Science and Our Agricultural Future

Sifting grain. India. (Ray Witlin / World Bank)

A Roman farmer Varro (1st Century BC.) is reported to have stated "Agriculture is a science which teaches us what crops should be planted in each kind of soil, and what operations are to be carried out, in order that the land may produce the highest yields in perpetuity" (Prof G T Scarascia Mugnozza - personal communication). Realizing this goal will call for continuous improvements in technology without associated ecological or social harm. In the Presidential Address to the Agricultural Sciences Section of the Indian Science Congress, held at Varanasi in January 1968, I gave the following description of the implications of unsustainable agriculture (Swaminathan, M.S., 1968 and 1993).

Exploitive agriculture offers great dangers if carried out with only an immediate profit or production motive. The emerging exploitive farming community in India should become aware of this. Intensive cultivation of land without conservation of soil fertility and soil structure would lead, ultimately, to the springing up of deserts. Irrigation without arrangements for drainage would result in soils getting alkaline or saline. Indiscriminate use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides could cause adverse changes in biological balance as well as lead to an increase in the incidence of cancer and other diseases, through the toxic residues present in the grains or other edible parts. Unscientific tapping of underground water will lead to the rapid exhaustion of this wonderful capital resource left to us through ages of natural farming. The rapid replacement of numerous locally adapted varieties with one or two high-yielding strains in large contiguous areas would result in the spread of serious diseases capable of wiping out entire crops, as happened prior to the Irish potato famine of 1854 and the Bengal rice famine in 1942. Therefore the initiation of exploitive agriculture without a proper understanding of the various consequences of every one of the changes introduced into traditional agriculture, and without first building up a proper scientific and training base to sustain it, may only lead us, in the long run, into an era of agricultural disaster rather than one of agricultural prosperity.

Since then, there has been extensive research on the development of gene deployment strategies to match the physiologic races of pathogens, integrated pest and nutrient management systems, and other forms of environment-friendly technologies. What is the role of transgenic crops in such a quest for sustainable advances in productivity?

There is now considerable controversy on methods of assessing risks and benefits in relation to transgenic or genetically modified (GM) crops. It is becoming increasingly clear that scientific data alone cannot allay ecological, economic, health and ideological apprehensions. Hence there is need to adopt a "hasten slowly" attitude in relation to the spread of GM crops, particularly those intended for human consumption. Hasten we must in terms of scientific research, but slowly in terms of covering large areas with transgenic crops until the various doubts are cleared. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety represents the first step in developing internationally agreed guidelines for undertaking risk-benefit analyses in a manner which inspire public confidence.

There are many potentially valuable applications of GM technologies in tropical agriculture, where biotic and abiotic pressures are high (Swaminathan, 1982). The transition from Mendelian to molecular breeding represents a shift from generalized to precision breeding. Precision farming is an important component of sustainable agriculture. What role can precision breeding play in taking the eco-farming movement forward? The following are a few of the major scientific issues needing particular attention.

  • Soil Health Care: Maintenance of soil health requires attention to the physical, chemical, micro-biological and erodability characteristics of the soil.
  • Water Quality: The quality of irrigation water, with particular reference to salt concentration is important in relation to crop growth.
  • Plant Health Care: Steps will have to be taken to protect crops from the triple alliance of weeds, pests and pathogens. The pest pressure is particularly high in tropical and sub-tropical agriculture, since crops as well as alternate hosts are available in the field, particularly throughout the year.
  • Genetic Homogeneity: Experience has shown that genetic homogeneity enhances genetic vulnerability to pests and diseases. Monoculture of transgenic crop varieties over large areas will enhance prospects for both the breakdown of resistance and the outbreak of pest epidemics.
  • Abiotic stresses With intensive agriculture, problems of salinization and waterlogging and pollution are increasing in intensity. Bio-remediation techniques will hence become increasingly important. Droughts, floods, cyclones and other natural calamities pose additional threats to crop security. The consequences of potential changes in climate as a result of global warming are yet to be understood fully but it is clear that anticipatory research should be initiated to meet potential adverse changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level and ultraviolet-B radiation.
  • Post-harvest Management: Uniform ripening, uniform skin color, processing and keeping quality, capacity to withstand transportation over long distances are all becoming important in the market, particularly in vegetables, fruits and flowers. Globalization of trade is opening up new markets for agricultural produce, but markets are also getting to be very choosy in terms of quality of the produce.

