Mounting pressure from growing population, adverse threats of climate change, fragmented landholding and high input cost are posing challenges in front of India’s food security. MOHD MUSTAQUIM highlights measures to be taken to ensure country’s food security
Urbanisation and growing non-agricultural business establishments in rural India have led to shrinking cultivation area. However, through increasing productivity by growing High Yielding Varieties (HYV), India is food secure. India’s foodgrain production increased from 50.82 million tonnes in 1950-51 to more than 260 million tonnes at present. But food security has to be examined in terms of availability, accessibility, utilization and vulnerability. Therefore, apart from production policies and programmes relating to buffer stocking, distribution, monitoring prices become important.
Food security, both at the national and household levels, has been the focus of agricultural development in India ever since the mid-sixties when import dependence for cereals had gone up to 16 percent. The new approach intended at maximizing the production of cereals and involved building a foundation of food security on three key elements including provision of an improved agricultural technology package to the farmers, delivery of modern farm inputs, technical know-how and institutional credit to the farmer. The performance of agriculture, however, has not been satisfactory. The share of agriculture in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has registered a steady decline from 36.4 percent in 1982-83 to 13.7 percent in 2015-16. But agricultural sector continues to support more than half a billion people providing employment to 52 percent of the workforce.
The following are the measures to be taken for achieving food security for growing population through higher food production.
1. Education and literacy
Role of education in improving farm efficiency and technology adoption has been well established. As agriculture transformed from subsistence to commercial level, farmers seek information on a wide range of issues to acquire knowledge or upgrade their skills and entrepreneurial ability. Literacy emerges as an important source of growth in adoption of technology, and use of modern inputs like fertilizers and machines.
An educated workforce makes it easier to train and acquire new skills and technologies required for productivity growth. Thus, contribution of literacy will be substantial on yield growth and domestic supply of food.
2. Crop diversification
Food availability is a necessary condition for food security. India is more or less self sufficient in cereals but has deficit in pulses and oilseeds. Due to changes in consumption patterns, demand for fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, poultry, and fishery products has been increasing. There is a need to increase crop diversification and improve allied activities to produce such crops and produces in which we are deficient.
3. Tackling climate change
Food security in India can be achieved by paying higher attention to issues such as climate change, limiting global warming, including the promotion of climate-smart agricultural production systems and land use policies at a scale to help adapt and mitigate ill effects of climate change.
4. Integrated water management
India needs to produce more crop per unit of land and water resources. Alarming rates of groundwater depletions and increasing environmental and social problems pose acute threats to mankind. Improved management of irrigation water is essential in enhancing production and productivity, food security and poverty alleviation. Agriculture is the biggest user of water accounting for over 80 percent of the water withdrawals. There are pressures for diverting water from agriculture to other sectors. It has been projected that availability of water for agriculture use in India may be reduced by 21 percent by 2020, resulting in drop of yields, especially rice, leading to price rise and threat to food security of the poor. The needs of other sectors for water cannot be ignored. As a result, it is necessary that an integrated water use policy is formulated and judiciously implemented. Modern methods of irrigation like sprinkler, drip irrigation, fertigation, among other water efficient tools need to be adopted on larger scale.
5. Integrated nutrient management
Attention needs to be given to balanced use of nutrients. Phosphorus deficiency is the most wide spread soil fertility problem in both irrigated and non-irrigated rainfed areas. To improve the efficiency of fertilizer-use, what really needed is enhanced location-specific research on efficient fertilizer practices, improvement in soil testing services, development of improved fertilizer supply and distribution systems and development of physical and institutional infrastructure.
6. Improved varieties
In several regions, farmers are not able to get information about the availability of new and improved varieties and some are not having access to quality seeds of these varieties, resulting in lesser yields. This situation has to be corrected by developing a national-level network to monitor and coordinate the activities with the various State government functionaries working in the area of crop production.
7. Improved technology adoption
Adoption of technologies like integrated nutrient management, integrated pest management and integrated weed management need to be made available for adoption to ensure higher production and sustainability of production base.
8. Awareness on population growth
The awareness of the pressures of increasing population growth and consumption patterns on ecosystem functioning should be created to sensitize farmers on adoption of sustainable crop cultivation and management practices.
9. Focus on small farmers
Increase in food production in the country does not necessarily ensure food security, if the poor do not have the buying power. Therefore, participation of small farmers in food production is essential to achieve food security. Most of them being illiterate and having failed earlier either in adopting new technologies or repaying the loan provided under various development schemes. They need support not only to procure inputs but also to gain confidence.
The strategy to enhance the food production should address the problems of such small landholding farmers, who constitute over 83 percent of farmers in the country. They own less than two hectare of land per family, mostly marginal and non-irrigated. They have been practicing low-external input farming and the crop yields have been substantially low. However, their contribution to the national food production is considerable and meets a significant part of their food needs.
10. Agricultural research education
The agricultural education in India is facing one of the biggest challenges. It has to identify its role in equipping the human resources for enhanced agricultural productivity and sustainable use of natural resources. Agricultural colleges and universities were initially assigned to disseminate scientific knowledge and skills to the farming community and to train them to use such skills for better output. As a backup for such a mission, agricultural research was encouraged to focus on scientific knowledge to suit to the realities of rural societies.
However, these initiatives could not keep pace with the fast changing scientific and technical improvements and gradually failed in their objective to cultivate the most modern skills and attitudes to both agricultural students and farmers. Therefore, updation of the curricula of agricultural education has become imperative. This is very relevant to teaching, research and extension functions of the university as they form the inter-related, theoretical and practical basis of modern agricultural education in India.