Questions of Agricultural Productivity

(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)

Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh and his economists have been harping on increasing agricultural productivity ever since this group came into positions of power. Their usual complaint is that agricultural productivity of farmers in India is a drag on the growth rate of Gross Domestic Product. In order to increase productivity they have proposed farm mechanization, corporate farming, and Genetically Engineered seeds [GE seeds or GMOs].

Slave-like, even the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture have kept silent; in fact their silence reminds me of the submissive ways of landless agriculture labourers who would do anything for the landowners including performing all sorts of menial tasks in the landowners’ household. Similarly the scientists and bureaucrats of the Agricultural Ministry have chosen to remain silent and plant all the vile and crafty variety of lies to justify and support the Masters’ Voice.

Have they compared the productivity of industrial with radical farming method? The average yield of rice per hectare worldwide is a little over four metric tonnes; American rice growers have achieved marginally better yield. A group of radical farmers of Darveshpura village of Nalanda district of Bihar have achieved 22 metric tonnes per hectare, improving upon the world record of nineteen tonnes set by China.

These farmers did not use industrial methods. They used the System of Rice Intensification. Nalanda district is one of the poorest in the country despite the fact that had world famous Nalanda University established in 6thC BC which is now being resurrected under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen. Has the Minister of Agriculture taken note of this fact? Fittingly, this year’s award for excellence in agriculture has gone to Madhya Pradesh [First Prize] and Bihar [Second Prize] and they don’t use GE seeds. The System of Rice Intensification is not based on GE or GM seeds or expensive fertilizers and pesticides. And this is just one example.

With proper institutional support, China with much less usable land could increase horticulture production from 60 million metric tonnes [MMT] in 1980 to cross 450MMT in 2003, over seven times increase, and now it is far ahead of India’s 140-150 MMT. In every major crop including rice, China out performs India and that is largely due to careful introduction of R&D support to farmers.

Where is India? Its horticulture production is barely crawling up the productivity ladder. Why? As far back as in 1920s Sir Howard, then director of Pusa Research Station, had warned that ‘Indian scientists are behaving like bureaucrats.’ The ICAR institutions today are known for mainly replicating work. In contrast, the Chinese have made their institutions result and reward oriented.

The argument that industrial agriculture is more efficient and other systems can’t feed India is fallacious. The modern industrial agriculture system of the western nations is built upon cheap energy, mechanization, mono-cropping, large use of chemicals, and huge government subsidies; it is not only dependent upon scarce resources, it is also wasteful estimated at 50% of the ex-farm produce by weight as a recent report published in the UK suggests. A typical American farmer, even with 8,000 to 10,000 acre holding, gets about 5% gross return on revenue (RoR), barely able to meet interest charges. Therefore, replication of western model is unlikely to achieve food and nutrition security in India.

The second issue in productivity measurement is how wasteful is the system. Ministry of Food Processing Industries estimated that India wastes Rs. 50,000 crore worth of food and industrialization of food system will reduce that wastage. Other estimates suggest that food wastage is of the order of magnitude anything between 20 to 40% of gross food output. Another recent estimate based on Government data suggests that 21 MMT of food grains were spoiled because of unscientific storage in Government warehouses.

Is that a productivity problem? When this Government can’t even identify that the problem lies with the scale of wastage after the food has been produced, it is essentially a problem of inadequate scientific storage, safe transportation, further storage at distribution or holding points and finally with retailers, what specific measures does it have in mind to increase productivity? If a farmer can produce 22 tonnes of rice per hectare why he be blamed for low productivity?

Has the Government done anything in the past fifty years to expand storage facilities? Has the Government done anything substantial to transfer radical agricultural technology to the farmers? What is the Agricultural Ministry doing? Why have they become shameless salesmen of Multinational Food and Seed Corporations? Will the children or grandchildren of these officers live a healthy life after these corporation take control of our food system? Think about that.



(Editorial : Kisan Ki Awaaz Magazine)