Thus, there will be need for genetic material which can help to reduce or eliminate dependence on market-purchased chemicals on the one hand, and enhance adaptation to market preferences on the other. Research on bio-remediation techniques will have to be stepped up to clean up problems arising from soil and water pollution. It is not surprising that the very first patent given to any living organism was for a micro-organism developed by genetic engineering by Dr Ananda Chakrabarty for cleaning up pollution caused by oil spills (Chakrabarty. 1981).

Blending of recombinant DNA technology and organic farming methods:

For every problem, there is a solution. Methods are being developed to find substitutes for antibiotic markers in recombinant DNA experiments. Also, techniques which help to be as precise as possible in the transfer of alien DNA are being standardized. It is likely that most of the current biosafety and environmental concerns associated with GM crops will be satisfactorily addressed scientifically during the next few years, so that precision breeding becomes an important component of an economically and ecologically efficient precision farming system. The following examples from the work and approach of the scientists of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation will help to illustrate the power of blending traditional practices with frontier technologies.

Pre-breeding and Participatory breeding

An integrated pre-breeding procedure leading to the production of novel genetic combinations and designer genotypes, and participatory breeding involving the development of location specific varieties jointly with farming families, would help to combine genetic efficiency and diversity in a mutually reinforcing manner. This will help to avoid the danger inherent in spreading single genotypes over large areas. Also, sustainable agriculture needs for its sustenance location-specific varieties.

At MSSRF, a group of scientists headed by Dr Ajay Parida have been working during the past 8 years on the transfer of salinity tolerance genes from mangrove tree species to annual crops. This program was initiated with support from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, to prepare genetic material which will prove to be useful if sea levels rise, thereby safeguarding coastal agriculture.

One such gene, Betaine Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (BADH) cloned from a highly salt tolerant mangrove species, Avicennia marina is currently being evaluated in transgenic tobacco and Brassica systems for its efficacy. BADH converts betaine aldehyde to glycine betaine. Glycine betaine is an effective compatible solute and its accumulation confers salinity tolerance in plants. The transgenic tobacco and Brassica, over-expressing the BADH from Avicennia, conferred salinity tolerance up to 250 mM NaCl. The work on isolation of a gene that can convert the ubiquitous choline into betaine aldehyde is being actively pursued. Other genes relating to stress resistance isolated and characterized from the mangrove species include Catalase (CAT), Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), Glyoxalase and Sodium Hydrogen Antiporter. These genes are being evaluated for their expression in transgenic systems. Also, transformation work is in progress in rice and Vigna(Ajay Parida, Personal communication).

Once transgenic plants with the desired salinity tolerance are developed, they will be used, after obtaining the necessary clearance from the regulatory authority, in breeding programs undertaken jointly with farm families. The aim will be to transfer to numerous locally adopted varieties the salinity tolerance character in coastal as well as in inland areas where salinity is a problem.

Bio-remediation: Sequestration of salt

Salinity is responsible for major crop losses, particularly in semi-arid and irrigated agriculture. High salinity in soil may result from excessive irrigation or the excessive application of chemical fertilizer. Usually sulfates, chlorides and bicarbonates of Na+, Mg2+, and Ca2+ contribute to the salinity of soil. Sodium (Na+) is the predominant soluble cation in most saline soil water, particularly in coastal areas. An alternate approach, for practicing crop cultivation in saline environments, is the amelioration of soil salinity in agricultural habitats. Conventionally, it is done by addition of gypsum followed by leaching out of excess salts by flooding. A biological approach to solving this problem will be preferable. Anabaena torulosa, a blue green alga was found to grow and enrich the nitrogen status of moderately saline "Kharland" soils. A. torulosa was found not to intracellularly accumulate Na+ but entrap the cation in its extracellular mucopolysaccharides sheath, thereby reducing the availability of this deleterious cation to the crops. Research on the biological sequestration of salt from the soil may be rewarding.

