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  India’s Second Green Revolution  


By: Hari Sud
March 25, 2007
iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.


400 million tons of food grain production as opposed to about 214 million tons in 2006-07 is the target of “Second Green Revolution. It is unlikely to happen to-morrow or next year, but it possibly may happen by 2020. To achieve the forgoing amount of production a growth rate of 5 to 6% in agricultural sector has to be maintained over next 15 years. Current growth rate in this sector is stagnant or at best 2% (in last ten years). The latter has depleted the country’s food stock and forced the government to negotiate import of 5 million tons of wheat. With practically no more land to farm and some depletion of the agricultural land, this miracle is not easy to achieve. Science and technology has to play its big role. High productive seeds, private sector involvement and expenditure on long stalled irrigation schemes are key to achieving higher production.

Population growth in India is at the rate of 1.8 to 2.2% a year. With rising population and slow rate of agricultural growth, situation is likely to get alarming if not worst next in 5 to 8 years. Food self-sufficiency of nineties will be a forgotten achievement. Shortages will loom. Famines may not visit India, but shortages will visible shaken the national confidence. To quote an old Chinese saying – When price of rice goes far beyond what a common man can pay, heaven ordains a new ruler. Agrarian distress is much more worst than industrial unrest. It has already ejected an otherwise a finely run government of National Democratic Alliance in 2004. Farmer suicides and other agrarian issues prevented some state voters from voting for the NDA. Situation is no different toady, except that timely rains this year have brightened the prospect of the Rabi (wheat) crop. That does not mean that issue will not be pushed to the forefront in the coming federal elections.

What is Required to Start the Second Green Revolution?

If the gains of “First Green Revolution” 1970-90 are to be strengthened, then a Second Green Revolution is to be initiated. The First Green Revolution was made possible with the availability of miracle wheat variety, electricity at the farms and land reforms. The triumvirate of Swaminathan, Venkatraman & Indira Gandhi, provided the leadership. With its success, the begging bowl stereotype of India in the West was laid to rest. Instead a new India, still poor but confidant, proving IR, BPO and KPO service to the world was born. There was a 15 years respite from a bad news on the agricultural front. A lot of food grains were exported. We in the West, with Indian heritage, who still prefer Indian basmati and daals, loved to purchase all things Indian. We still buy the same but are also reading a few bad reports like depleted reserve food stocks etc. Wheat is arriving from Australia. It has dampened the inflationary mood in the country a bit. Luckily, the rains of February and March have helped. Need to import the full 5 million tons of wheat shortfall may not be necessary. The issue at hand is not today but what is likely to happen in next 10 years, if the agricultural production stayed sluggish.

Hence Government of India is back into square one i.e. what needs to be done to trigger higher agricultural growth in India. We may wish to call it the “Second Green Revolution”. But it is a high-end initiative with both Federal and State governments are full participants.

It will also require:
1.Genetically modified (GM) seeds to double the per acreage production i.e. technology,
2.Private sector to develop and market the usage of GM foods i.e. efficient marketing of the ideas,
3.Linking of rivers as much as economically possible to bring surplus water of one area to others i.e. linking of the rivers.

Not only that, a significant contribution is to be made by the farmers themselves. They have to get out of the ancient mode of being peasant farmers on small land holdings. They have to become businessmen, who trade in agricultural products. Just like any other businessmen they have to look for the most economical way to boost productivity and profits to themselves. Splitting of land holding, after a father passes away, into multiple children have depleted the economic viabilities of farms. Farm economics have to be revisited and economic size of the farm re-established. Continued dependency on government bailout during any crisis has to be minimized. Lesser the government involved, more likely is that controls and state trading in grains will be eliminated. It requires farmers to become responsible businessmen.

Consumer has to grow up a bit also. “Genetically Modified Food” is here to stay. It is the salvations of the rapidly increasing population. Opposition to the GM food in India is wholly politically motivated. It has to be ended in favor of adopting new techniques to boost productivity. Forty years back, a similar political lobby opposed the introduction of Mexican wheat variety in India. This in fact began the first green revolution. Today, results of this wheat variety are wonderful. Now a similar campaign to demonize GM food is under way. Believe it or not some of these well-tried concepts are India’s ultimate salvation.

GM Food and India

GM food is new and its concept is not well understood, especially in India. Communications are faulty. Everybody who wishes to oppose US in more than one-way, have found a new way to continue his or her tirade against the GM food. GM food is an American private innovation. Governments had nothing to do with it. Private sector innovated it and marketed it. Today a significant amount of daily-consumed foodstuff in North America is GM food. In a nutshell GM is about improving the crop (such as yield), pest resistance, herbicide tolerance etc. to name a few. It will improve yield from the same fields by about 25% to 50%. It is something every farmer would wish to have. It is something a consumer would wish to have as pest free food gets to the dinner table. Shortages would cease to exist.

There is definitely a health risk with GM food. Because it is a recent innovation, its long term and very long-term impact on human body is not well understood. But North American consumer is the best laboratory for it. They have been consuming it for the last 15 years. If any untoward issue surfaces, they will be the first to feel it. Crop area under GM food production in last 10 years in US alone has increased 50 times. In India, maize, oil seeds, fruits & vegetables, soybeans, wheat crop yields will dramatically increase. Other beneficiaries will be cotton, potato, onion etc.
Building on this success in US, President George Bush during his March 2005 visit, began a $100 million initiative - Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agricultural Research and Education. Its precise intentions are to begin the Second Green Revolution in India. Its details are not well known. One reason for a bit of secrecy is the political sensitivities in India. Without knowing the details and analyzing the benefits, people who oppose it have called it as an Indian sell out to American corporate interests. Even if a small (20%) land comes under GM cultivation in India, it will add 30 to 60 million tons of additional food for the consumer. Not only that, farmer on these parcels of lands will be lifted out of poverty. This is just the beginning. Fifteen years hence, GM food may lead the way to lift all the rural population out of poverty. Why Do We Wish that Private Sector, instead of Government Manage the Second Green Revolution.

