse of Water Resources:

  • Due to the nearly zero marginal cost of utilising water, farmers began cultivating off-season crops and water-intensive crops in regions with little rainfall. Nearly 90% of the nation’s water is utilised in agriculture, despite the fact that half of the land is rainfed and lacks access to irrigation.
  • The rise of sugarcane in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, the monoculture of paddy in formerly groundnut and cotton-growing regions of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan, the cultivation of groundnuts during the height of summer in Rajasthan, and several other examples demonstrate this.
  • As a result, a new crop geography emerged that was completely at odds with the country’s several agroclimatic zones.

 Ignorance of the environment and loss of crop diversity:

  • The acreage allotted to different crops and the actual crop pattern differ greatly from what is appropriate from an agroclimatic perspective. The primary causes of the variation are differences in the rate of technological improvement for different crops and policy assistance.
  • In addition to causing distortions in agricultural patterns, technological and policy bias in favour of Green Revolution technologies and a few crops also led to a rapid drop in crop diversity and an increase in the concentration of area under certain crops.
  • Paddy was planted on 10.8% of Punjab’s net sown land in the early 1970s and 8% of Haryana’s in the 2020s. In Punjab, this percentage has grown to 73.3%, whereas in Haryana, it is 39.5%. Similarly, after the Green Revolution began, the area used for sugarcane farming doubled in Uttar Pradesh and quadrupled in Maharashtra.

 Low Productivity and Growth Driven by Price:

  • India’s agricultural industry has grown at a slower rate than it should have, while being excellent across most crops and states.
  • We are not as productive as large agricultural nations. Modernization in the industry is happening slowly.
  • Large-scale developments in technology, agricultural methods, and post-harvest value addition are not evident.
  • The widespread use of inputs in agriculture, such as fertiliser broadcasting and flood irrigation, is not yielding appreciable results.

 Disparities by Region and Unbalances:

  • Over time, there has been an increase in the disparity between local supply and demand. India’s state exchequer has incurred significant costs due to the country’s vast excess of rice, wheat, and sugar.
  • The fundamental cause of this is the center’s increase in output prices, the payment of bonuses for rice, and the fact that some states have raised the fair and remunerative price (FRP) for sugarcane while disregarding the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) and, by extension, supply and demand or market conditions.
  • However, India’s shortfall of edible oil keeps growing every year. Vegetable oils are imported by the nation to meet 55% of its domestic needs.
  • Thus, there is room for a 127% rise in domestic oilseed production on the home market.

 Unwise Investing:

  • The majority of public funding for agriculture goes towards large, medium, and micro irrigation. The goal of these expenditures was to expand the area that was irrigated with surface water.
  • After 2007–2008, the nation spent about Rs. 30,000 crore annually on major projects and a significant sum on the upkeep and operation of canals; nonetheless, the area irrigated by canals is either declining or stagnating.
  • Even after investing the majority of the costs, a number of significant irrigation projects are impeded by small-scale forest clearing, catchment area development, distributary and field channel building, and other similar minor issues. Conflicts between states and across the interstates also contribute to the delays in finishing certain significant irrigation projects.

The Creation and Spread of Technology:

  • Research is becoming more money expensive and agricultural challenges are getting more complicated. Concerns about sustainability, agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change increase the problems that the research and development (R&D) sector must solve.
  • The developed world’s research spillover scope is narrowing, and technology transfer from the outside world and the commercial sector is becoming more difficult and expensive due to intellectual property rights (IPR) difficulties.
  • The ICAR must address any problems and challenges pertaining to the agriculture sector, even though State Agriculture Universities (SAUs) bear the majority of the duty for agricultural research and higher education. The general public blames ICAR for any unfavourable development in the agriculture industry. As a result, over time, ICAR’s portfolio has grown significantly over SAUs.

Suitability of Minor Investors:

  • Small land holdings are the main source of agriculture in India and most other Asian countries. The Agricultural Census for the 2015–16 year shows that 68% of agricultural holdings are located on less than one hectare of land. Moreover, less than 2 hectares are farmed by 85% of farm households.
  • This amount of land is insufficiently profitable for the typical agricultural methods and output. Scale economies are another issue that small holders deal with in input and output markets, necessitating various forms of institutional support.