Under a collaborative research program between the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and MSSRF, a salt tolerant culture of A. torulosa, along with AL31 were given for testing in the southern coastal region. Several field trials have been conducted so far. The trials have shown that A. torulosa established very well along with local Ananaena sp in the field condition. Enhanced nitrogenase activity was observed in the field after transplantation. Up to 64% salt sequestration was observed when 1000 ml of innoculum was added (Sudha Nair, Personal Communication).

Biotechnological applications in organic farming

MSSRF scientists are integrating a wide variety of biotechnological applications in improving the productivity, profitability, stability and sustainability of major cropping systems. Among the techniques of particular value are vermiculture, biopesticides, biofertilisers including stem-nodulating green manure crops, azolla, blue-green algae and improved rhizobial strains. Such biopesticides and biofertilisers are best produced by village level self-help groups. In fact, there are good opportunities for gainful employment in the area of producing such biological software for sustainable agriculture.

Conclusion

The era of precision breeding opened up by advances in genomics and genetic engineering has become an ally in the movement for environmentally sustainable advances in agriculture, a phenomenon I have christened as "ever-green revolution" (see, Swaminathan M.S. 2000). Knowledge is a continuum. The 20th century was marked by spectacular advance, in crop productivity triggered by Mendelian breeding. The 21st century will witness even more spectacular progress from an intelligent integration of Mendelian and molecular breeding. The enormous power which transgenic technology has conferred on human kind imposes an ethical obligation, which should be discharged by developing transparent and multi-stakeholder method of risk-benefit analysis, capable of inspiring public confidence and trust.

At the same time, the tendency to decry all advances in the breeding of transgenic crops will not be in the interest of sustainable food and nutrition security. India’s population exceeds a billion and there is no option in the future except to produce more crop per unit of land and per every drop of water. In my Coromandel Lecture titled "Agriculture on Spaceship Earth" delivered on 26 February, 1973. I mentioned "we are fortunately in a position to build a positive policy of economic ecology based on a series of Do’s rather than Don’ts (Swaminathan, 2001).

Getting the best out of the new genetics for farm families will be possible only if the principles of economic ecology as well as a "do" philosophy underpin science and public policies.

Sustainable Food Security

The concept of food security has been undergoing an evolutionary change during the last 50 years. In the nineteen fifties, food security was considered essentially in terms of production. It was assumed that adequate production will assure adequate availability of food in the market as well as in the household. In the seventies, it became clear that availability alone does not lead to food security, since those who lack purchasing power will not be able to have access to balanced diets. Purchasing power again is related to jobs or livelihood opportunities. More recently, it is becoming evident that even if availability and access are satisfactory, the biological absorption of food in the body is related to the consumption of clean drinking water as well as to environmental hygiene, primary health care and primary education. Finally, even if physical and economic access to food is assured, ecological factors will determine the long-term sustainability of food security systems. Based on the above considerations, the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and the United Nations World Food Program have recently brought out a Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India (Vepa et al, 2001)

The food insecurity atlas of MSSRF & WFP reveals that every S7tate in the country has its strengths and weaknesses in relation to the five major dimensions considered in the analyses. These are: availability of food, which is a function of production, access to food, which is related to purchasing power, absorption of food in the body, which is determined by the availability of safe drinking water, environmental hygiene, primary health care and primary education, vulnerability to transient hunger, which is related to natural and man-made calamities and disasters, and sustainability of production, which is influenced by the extent of attention given to the ecological foundations essential for sustained advances in production. The Atlas reveals that non-food factors, like livelihood and income-earning opportunities, health care facilities, education, sanitation and environmental hygiene are as important for food security at the level of every individual, as factors relating to the availability of food grains in the market and access to clean drinking water.

The Atlas provides an opportunity for State Governments to draw up food security balance sheets based on strengths and weaknesses, and to identify the "hot spots" with reference to endemic and transient hunger, as well as to open (i.e. protein-calorie under nutrition) and hidden (i.e. micronutrient deficiencies) hunger.

While we should give the highest priority to improving food consumption and equitable distribution, we should not decelerate our efforts in improving agricultural production through yield improvement, higher factor productivity and better post-harvest management. Agricultural production, factor productivity and investment in irrigation and post-harvest and rural infrastructure are all declining in India. Prices of many agricultural commodities have collapsed and Indian farm families are in deep economic and psychological distress. This trend, if not arrested immediately, will lead to social chaos, since agriculture (crop and animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry, agro-processing and small scale agri-business) is not just a food producing machine, but is the backbone of the livelihood security system for nearly 700 million children, women and men in the country. There is no time to relax on the food production front, just because the major problem today is in the area of marketing and distribution. At the same time, we should not continue to remain silent spectators to the co-existence of mountains of grains and millions of hungry.

