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Agricultural self sustainability & food security of India

Agricultural self sustainability & food security of India

Tag: GS 3 || Economy || Agriculture || Food Security

Why in news?

  • India runs the risk of becoming an overall importer of food soon.

Background

  • Population: India is, today, a country of about 1.35 billion people.
    • United Nations’ population projections of 2017 say that India is likely to surpass China’s population by 2024 and reach 1.5 billion by 2030, making it the most populous nation on the planet.
  • Demography: About two-thirds of Indians are below 35 years of age.

Other factors

  • GDP: India’s GDP has been growing at around 7% annually for the last two decades, and likely to continue at this pace for at least another decade.
  • PCI: With population growth gradually declining to 1.1% now and continuing in that direction, per capita incomes in India are likely to grow at around 6% annually for the next decade.

Consumption expenditure survey

  • The 2011 consumption expenditure survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) revealed that an average Indian household spent about 45% of its total monthly expenditure on food, implying that the demand for food in India is going to spike in the coming years.
  • This raises a fundamental question: Can India feed itself or will it become a large importer of food?
    • Groundwater level: This question is pertinent as India has limited cultivated land (net sown area hovers around 140 million hectares) and its groundwater table is under tremendous pressure, at places depleting at the rate of almost one meter a year.
    • Climate change: Climate change predictions indicate rising temperatures and greater frequency and intensity of droughts.

Revolutions

  • Historically, India has had a tough time feeding its population.
    • In 1943, during the British rule in India, the Bengal famine is said to have taken 1.5-3 million lives.
    • But since Independence in 1947, although widespread deaths have not been reported due to starvation, India faced “ship to mouth” situations during two successive droughts in the mid-1960s.
  • Massive imports of wheat (about 11 million tonnes/year) from the US under Public Law 480 saved the day for India.
    • But it also taught the country a lesson: “Everything else can wait, but not agriculture.”
  • Green revolution: In the late 1960s through miracle seeds, fathered by Norman Borlaug.
    • Today, India is not only self-sufficient in basic staples but also a net exporter.
    • From 2012-13 to 2014-15, India exported a total of 63 million tonnes of cereals, and today, India is the largest exporter of rice.
  • White revolution: Milk is India’s largest agri-commodity. Its production (about 177 million tonnes in 2017-18) in value terms exceeds that of rice and wheat combined.
    • The famous “white revolution,” steered by Verghese Kurien during late 1970s through 1980s, was achieved through an innovative method of milk collection from small holders homogenising, pasteurising, and sending milk to urban areas as far as 1,200 miles away in milk tankers designed to keep milk at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, and distributing it through an organised retail network.
  • Other revolutions: Thereafter, India achieved several other revolutions in agriculture: blue revolution (fisheries), red revolution (meat, especially poultry), golden revolution (fruits and vegetables), and gene revolution (cotton).
  • All these agri-revolutions, triggered by innovations in technologies and institutions, made India a net exporter of agri-produce.
  • But one thing that had not surfaced much in this evolutionary process is the issue of farmers’ incentives.

Government initiatives

  • Doubling farmers’ incomes: The government has promised to double farmers’ incomes by 2022-23 in its 2019 manifesto.
  • MSP: It has tried to address farm distress by announcing higher minimum support prices (MSPs) for about 23 major commodities in 2018-19, but in the absence of a large scale procurement mechanism by the government, the market prices for most commodities have remained 10-30% below the announced MSPs.

  • Direct income transfer: Sensing political unrest by farmers, the government has promised a direct income transfer to farmers’ accounts, which may cost about 87,600 crore ($12.5 billion). However, it would constitute just 5% of farmers’ incomes.

Way ahead

  • India’s political economy has operated in a way that has restricted exports of agri-produce whenever domestic prices have spiked, be it onions, wheat, or rice.
  • The private sector has not been allowed to hold large stocks, and sometimes even inter-State movements are restricted through the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) of 1955.
    • This has not allowed the building of efficient pan-India value chains due to a lack of investments by the private sector.
  • Agri-marketing is further restricted through the Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee (APMC) that binds farmers to sell their produce only through these markets.
    • These markets have been rigged by commission agents taking away an unduly high share of consumers’ rupees in the value chain.
    • As a result of these restrictive trade and marketing policies, India’s farmers have been implicitly “net taxed” despite large input subsidies.
  • Reforms: Doubling of farmers’ incomes by 2022-23 would require much bolder reforms in agri-marketing.
    • If India can reform its policy structure in a way that at least ensures farmers a “level playing field” with consumers, then Indian farmers can get much better incentives and higher profitability, encouraging them to adopt better technologies, raise yields, and make India much more competitive.
  • The best way to do this would be through fundamentally reforming, among others, the ECA, the APMC Act, and the exports policy. If India does that, it can not only feed its population but can also create surpluses for exports.

Mains question

  • If the government decides to feed all its hungry people, India’s tag of a net exporting country will be easily lost. Comment.