 Food safety, nutrition, and health:

  • India has poor child health and nutrition metrics. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reports that India is home to the greatest proportion of undernourished or hungry people.
  • India continues to rank low on the Global Hunger Index despite becoming the world’s largest exporter of rice, with 15% of its production going to foreign markets, according to the index. The contradictory state of “hunger in the midst of plenty” is embodied by India.

 Mismatch between Workforce and Structural Changes in Output:

  • Agriculture’s percentage of the country’s gross value added (GVA), which is a gauge of GDP, and employment would decrease as the economy grew. Faster changes in the economy’s structure occur when the economy grows more rapidly.
  • In India, the proportion of agriculture to national GDP fell from 61.7% in 1950–1951 to 49.6% in 2011–2012, although the sector’s employment share stayed steady at over 69%. Over the next twenty years, the sector’s income fell to 35.1% and its employment share fell to 59%.
  • Following 1990–1991, the economy grew at a quicker rate, which also caused the share of agriculture to fall more quickly. Nevertheless, the reduction in the labour force’s percentage of agriculture lagged behind the drop in the industry’s part of the country’s income. 2010–11 saw a share of 18.3% and 54.6%, respectively, of national income and employment coming from agriculture.

Farmers’ Low Income:

  • A disproportionate amount of the country’s employment and income comes from agriculture, which suggests that the non-agricultural and agricultural sectors pay differently per worker. Macroeconomically speaking, the average salary of a worker in the non-agricultural sector, which includes labourers and cultivators, is 3.75 times that of a person in the agricultural sector.
  • The primary reasons for the low per farmer income in the nation are the tiny and declining land area, an oversupply of labour, low productivity, and poorly functioning markets.

 What Actions Are Required to Raise the Level of Agricultural Productivity?

  • A few recommendations are made for the agri-food industry. These are based on discussions with experts at the Asian Development Bank’s four-day forum on food security in the context of climate change.

Increasing Productivity of Total Factor:

  • Agriculture needs to use less resources to produce the same amount of food, fibre, and even fuel (biofuels) as before. By 2047, India’s population is projected to reach roughly 1.6 billion people.
  • That means there are more people to feed. As incomes rise steadily, consumers will want better and more food.
  • It will be essential to employ labour, land, water, and inputs like fertilisers and farm equipment efficiently. To put it another way, we need to strive to increase our overall factor production.
  • Increased funding for agri-R&D, innovations, and extension can help achieve this.

 Building Agriculture That Is Climate Resilient:  

  • Climate change is causing extreme weather occurrences that are threatening the production system. Putting money into developing climate-resilient, or “smart,” agriculture is the true answer.
  • This would entail increased spending on heat- and flood-resistant seeds as well as increased investment in water resources, both in terms of increasing supply and making sure water is used more sensibly.
  • “More crop per drop” ought to be more than simply a catchphrase. Precision agriculture techniques like drip irrigation, sprinklers, and shielded cultivation will need to be implemented on a far bigger scale than they are currently.

 Constructing Effective Value Chains:

  • Over two-thirds of Indians will reside in cities by 2047, up from roughly 36% at the moment. Seeking occupations with greater productivity, people migrate from rural to urban areas. This is a natural phenomenon that cannot be wished away.
  • This implies that a large portion of the food will need to be transported from rural to urban areas.
  • An enormous transformation in logistics would be needed for everything from processing to organising sales to stocking to transporting.
  • Large-scale investments would become possible as a result, mostly from the private sector. The laws that are appropriate for Bharat@2047 must be changed by the incoming government in order to assist this transition.

 Encouraging cooperatives or farmer- producer organisations (FPOs):

  • Farming is continuing to divide into even smaller holdings despite the fact that all participants in this restructuring of the food system—from the seed industry to agricultural machinery to processing and retailing—are scaling up.
  • To generate a scale that is required by processors, organised retailers, and exporters, the task is to make sure that these smallholders are brought together through Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) or cooperatives (as was done in the milk industry, a la AMUL).
  • The secret to an inclusive Bharat is this institutional innovation.