From Green to an Ever-green Revolution

The first 60 years of the 20th century were marked by a sense of despair and frustration regarding India’s capability to achieve a balance between human numbers and the production of foodgrains and other agricultural commodities. In 1968, this mood of despair and diffidence gave way to one of optimism and self confidence in relation to our agricultural potential and our farmers’ ability to adapt and adopt new technologies, a phenomenon which was christened in that year as "Green Revolution". This agricultural transformation helped to strengthen national sovereignty in many areas, including the capacity to remain non-aligned in foreign policy.

Our agriculture is now at the crossroads. On the one hand, our national capability in frontier areas of science and technology, as for example in biotechnology, information, communication and space technologies, nuclear and renewable energy technologies and in management science, has opened up uncommon opportunities for achieving an evergreen revolution i.e. sustainable advances in crop productivity per units of land, water and time without associated ecological harm.

Thus, sustainable food security will have to be defined as "physical, economic, social and ecological access to balanced diets and safe drinking water, so as to enable every individual to lead a productive and healthy life in perpetuity". A life cycle approach will have to be followed in the case of nutrition, ranging from in utero to old age. Achieving such a form of food security will require synergy between technology and public policy.

There are, on the other hand, both internal and external threats to our agricultural progress. The most important among the internal threats in the damage to the ecological foundations essential for sustained agricultural advance, like land, water, forests and biodiversity. The other major internal weakness is the mismatch between production and post-harvest technologies, and the consequent need for the Government of India to undertake "trade relief" operations, on lines similar to those of cyclone, flood and drought relief.

The external threats include the unequal trade bargain inherent in the WTO agreement of 1994, the rapid expansion of proprietary science and potential adverse changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level and ultra violet ß radiation.

The global threats to the agricultural destiny of developing countries can be overcome only if industrialized countries, particularly the United States of America are willing to take the following steps.

  • Ensure that the Kyoto protocol relating to the Climate convention is implemented.
  • Extend adequate support is extended to public good research at the national and international levels, thereby fostering a new social contract between science and society (Swaminathan, 1999).
  • Revise the Agreement on Agriculture of the World Trade Organization in a manner that trade becomes a powerful tool for poverty eradication. At present there is no level playing field between the produce emanating from factory farming and farmer’s farming (i.e. small scale producers)

Sustainable Advances in Agricultural Productivity

The smaller the farm, the greater is the need for marketable surplus to ensure cash income. Fortunately the gap between potential and actual yields is high in most farming systems. Even in the case of rice and wheat, the present average yield is just 40 percent of what can be achieved even with technologies currently on the shelf. Therefore a massive effort should be made to launch a productivity revolution in farming. An integrated approach is necessary to remove the technological, infrastructure and social and policy constraints responsible for the productivity gap and in some cases, productivity decline. Reducing the cost of production through eco-technologies and improving income through efficient production and post-harvest technologies will help to enhance opportunities for both skilled employment and farm income. Precision farming methods which can help to enhance income and yield per drop of water and per units of land and time need to be standardized, demonstrated and popularized speedily, if a reduction in the cost of production is to be achieved without reduction in yield.

As an immediate measure for strengthening food security at the level of individuals and households, there is no better option than initiating a systematic effort in each agro-climatic zone to identify and remove the constraints responsible for the prevailing yield gaps. This is true not only of crop plants but also of livestock and fisheries. The local panchayati raj institutions or other forms of local bodies should be fully involved both in identifying constraints that limit production and in removing them. The following are some of the other steps needed.

Land and Water Care

Some of the measures needed to conserve land for agricultural purposes are:

  • Arresting land degradation and the loss of the biological potential of the soil (desertification)
  • Promoting land and water use on the basis of agro-ecological, meteorological and marketing factors
  • Restoring degraded and wasted land through agro-forestry and other appropriate methods of restoration ecology
  • Launching community centered water harvesting, conservation and use programs to ensure the efficient harvest of rainwater and the sustainable use of ground water. The adoption of conjunctive water use practices ensures integrated use of river, rain, ground, treated sewage and sea water, in such a manner that every drop yields more crop and income.
  • Introducing public policies to prevent the diversion of prime farmland for non-farm uses and the unsustainable exploitation of ground water.