There are obvious reasons for wishing corporate participation in India’s Second Green revolution. First, the above-mentioned triumvirate, which guaranteed the success of the First Green Revolution, may be difficult to form. Leadership issues and party politics will make any government initiative difficult to succeed. Make up of governments in last 10 years and 10 more years to come, has been and will be a hotchpotch of political ideology. Hence, it will be harder to find a coherent policy for some time to come. Second, efficient delivery of services will be the key to higher agricultural output. Governments, especially the democratic governments, are not geared for efficiency and effective delivery of any services. Current food marketing and storage system all owned by the government (FCI) is key example. Rough estimates indicate that anywhere from 20 to 30% of the food is spoiled, before it hits the dinner table. Thirdly, US multinationals (Wal-Mart & Monsanto) would prefer to deal with the private sector than with government officials.

Private sector in India is very willing to enter this profitable sector. A joint venture between Bharti Telco’s Milltal and E L Rothschild (a British investment firm) is making foray into export of fresh fruits & vegetables. It has leased 50,000 acres of land in Punjab and will grow vegetables for export to Europe. It will also become a laboratory for new ideas. A $50 million investment initially, is expected to export $15 million worth of produce in the current year rising rapidly in next three years as shipping and storage issues are overcome. Reliance, which in last 15 years has become an industrial giant, has plans to invest about $6 Billion in agricultural retail sector. Their retail outlets will be linked to farms in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and West Bengal. This has potential to revolutionize handling and distribution of the food in the country. It will also deliver better returns to the farmers. The forgoing is a US model where corporate giants like Cargill run distribution and manage farm output. The present government in India has to readjust its policy to let the private sector play a role. The latter is most likely to succeed. Success of ventures like this will persuade governments to give up its complete control over food distribution in the country.

Linking of the Rivers to Transfer Surplus Water to deficient Areas
It is no longer a pipe dream, although there are a few un-surmountable obstacles. East India (Brahamaputra valley) is surplus in water. This water during July to October each year causes havoc. This could be transferred to West and South. Similarly rainy season surplus water in the Gangetic plains can reach the southern India and develop agriculture in areas unknown before. But there are problems. Bangladesh would not permit digging of any canal from Assam to Central India through its territory, even though; it benefits them as much as it benefits India. Again, the Gangetic plains are at lower elevation and 400 miles wide mountain ranges, rising at places from 3,000 feet to 6,000 feet in central India’s geography prevents any easier transfer of water. Hence, although agriculture will benefit immensely with both these river link schemes, solutions are not forthcoming in next 20 to 30 years. Bangladesh issue may never reach solution. They would prefer to float in floodwater year after year than to let India dig a canal through its territory. Hence water of Brahamaputra may never reach central India. For north-south link of rivers, technology may some day, make digging of tunnel-canal link easier. That is a hope. A garland canal link traveling the contours of Indian peninsula is possible. It has been previously suggested but has not gone beyond the feasibility stage. It will circumvent the mountains in central India but does not deliver water to the arid lands of south-central India, where it is needed most. Moreover the garland canal is useless until it gets a huge water supply from the Assam valley. Without loosing heart on possible river links, India has to explore other possibilities. A scheme to transfer Gangetic basin water westwards towards Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat is a possibility. The latter scheme will be a great engineering achievement. This, half the size of the original scheme, will increase the land under cultivation by 15%. Impact on local economy of this water will be huge.

India has about 150 million hectares of land under cultivation. This is down by about 10% from land under cultivation 20 years back. Urban encroachment, unprofitable cultivation, water logging etc. are key reasons of this reduction. Of the total land under cultivation, only 45 million hectares are irrigated. This delivers about 55% of the total food output. Rest of the 95 million hectares of land is rain fed or ground water irrigated. This bulk of the land produces 45% of the total food production. This latter is the area to concentrate most to boost food output. Whereas progressive Indian farmers can experiment with GM food in the irrigated lands, minor and major irrigation schemes have to play a major role in boosting productivity in the un-irrigated areas. This is where the state and federal governments have to play a bigger role.

Whether it is interlinking of the rivers or local irrigation schemes, something more need to be done. Government initiatives are the key to the success. Funding for the local schemes is to be readily made available. Current Budget envisages a much higher level of funding for rural schemes. This increase is partly an election year politics and partly to boost funds for the rural areas which previously were not a top priority. Whether this increased availability of funds will translate into start of much delayed irrigation initiatives or not, time will tell. Usually any government schemes requires 3 to 4 years of paper work before the first shovel of dirt is thrown at site and another 4 years to complete. Any initiatives taken now will bear fruit in about 6 to 8 years. This time frame on new projects is an acceptable consequence of democracy. Projects, which are already in progress or on which progress is slow, can be expedited. Speedily appropriated funds can to expedite projects already in the pipeline. This will fill-up the gap before newer and bigger projects like river links become a reality.

The Second Green Revolution of boosting food-grain output in India to 400 million tons in next 15 years is need of the day. Its achieving is not very difficult. Rather it is achievable if mindset on introducing newer technology is changed. India has to whole-heartedly embrace the new technology. Private sector is better suited to deliver results than government managed schemes. Governments on the other hand can play a key role in expediting irrigation schemes and managing water resources.

Hari Sud

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