Transitioning from Basic Food Security to Nutritious Security:

  • Moving beyond basic food security, there is a need to address nutritional security in terms of consumption. The rate of stunting is currently 35%, and the percentages of malnutrition are concerning, particularly for children under the age of five.
  • In addition to improving women’s education, vaccination rates, and cleanliness, we also need to supplement our basic foods with micronutrients to make this better.
  • While Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US have certified golden rice high in beta carotene (Vitamin A) safe, and even Bangladesh and the Philippines have permitted its trials, the government has started with zinc-rich rice and wheat.
  • Our first crop is rice, which is consumed in large quantities by the majority of today’s malnourished youngsters. This requires a high-nutrient fortification.

 Public-Private Partnership Needed:

  • Public-private collaborations are the ideal approach. In addition to producing more nutrient-dense and climate-resilient seeds, the private sector may establish effective value chains.
  • The policy framework must be provided by the government. The government should create PLI-style programmes for industry and food systems transformation for the future at the same time.

 Change to Efficient-Growth from Growth:

  • This calls for the advancement of agricultural technology, the use of contemporary knowledge in farming techniques, fresh farming innovations, and a reduction in input waste, particularly in the use of water, fertiliser, and other inputs.
  • In order to encourage the optimal use of inputs like water and fertiliser and discourage their excessive and careless usage, this would also necessitate changing the input pricing strategy.
  • Digital technology can also significantly contribute to increased efficiency by making it simple for farmers to access technology and information.

 Management of Surplus:

  • The rate of increase in domestic food absorption has lagged behind that of domestic production. India produced and consumed slightly more than one kilogramme of food per person each day in the early 1980s. In recent years, domestic absorption has climbed to 1.59 kg while production has continuously increased to 1.73 kg. This demonstrates that during the past 35 years, there has been a steady increase in the surplus of food.
  • To do this, the entire focus of food policy must change from managing shortages to managing surpluses. This suggests that a large portion of India’s undernutrition is caused by inadequate food consumption rather than a lack of food supply. India needs to search for foreign markets in order to get rid of its excess food supply.

 What is the role of technology in enhancing agricultural productivity and food systems?  

 Increasing Output:Precision farming involves optimising planting, watering, and fertilising procedures with the use of GPS, sensors, and drones to maximise yields and minimise resource waste.

  • Mechanisation is the process of boosting agricultural operations’ efficiency by eliminating manual labour through the use of technology like tractors, harvesters, and planters.
  • Biotechnology: The creation of genetically modified crops that are more resilient to environmental stressors, diseases, and pests while maintaining yield and quality.

 Enhancing the Management of Resources:

  • Water management is the application of technology for effective irrigation systems, such as sprinkler and drip irrigation, to improve crop productivity while conserving water.
  • Soil health monitoring involves the use of sensors and imaging technologies to evaluate the nutrients and health of the soil, allowing for targeted fertilisation and soil conservation techniques.
  • Weather forecasting: Utilising current weather information to enhance agricultural operations planning and management while lowering the likelihood of weather-related catastrophes.

 Opening Up the Market:

  • Digital Platforms: Using e-NAM portal and other online marketplaces, farmers may access markets, haggle over prices, and sell food directly to consumers, cutting out middlemen and boosting revenues.
  • Supply Chain Management: Using technology to provide quality control, track and monitor produce from farm to market, and cut down on waste.

Encouraging Ecological Practices:

  • Empowering Smallholder Farmers: By giving them access to financial services, markets, and information, technology has the ability to empower smallholder farmers.
  • Farmers can make better decisions and increase their standard of living by using the useful agronomic guidance, market prices, and weather forecasts provided by mobile applications and digital platforms.
  • Renewable energy reduces dependency on fossil fuels and reduces carbon emissions by powering farms with solar panels and bioenergy sources.
  • Data-driven decision making involves evaluating information from sensors, satellites, and drones to manage crops in a way that promotes more environmentally friendly farming methods.
  • Predictive analytics, for example, can assist farmers in identifying the best times to plant or anticipate pest outbreaks, enabling proactive management tactics and lowering risks.
  • A paradigm change in how the agriculture sector is viewed overall is necessary for both the transformation of agriculture and a substantial and long-term improvement in farmers’ income.  Reforming outdated laws and deregulating the industry are essential to fostering an atmosphere that supports a dynamic, contemporary farm. Science-led technology advancements, a stronger role for the private sector before and after harvest, a liberalised output market, an active land lease market, and a focus on efficiency will prepare agriculture to face the challenges of the twenty-first century and help realise the vision of a new India.

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