There are currently several Central and State Government programs dealing with wasteland development, rainwater harvesting, watershed development, command area management, shallow tube well construction, social and agro-forestry and prevention of damage to hydrologic cycles in hill areas. There is an urgent need for convergence and synergy among these programs so that land and water conservation and use can be dealt with in a scientific and holistic manner. Land and water management problems (the term ‘management’ is used to denote concurrent attention to conservation, sustainable use, and equitable sharing of benefits) are multi-dimensional. So uni-dimensional approaches through numerous independent schemes implemented by separate departments of central and state governments will only result in inefficient and ineffective use of financial and technical resources. 1. Schedule 11 of Constitution amendment 73, relating to Panchayati Raj institutions, entrusts to Panchayats / local bodies, responsibilities for the management of land, water and common property resources. If these bodies, in which a third of the members are women, are legally, technically and financially enabled to discharge the functions listed in Schedule 11, a beginning can be made in fostering land and water management in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. There are some legislative, administrative and legal hurdles in the way of decentralized planning. Hence, it is important to address these issues immediately. 2. The existing State Land Use Boards should be revitalized and reorganized in such a manner that they can give proactive advice to farm families on land use during the south-west and north-east monsoon periods based on the following factors

  • Farming systems (crop, livestock, fish and agro-forestry) which will be most efficient under the given soil, water and climatic conditions
  • Short and medium range weather forecasts (the country has developed considerable capability in this area)
  • Projected market demand (both home and external markets)
  • Cost of production, risks involved and expected return
  • Potential for on-farm and non-farm livelihood generation, so as to maximize income and employment per units of land and water.

If such advice is given at least several weeks before the sowing season, a proper match can be achieved between production and potential market demand. Uneconomic market interventions can then be avoided. The agro-ecological potential of every village can be utilized in an ecologically and economically optimum manner. The "Blue Box" of the Agreement on Agriculture of the World Trade Organization provides for expenditure on achieving a balance between demand and supply in farm products. Seed Banks of alternative crops will have to be established at the local level.

The reorganized Land Use Boards should also be able to develop contingency cropping patterns to suit different rainfall and water availability patterns. Thanks to the long-range weather data available with the Meteorological Department, it is now possible to develop computer simulation models of likely deviations in monsoon behavior. These can be used for formulating land use advice based on GIS maps, which also take into consideration the moisture holding capacity of soils, physiological efficiency of crops, home needs and market demand.

If such steps are taken, we can promote land use based on considerations of both ecological sustainability and economic efficiency. Since land use decisions are also water use decisions, land and water care and use are best dealt with in a simultaneous and interactive manner. For example, if the ongoing technology missions in crops like oilseeds, pulses, maize and cotton are linked to the watershed development and dry farming programs, these missions will become more effective.

Reorganization of extension services

Advances in information technology also provide opportunities for farm graduates to establish computer-aided and internet connected Rural Knowledge Centres. These centers should help to convert generic into location specific information. The present extension service has outlived its utility. It can be replaced over time by farmer owned and operated knowledge centers. A virtual college linking such village knowledge centers to agricultural universities and research institutions can be established, so that farm women and men are able to get up-to-date and authentic technical advice. Nearly a million farm graduates (both men and women) can be involved in establishing and operating such Rural Knowledge Centres based on modern information and communication technology. Such centers can also operate local community radio stations. Such a restructuring and retooling of extension services will help to provide demand driven and environment and farming systems specific advice to farmers. They will trigger a knowledge revolution in agriculture and will lead to an efficient and eco-sensitive precision farming movement. This great opportunity for achieving a transition from unskilled to skilled work and for designing a new extension service for the new economy should not be missed.

