11 ‘Myths’ about Indian Agriculture Busted

A recent Report, released by the Centre for Environment and Agriculture, Tata Strategic Management Group and Industry body Assocham, addresses the myths & misconceptions about Indian Agriculture

11 ‘Myths’ about Indian Agriculture Busted

With the growth of Indian Agriculture, there also had been growth in myths and misconceptions about it. There are several myths ranging from sustainability of Indian agriculture to poor productivity, from harmful impact of crop protection chemicals to water pollution. These myths and misconceptions make everyone to believe that agriculture is losing its shine, in spite of the fact that the sector is vibrant and growing. 

A consortium of crop-industry specialists recently released a Report- “Crop care and Doubling farmers’ income, Myths, Challenges and Way Forward”- to challenge what it says are the myriad myths and misconceptions about Indian agriculture widely prevalent among the public.

The report’s authors from the Mumbai-based Centre for Environment and Agriculture and the Tata Strategic Management Group say they have used “facts and figures” to question these myths that range from trends in India’s agricultural performance to the promise of organic farming to “injections” of chemicals into fruits and vegetables.

The report lists figures to debunk what it says are popular but misleading notions such as Indian agriculture dominated by grain production or crop protection chemicals were hurting the aquatic ecosystem.

Myth 1. Indian agriculture is on a permanent decline

Reality: The Report says, Indian agricultural production increased from $87 billion in 2004-05 to $322 billion in 2015-16, marking a 12.6 per cent annual growth rate. Another fact is that India ranks second in the world in agriculture production whereas the country’s world rank in services and industry sector is 11th and 12th respectively. 

India’s net agricultural exports in 2014 were worth $16 billion, higher than the $9 billion the country earned that year from commercial services. Globally India ranks 8th in the agricultural exports.Contribution of agriculture to Indian GDP is 17 percent, thus agriculture remains a strong contributor in Indian economy.

Myth 2: Indian agriculture is food-grains centric.

Reality: Fruits, vegetables and animal husbandry contribute to 60 per cent of India’s agricultural GDP. India is the world’s largest milk producer, the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, and the third largest egg and poultry producer. Horticulture and Livestock production engage a large share of small and marginal farmers and thus play a critical role in economy.

Myth 3: Declining size of Indian farmland leads to low production

Reality: Globally, the size of farm holdings less than two hectares is 84 per cent compared to China’s 98 per cent, and India’s 72 per cent. Despite low farm sizes, India and China are the world’s leaders in agricultural production. 

Primary reason why Indian farms are considered inefficient is because, yield for a crop is low India compared to global counterparts. Indian farming is more holistic with farmers growing multiple crops in the same farm in one season. At the same time, farmer uses the same set of land for other allied agriculture activities. Hence productivity of Indian farm needs to be evaluated holistically, considering output from multiple crops and allied activities such as milk production and fisheries. The Report says, “ Yield as a measure may not be relevant metric for measuring productivity of Indian farms and should not be considered as a tool to show Indian farms as unproductive.” 

Myth 4: Indian agriculture is heavily dependent on rainfall

Reality: Indian agriculture is more monsoon-resilient than assumed. India has the world’s largest area 91 million hectare under irrigation. Over 70 per cent of wheat land and 59 per cent paddy in India are irrigated.Eight top horticulture crops grown in India also have high levels of irrigation. China and the US with lower precipitation (rain and snow) are among the world’s top agricultural producers.

Myth 5: Organic farming can drive sustainability in Indian agriculture

Reality: Globally, only 1.1 per cent of land is under organic cultivation. Organic farms at times have crop yields 20 per cent less than conventional farms. In India, organic farm production declined from 3.8 million tonnes in 2011 to 1.24 million tonnes in 2014. If all farms switched to organic farming overnight, food production would drop, and threaten food security.

Sikkim has been touted as an organic farming state. But while Sikkim’s population has increased by about 50 per cent over the past decade, its food grain production decreased by 30 per cent. Sikkim has the lowest productivity (5 tonnes per hectare) vegetables in India.

Myth 6: Organic food is chemical free 

Realty: Crop protection chemical residues have been found in vegetable samples of organic produce. The notion of nutritional superiority provided by organic produce is debatable. 
In India, Agricultural Processed Foods Export Development Authority (APEDA) is the controlling body for organic certification for exports. Till date, there are no domestic standards for organic produce within India. Further, the certification process in India is very expensive, for an ordinary farmer to afford. This sometimes may lead to the usage of crop protection chemicals to enhance productivity and yet sell their produce under the bracket of organic produce.

Myth 7: Crop protection chemicals are used excessively in India 

Reality: India’s spending on crop protection chemicals is less than one per cent of its total agricultural production in value. India’s per hectare crop protection chemicals is about 0.4kg per hectare compared with China’s 17kg per hectare, Germany’s 3.7kg per hectare, or the UK’s 2.8kg per hectare. India’s food compliance with respect to residues is in line with global standards.

Myth 8: Crop protection chemicals lead to imbalance in the aquatic ecosystem

Reality: Two-thirds of India’s fish production comes from inland sources. Fish production from inland sources steadily increased from 2.85 million tonnes in 2001 to 6.93 million tonnes in 2015. If crop protection chemicals had polluted inland water, large-scale aquaculture would not have been possible.

Myth 9: Use of Crop Protection Chemicals has increased Cancer cases 

Reality: Group I list of World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) contains 120 substance considered to be carcinogenic to human. Substance in the Group 1 list include processed red meat, alcohol, coal tar, tobacco, x-ray etc. However, not a single agrochemical figures in this list.

Myth 10: Farmers suicides are rampant in India 

Reality: the Report emphasises that suicides, whether by farmers and non-farmers deserve attention and understanding.More than 8 lakh people die from suicide in a year in the world, as per WHO. Suicide rate in Japan is among the highest : 60 percent higher than the global average. The Report cites data from National Crime Records Bureau’s Study  2016 and tries to bust this myth by saying that in India, farmers suicide account for less than 10 percent of the total suicide.
Myth 11: Fruits and Vegetables are injected with colouring chemicals and hormones

Reality: Injecting liquid inside harvested fruits or vegetables would alter the “internal equilibrium” of the fruits or vegetables and spoil them. The vascular system in plants ceases to be functional in harvested produce and any chemical dye injected will not spread through the fruits or vegetables.

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