From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Water usage for agriculture in India
Mains level : Paper 3- Need for RD in agriculture
The article highlight the need for more emphasis on agricultural R&D as a solution to the woes of the farmers.
India needs low-input high-output agriculture
- Amid farmers protest against farm acts, the current debates focus mainly on MSP, reducing farmers’ debt liabilities, reducing post-harvest losses, cash transfers and marketing reforms.
- India with entrenched poverty requires low-input, high-output agriculture; low input in terms of both natural resources and monetary inputs.
- Very little attention is being given to reducing the natural resource inputs — most critical being water —and agricultural R&D.
- This cannot be achieved without science and technology.
Following are the areas in which Indian agriculture needs R&D to reduce agriculture inputs
1) Water usage for agriculture
- India receives around 4,000 billion cubic meters (bcm) of rainfall, but a large part of it falls in the east.
- Moreover, most of the rain is received within 100 hours of torrential downpour, making water storage and irrigation critical for agriculture.
- India has one of the highest water usages for agriculture in the world — of the total 761 bcm withdrawals of water, 90.5 per cent goes into agriculture.
- In comparison, China uses 385.2 bcm (64.4 per cent) out of the total withdrawals of 598.1 bcm for agriculture.
- China’s per-unit land productivity in terms of crop production is almost two to three times more.
- The total estimated groundwater depletion in India is in the range of 122-199 bcm .
- The depletion is highest in Punjab, Haryana, and western UP.
2) Increasing the yields of coarse-grain crops and oilseed crops
- Years of intense research on yield increase and yield protection by breeding varieties and hybrids resistant to pests and pathogens have made wheat, rice and maize stable high yielders.
- Environmentalists suggest replacing rice with coarse grain crops — millets, sorghum etc.
- However, the yields of these crops are not comparable to those of wheat and rice even when protective irrigation is available.
- These crops have a serious R&D deficit leading to low yield potential as well as losses to pests and pathogens.
- This leaves us with pulses and oilseeds.
- In the 2017-18 fiscal year, India imported around Rs 76,000 crore worth of edible oils.
- Three oilseed crops (mustard, soybean, and groundnut) are already grown very extensively.
- Soybean and groundnut are legume crops and fix their nitrogen.
- All three crops not only provide edible oils but are also an excellent source of protein-rich seed or seed meal for livestock and poultry.
- Unfortunately, yields of the three crops are stagnating in India at around 1.1 tons per hectare, significantly lower than the global averages.
3) Genetic improvements of crops
- Pests and pathogens can be best tackled by agrochemicals or by genetic interventions.
- A recent global level study on crop losses in the main food security hotspots for five major crops showed significant losses to pests — on average for wheat 21.5 per cent, rice 20 per cent, maize 22.5 per cent, potato 17.2 per cent, and soybean 21.4 per cent.
- India is one of the lowest users of pesticides.
- In 2014, comparative use of pesticides in kilograms per hectare in some select countries/regions is as following: Africa 0.30, India 0.36, EU countries 3.09, China 14.82, and Japan 15.93.
- A more benign method for dealing with pests is through breeding.
- The Green Revolution technologies were based on the effective use of germplasm and strong phenotypic selections.
- Recombinant DNA technologies since the 1970s have brought forth unprecedented opportunities for genetic improvement of crops.
- Since 2000, genomes of all the major crops have been sequenced.
- The big challenge is in the effective utilisation of the enormous sequence data that is available.
- India’s efforts in all three areas are half-hearted.
- Over the last 20 years, India has been spending between 0.7 to 0.8 per cent of its GDP on R&D.
- This is way below the percentage of GDP spent by the developing countries and Asia’s rapidly growing economies.
- There are structural issues like lack of competent human resources and lack of policy clarity.
- However, the biggest impediment to agricultural R&D has been overzealous opposition to the new technologies.
Consider the question “India needs low-input, high-output agriculture. This cannot be achieved without science and technology. In light of this, examine how R&D could play a role in the advancement of agriculture in India.”
Maybe the present crisis in agriculture would lead to a greater appreciation of the need for strong public supported R&D in agriculture.