Linking food and ecological Security

The provisional census 2001 figures reveal that our population is higher by nearly 20 million than expected and that sex ratio continues to be adverse to women (933 women per 1000 males). The sex ratio is even more adverse in the 0-6 age group, suggesting the possibility of increasing female foeticide. Fortunately, female literacy is improving and Madhya Pradesh has shown the way for achieving a quantum jump both in male and female literacy through its education guarantee program. While we must relentlessly pursue the goals of literacy and health for all and gender justice and equity, we should take advantage of a rare and unique opportunity in the history of independent India provided by the growing grain stocks in Government godowns to leapfrog in our efforts to realize Gandhiji’s vision of a hunger-free India.

Current government stocks of wheat, rice and other grains exceed 45 million tons. Government may have to purchase another 15 to 20 million tons of wheat and rice during the next few months. A considerable proportion of these stocks remains in gunny bags and temporary storage structures. The Government of India has announced a scheme for the construction of large numbers of rural godowns. Severe drought in several parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and other States is compounding the problems of poverty-induced endemic hunger and drinking water scarcity.

The time is therefore opportune to launch an imaginative Community Grain Bank movement. On an average, 1 ton of wheat or rice supports the food needs of 5 individuals in our country. Community Grain Banks each with 200 t of wheat or rice or other locally acceptable staples like ragi, jowar, bajra, and maize could be established, to begin with, in "hunger hot spot" villages. Remote areas with poor communication as the desert areas of Rajasthan and hill, tribal and drought affected areas, can be given priority in starting the Community Grain Bank movement. 25,000 Grain Banks can be established during the next few months if the Government of India will approve immediately the release of 5 million tons of grains for this purpose. Because large quantities of Government stocks are in gunny bags, it is easy to move them to the Community Grain Banks, where they can be stored using the low cost technology standardized by the Food Corporation of India. It will be sad if Government sits over 60 million tons of food grains, allowing some of it to rot, rather than take them to places where, in Gandhiji’s words "God is Bread".

Based on the experience of the initial 25000 village level grain banks, another 25,000 can be established later this year thus using 10 million tons of the surplus stock in a socially meaningful manner.. Let the first year of the new millennium be a year of decisive action in our resolve to provide every individual in the country an opportunity for a productive and healthy life.

The Community Grain Banks can be sustained with locally procured grains, wherever feasible. They should be linked to the rural godowns scheme. The Banks could function under the overall umbrella of the Gram Sabha, and can be operated by local self-help groups of women and men. This will ensure their relevance to local conditions in addition to involving low transaction costs. The Community Grain Banks could be used for initiating at the local level food for work, food for nutrition (i.e. distribution of food among pregnant and nursing mothers, infants and old and infirm persons), waste land and watershed development, ecological restoration of common property resources and for establishing community water banks (see M S Swaminathan, Sunday Hindu, 15 October 2000). They can also be the vehicles for operating the targeted public distribution, Antyodaya Anna Yojana and other Central and State Government schemes. Thus, the Community Grain Banks can become instruments of eco-restoration, water harvesting and hunger-elimination.

We should link conservation, cultivation and consumption in a mutually reinforcing manner. For this it will be useful to foster the establishment of community gene, seed, water and grain banks in every village.

Increasing production and productivity

Future agricultural production programs will have to be based on a three- pronged strategy designed to foster an evergreen revolution, which leads to increased production without associated ecological and social harm. The following are the four major elements of this strategy for producing more in an environment-friendly manner: a. Defending the gains already made: This will call for conservation and enhancement of soil and water resources as well as forests and biodiversity through an integrated package of government regulation, education and social mobilization (through Panchayats and local bodies). The traditional "green revolution" areas are in urgent need of such an integrated natural resources management strategy so that the pattern of present production does not erode future prospects. The Punjab which is India’s granary today will become food insecure in 15 to 20 years from now, if the current unsustainable land and water use practices continue. Defending the gains already achieved will also need stepping up maintenance research for ensuring that new strains of pests and pathogens do not cause crop losses. Special steps are needed to prevent the introduction of invasive alien species, which are coming into the country along with imported food and agricultural commodities. These invasive alien species, like new and aggressive weeds, nematodes etc. can cause incalculable harm to the future of Indian agriculture.

