Food security facing new challenges

Fall in foodgrains production should serve as a warning signal to country’s policymakers as well to the farming community and all those who earn their livelihood from agriculture. Dr. SURESH C MODGAL writes
Food security facing new challenges

Food security and farm sector of India are under multiple environmental, socio-economic and technological stresses. Foodgrains production, one of the major elements of food security structure, after touching a peak of 264 million tonne in 2013-14 is falling short by 3-5 percent in 2014-15. Severe weather and environmental disturbances during Rabi season 2014-15 are responsible for this decline. According to reliable estimations, India’s foodgrains production in 2014-15 is likely to remain limited between 251 million tonne and 261 million tonne. Following figures show a comparison of foodgrains production of its major components during 2014-15 and 2013-14, the peak production year.

This fall in foodgrains production should serve as a warning signal to country’s policymakers as well to the farming community and all those who earn their livelihood from agriculture.

Environmental degradation

The frequency of natural disasters and calamities has increased fourfold during the last two decades largely due to global warming caused by increase in greenhouse gases emissions. Governments development planning should, therefore, take care of this aspect. Greenhouse gases emissions and global warming are the major causative factors for environmental degradation. Only a joint global effort can help reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases.

Natural resources

Availability and quality of natural resources like water, land, forest cover and biodiversity that influence agricultural production in a major way, need special and immediate attention at government as well as people’s level. All these natural resources are limited in nature and are being over exploited. Their use needs to be regulated such that their natural regeneration cycle is kept in balance with their usage not only to sustain food security but for the survival of the lives of all types on this planet. Land and water management that influence rest of the natural resources, need to be given top priority. An efficient universal operation of water harvesting and watershed management programmes that are key elements for restoration of natural resources as well for sustaining agricultural productivity in the country lack political will and support.

Commercial resources

Another aspect that is essential to ensure agricultural production and a successful food security programme in the county is an efficient management of commercial agricultural inputs, namely quality seeds of recent recommended crop varieties, timely availability of soil test recommended balanced dose of fertilisers and safe recommended dose of pesticides as well modern farm machinery. Among all these inputs, timely availability of quality seeds and fertilisers has been a bottleneck all over the country. This aspect, therefore, needs special attention at central and state governments level. Provision for timely supply of commercial agricultural inputs has to be taken in a mission mode. As per the latest reports, only 300 lakh qtl of total certified seed is being distributed in the country annually (Agri. Res. Data Book 2014). Availability of quality seeds as well hybrid seeds of reputed quality are still a problem, especially for small and marginal farmers.

The total consumption of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O) per hectare in India is surprisingly and unfortunately declining since 2010-11 and currently is at nearly 130 kg nutrients per hectare. This is a serious development and needs to be reversed. N:P2O5:K2O use ratio also needs to be improved in favour of P2O5 and K2O for a balanced nutrient use.

Energy is an integral part of production system. Agriculture consumes about 6,16,970 GWh electricity in the county which comes to nearly 21 percent of total electricity consumed in India. Rest of the energy requirement for agriculture is met out of diesel and other sources. Environmental and economic considerations require an increased electricity consumption in quantity as well in proportion.

Agricultural technology outflow

Agricultural production in the country is much below its potential, largely because of the limited reachability of farm technology from agricultural universities and research institutes to farmers’ fields. Situation has become serious after collapse of the National Extension Service. A national alternative has to be found for this deficiency through a viable coordination among various splinter groups of technology dissemination already existing in the country.

With highlighting the essentials for sustaining food security of India in brief, the important question that looms large is whether agricultural/the farming profession in the country is safe and sustainable, and that the food security for millions below poverty line in India is secured?

A close study of factual situation will be necessary to seek the answer:
(i)tCommission for agricultural costs and prices has computed and fixed MSP (Minimum Support Price) for wheat at Rs 1,400 per qtl for Rabi season 2014-15. The grains market could not support MSP and needy farmers were compelled to sell their wheat even below MSP at a loss.

(ii)tMore than 600 farmers have committed suicide in Marathwada region alone since January 2015 due to crop damage caused by abnormal weather. Marathwada is not alone in facing such a tragedy, similar tragic situation is reported from other states as well. These sad happenings can not be over looked and need a thorough investigation.

(iii)tRural youth leaving their parental farming profession and opting more remunerative non-agricultural jobs is a common occurrence. This trend needs to be reversed by making farming a more remunerative and attractive proposition.

(iv)tFinancial investment in agriculture sector declined during last decades. This was one of the major reasons for deceleration of growth rate of farming sector. It also prompted rural youth away from agriculture. Government of the day had to intervene to check the trend.

(v)tAgriculture is very inadequately linked with modern business and industry and therefore, misses its legitimate share in national wealth.

(vi)tThe share of farming sector in total national GDP has slided down to 13 percent in 2013.

(vii) Weather abnormalities and climate change phenomena made farming a high risk profession. Official risk coverage provisions are also inadequate and involves lengthy and complicated procedures.

(viii) Farmers in the country are losing patience and have started agitating for their demands of compensation.

These points focus on some of the genuine problems being faced by the farming community who safeguard the country’s food and nutrition security.

New horizons in rural sector

The above discussion has brought out that farming profession in its present form is highly risk prone and less remunerative compared to other professions like commerce and industry, services, IT, tourism, medical, education and others.

Following are some of the possible ways to upgrade Indian farming as a competition worthy entity at global level.

Adoption of modern science based technology along with provision of input of industry and modern business linkages with farmer as a key player will be an important reform. This process will also ensure and sustain food and nutrition security for masses in India by generating new generation jobs for rural youth.

Indian farm sector has to make fast forward move to be globally competitive and leave behind its legacy of raw sale of its produce. A viable relationship has to be established between farm sector and relevant industry groups. For making this workable, about 30-35 percent of agri-produce of different origins is suggested to undergo milling process for quality and value addition as well for higher profits.

Earlier introductions like Special Economic Zone (SEZs), contract farming and few others have been linking farmers with food processing industry. This process minimised farmers risk, generated wealth where ever adopted properly and made efforts for transfer of technology and availability of farm inputs. Creation of jobs and modern facilities in rural sector is part of such schemes. One of such better options to be available to the rural sector is Mega Food Park Scheme. This is a comprehensive concept that facilitates commercial linkage between farm produce processing industry and then to consumer market.

In the present times of stiff competition, there remains hardly any option for the farming community but to adopt for industrialisation and modernisation of the business in PPP (Public Private Partnership) mode. This will be a sort of gate opener for India’s farming community, particularly for rural youth at national and global levels. State official agencies should facilitate this process and make it safe for small and marginal farmers. The above mentioned schemes have a potential to change the face of rural Bharat into a hub of value added food industry and wealth generation with modern infrastructure and facilitates of skill development. Such a transformation of rural Bharat will be a compliment to the : ‘Make in India’ movement along with food secured ‘Swachh Bharat-Swasth Bharat’.

(The author is a veteran agriculture scientist and former Vice Chancellor of GB Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand.)

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