Conservation and enhancement of land and water resources is important. Water harvesting, watershed development and economic and efficient water use can help to enhance productivity and income considerably. Conjunctive use of different water sources should become the rule, rather than the exception. Unless there is equity in water sharing, there will be no cooperation in water saving. Therefore, equitable methods of water sharing should be promoted. Where water is scare, high value but low water requiring crops should be grown. In this context, the organization of Pulses and Oilseed Villages should become a national movement. This should be a major aim of the Pulses and Oilseeds Technology Missions. Solving internal shortages of pulses and oilseeds through imports will only add to the economic woes of dry land farming communities. Pulses and oilseeds are important income earning and soil enriching crops in dry land areas. Various estimates of land degradation exist. The Ministry of Rural Development has also published a Wasteland Atlas of India. The following kinds of soil degradation have been quantified:

Wind erosion 19.7 million ha.
Salinization 4.1 million ha.
Water logging 3.1 million ha.
Water erosion 69.6 million ha.
Soil fertility decline 13.7 million ha.

Thus, there are vast opportunities for launching Wasteland Development Enterprises by local self-help groups through the following strategy.

Identify the precise nature of soil degradation and develop scientific restoration measures. Based on agro-ecological conditions, choose tree species which can help to initiate suitable enterprises. For example, a plant pesticide model of wasteland development could involve the planting of neem and melia. Appropriate species can be chosen and planted, depending on soil and water conditions, for undertaking the preparation of furniture, doors, windows etc. or paper, fiber or fruit packaging industries.

The aim is to add value to wasteland development through an integrated strategy of restoration and commercialization. Such a twin approach will impart greater momentum to wasteland reclamation particularly in peri-urban areas.

b. Extending the gains to rain-fed and semi-arid, hill and island areas, which have so far been bypassed by yield enhancement technologies: regional imbalances in agricultural development are growing, based largely on the availability of assured irrigation on the one hand and assured and remunerative marketing opportunities on the other. North Bihar is an exception, where water is in plentiful but agricultural growth is slow. Eastern India has a large untapped yield reservoir and by and large, falls under the "green but no green revolution" category. West Bengal has made impressive progress during the nineties, while more recently Assam has started making progress, thanks to a large shallow-tube well program designed to tap ground water during rabi and summer (boro) seasons. The introduction of eco-regional technology missions, aimed to provide appropriate packages of technology, techno-infrastructure, services and input and output pricing and marketing policies will help to include the excluded in agricultural progress.

Technologies for elevating and stabilizing yields are available for semiarid and dry farming areas, as a result of the work done by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research institutions, State Agricultural Universities and International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics. Agro-forestry and animal husbandry are extremely important in arid and semi-arid regions. Livestock and livelihoods are closely linked in such areas. A major effort in water conservation and management and land use planning is needed in all areas that have been by-passed by scientific agriculture. Attention to horticulture, with particular emphasis on post-harvest technology, will help to optimize income and employment from every drop of water. Both livestock and tree farming will provide opportunities for downstream employment. Therefore the emphasis should be on farming systems that can optimize the benefits of natural resources in a sustainable manner and not merely on cropping systems. Also, in coastal areas, there is need for a massive program of coastal systems research and development, involving capture and culture fisheries, coastal forestry and agro-forestry and integrated crop and animal husbandry. Coastal agro-forestry and forestry can provide much of the fuel wood needs of inland areas. As in the crop sector, there is a vast untapped production reservoir in the fisheries sector. With the coming into force of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, India’s exclusive economic zone in the oceans around the country extends to over 2 million sq. kms.

Dry farming areas are also ideal for the cultivation of low water requiring but high value pulses and oilseeds. The Pulses and Oilseeds Technology Missions should be revitalized and linked to the water harvesting and watershed development during the Tenth Plan (2002-2007). As emphasized earlier, taking the easy option of importing large quantities of pulses and oilseeds forecloses the great opportunity for improving the economic wellbeing of farm families in dry farming areas through improving the production and productivity of pulses and oilseeds.

c. Making new gains through farming systems intensification, diversification and value-addition: During the past decade, discoveries in information and biological technologies have contributed in unanticipated ways to fundamental changes in the global economy and to unprecedented economic growth, particularly in industrialized countries. There are also growing bonds of partnerships between Universities and industries. In the USA, for example, industrial research parks surround leading research universities. We have more than forty agricultural, animal sciences, fisheries and rural universities, in addition to numerous agricultural and forestry research institutions. Universities and research institutions should serve as the engines of growth in a knowledge-based economy. They should also address, through their research and training agenda, the great challenges that confront our country in terms of poverty and the lack of basic human needs.

Detailed agro-climatic and soil maps are available for the country. Watershed and Wasteland Atlases are also available. We have considerable capacity in remote sensing and GIS mapping. These should be used for developing improved farming systems, which can provide more income and jobs. Value addition to primary products should be done at the village itself. Integrated crop-livestock-fish production systems should be fostered. Opportunities for non-farm employment will then improve.

d. Institutional support: Higher production can be sustained only if there are opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing. A major challenge relates to reducing the cost of production by improving productivity. This will call for appropriate institutional structures which can help to provide key centralized services to small and marginal farm families and to provide them with the power of scale in eco-farming (i.e., integrated pest management, scientific water management, integrated nutrient supply, precision farming etc.,) as well as in marketing. The role of the Small Farmers Agri business Consortium (SFAC) that was established for this purpose should be reviewed and appropriate institutional structures, owned and controlled by farm families, should be promoted. Federations of self-help groups, farmer controlled cooperatives and corporate business entities, and other socially relevant institutional structures should be promoted. Without enhanced efficiency in the production and post-harvest phases of agriculture, Indian farmers will not be able to face the challenge of globalization in terms of cost competitiveness, quality of produce and consistency of supply.

It should not be forgotten that but for the existence of a very capable and professionally run National Dairy Development Board as well as a dairy farmers’ cooperative movement, we would not have been able to achieve the first position in milk production in the world. User controlled and driven institutional structures characterized by low transaction costs, are essential to provide the needed assistance in post-harvest technology, like drying, storage, processing and marketing.

Adequate food availability is necessary both for stabilizing prices and ensuring the operation of an effective public distribution system. There is therefore no time to relax on the food production front. There is particularly an urgent need for greater investment in irrigation, power supply, rural roads, cold storages, godowns and food processing units. By extending the benefits of technological transformation and institutional reform to more areas and farming systems, India can become a leader in world agriculture.

Policies for Improving Economic Access to Food

As early as 1856, Col. Baird Smith, who investigated the causes of a serious famine in North West India, wrote: "Indian famines are famines of work, and not of food. Where there is work, there is money. Where there is money there is food". This situation is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago. Food security in India is best described in million person years of jobs and livelihoods rather than in million tons of food grains.

Agriculture, comprising crop and animal husbandry, inland and marine fisheries, forestry and agro-forestry, agro-processing and agribusiness, constitutes the backbone of the livelihood security system of India, particularly in rural areas. Our agriculture is still "farmers’ farming" and not "factory farming", as in industrialized countries. This is our great strength, since the health of plants and animals and other hazards associated with factory farming are now becoming evident. Therefore, jobs / livelihoods for Indians must be the bottom line of all our economic and development policies. Unfortunately, modern industry is not labor absorbing and usually enhances its efficiency by downsizing of staff to improve output per person. The "new economy" based on information technology and knowledge industries is also by itself not employment intensive, but could lead to "new employment", if intelligently used.

Farming is the largest private sector enterprise in India. Nearly 58.9 percent of the workers depend upon agriculture for their income and livelihoods. Now that the share of agriculture in total workers is declining, we must think of increasing their productivity and alleviating rural poverty. Rural poverty is greater than urban poverty. Nearly, 50 percent of the rural population, belonging to labor families, are engaged in unskilled low-wage work in several parts of the country.

New economy and new employment opportunities: Opportunities for new employment include the production of eco-foods, 'biological-software' for sustainable agriculture like bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and vermi-culture, bio-processing, health foods, herbal medicines, recycling of solid and liquid wastes and agriculture and agro-processing machinery. In the new knowledge based economy, good ecology will be fundamental to good business.

Thanks to both the ongoing technological revolution, particularly in molecular genetics, information and space applications, and the spread of democratic systems of governance at the grassroot level it is now possible to work towards achieving a substantial reduction in chronic and hidden hunger by the year 2007, which marks the 60th anniversary of India’s independence. What is important to ensure is that the means adopted to achieve this end are not at the expense of the prospects for sustainable food security for the generations yet to be born.

References

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