Sustainable Agriculture for Food Security

N.G. Hegde
Sustainable Agriculture for Food Security. Indian Farming. 49(12). Mar.: 4-11, 2000.

Population Growth leading to Scarcity
It is estimated that once the population in India crosses 1.38 billion in 2025 A.D., the
country will have to import about 60 million tons of foodgrains annually. During this
stage, the annual demand for food will have increased to 325 million tons/year, while
the production might remain stagnant at 250 million tons/year. Surely that will mark
the worst period in economic crisis, when the people might have to move around with
begging bowls to ensure food supply for survival.
In a resource poor country like India, if we are dependent on others even for
food, apart from other essential commodities, such as oil, natural gas, basic ingredients
for fertilisers, heavy engineering materials, nuclear power and computer technologies,
there will hardly be anything left in the country to export and settle the import bills.
Presently about 50% of the petroleum consumed in the country is imported and by
2035 A.D., we are likely to exhaust the oil reserves as well. Coal is the major source
of fossil fuel in India, which can last for some more period, but as the quality is poor,
there will hardly be any takers. The opportunity for exporting other minerals is also
insignificant. Thus without earning any foreign exchange, how can we import
foodgrains to feed our population ?
Our only hope is that 35 years is a long period and there is some scope, if we
wish to take some positive steps to ease the crisis. The immediate need is to address
the problem faced by the year 2010,when the population will have reached 1150
million and the annual demand for food will have reached 240 million tons. To cope
with the increasing demand, we need to enhance the agricultural production by 20%,
from the present level of 198 million tons. Under normal circumstances, a target to
maintain 2% growth can solve the problem. This should not be difficult as we have
recorded a higher average annual growth of 2.37% during the last decade. However
the strategy adopted in early 70’s to boost food production has been well-exploited so
far and the productivity has now reached the level of saturation. We therefore need to
look into various factors affecting the crop production and modify our strategy to
address these problems, while making optimum use of the available resources and
technologies to reach the new target.
Current Status of Crop Yields
Considering the current levels of agricultural crop yields in other regions as presented
in Table 1, the task is within the reach of the Indian farmers. Presently the average
cereal crop yield in India is 1935 kg/ha, as compared to 4329 kg/ha in China, 4040
kg/ha in United States and 2757 kg/ha in the world. With regard to per capita land
holding and percentage of the crop lands covered under irrigation, India does not lag
behind significantly. Regarding the use of fertilisers, the average use in India is
significantly lower than in China, but closer to North America. Therefore it should be
possible to increase the food production in India by adopting scientific methods and
necessary inputs.

The reduction in the yield by 6. Out of the total area. Such excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers.0% lower as compared to China with over 30% lower doses of fertilisers. The average fertiliser consumption in Kerala. gram and oil seeds cover over 35% cropping area. thereby reducing the yield. the average fertiliser application in advanced states like Punjab is 167. This can be due to improper nutritional balance. The yield of other crops in rabi season has also been higher than that in Kharif season. followed by Andhra Pradesh (137.7 kg/ha) and Tamil Nadu (106. yield and production in 1980-81 and 1994-95 indicate that the adaptation of modern agricultural production technologies in the past to boost the yields were limited to only a few crops such as wheat. wheat and cotton consume over 80% of the total quantity of fertilisers used in the country. It has been observed that as against the recommended N:P:K ratio of 4:2:1. Indian farmers have been applying fertiliser in 8. where the cereal crop yield is 4329 kg/ha . The average cereal yield in United States is 4040 kg/ha. Organic matter content in the soil also plays a significant role in making efficient use of chemical fertilizers by the crops.3 kg/ha. which induces initial vegetative growth. This could be due to inadequate inputs and inferior varieties Application of higher doses of chemical fertilisers has a direct influence on the crop yields atleast upto 100 kg/ha. Crops such as sorghum.9 kg/ha). Haryana (123.the highest in the world. crop protection and inadequate management. Even in these crops. while the national average of fertiliser consumption is only 73 kg/ha. paddy. while economising on P and K has been attributed to availability of N fertilisers at a subsidised cost. In China. bajra.Table 2 shows crop-wise comparative data on cropping area. the average fertilisers applied for cereal crops is 284 kg/ha.7% with over 70% reduction in fertiliser application highlights the scope for judicious use of external inputs for sustainable crop production.5:2. untimely application and other factors such as varieties.only 1.3 kg/ha). despite the possible water scarcities indicates the scope for increasing the Kharif crop yield with better management. Gujarat and Maharashtra is lower than the national average. while 10% area under Rabi has been yielding 2761 kg/ha. contributing about 42% of the total foodgrains produced in the country. about 90% is under Kharif season with an average yield 1776 kg/ha. paddy and maize. This 40% increase in the yield. the average cereal crop yield in Europe is 4295 kg/ha . diseases. However. Rice is the major crop with over 43 million ha. This reflects also on lack of awareness among farmers about appropriate technologies for enhancing crop production. This is because the farmers having irrigation facilities have only been making optimum use of chemical fertilisers. whereas the world average is 96 kg/ha. . with only 87 kg fertilisers per hectare. while several backward states lag far behind. None of the other crops have exceeded this average cereal crop yield. In India. susceptible to pests. namely sugarcane. although the potential yield of these crops is in the range of 2500 and 3500 kg/ha. and four major crops. while P and K fertilisers are expensive.6:1 ratio. but the yields are extremely low. lodging and causes poor floral induction and delayed maturity. It is only because of an increase in the yield of wheat that the average yield of cereal crops has increased during recent years. the response to fertilizer application is not very encouraging like in United States.

organic matter. even the large holders have been making grave mistakes and ending up in losses. farmers are unable to take any risk of cultivating improved varieties or applying higher doses of fertilisers. Scope for Increasing Crop Yields The factors responsible for higher yield are high soil productivity. while causing soil erosion and loss of mineral nutrients. rainwater in nonirrigated areas has been wasted to a great extent. They may also develop an attitude towards the application of optimum doses of fertilisers. where the water distribution has been undertaken by the State Irrigation Department. Soil productivity is based on the mineral composition and structure of the soil. Warm weather and intensive sunlight are the other important inputs which are more favourable in India compared to most of the other countries. With such facilities. as compared to normal crops grown under rainfed conditions. In the absence of adequate extension education. if greater emphasis is given to watershed development and storage of rainwater in farm ponds and percolation tanks.In irrigated areas. In rain fed areas where soil moisture conditions are uncertain. if irrigation facilities are available in times of emergency.0 million ha fertile farm lands and turning them into saline wastelands. intensity of earthworm and microbial activities. Hence the crop yields in these regions are extremely low. The problem is becoming more serious with recent climatic changes. Due to free access to water which does not cost more. when unexpected rains damage the crops and confuse the farmers in taking corrective measures. These problems can be handled more efficiently. better plant protection. . While excessive use of water has been responsible for damaging over 9. with the confidence of providing initial irrigation to protect the new crop. improved crops. while depriving many other farmers of irrigation. Selection of suitable crops. Excessive use of water for irrigation has also been causing nutrient loss and acceleration of pests and diseases. the farmers who were earlier practising dry farming. post-production management for value addition and marketing. still believe that excessive use of water can increase the crop yields. the irrigation tariff for different crops has been fixed on the basis of scientific water requirement. efficient water management. there has been gross misuse and wastage of irrigation water. leading to reduction in crop yields. In these areas about 65% of the precipitation is lost through surface run off. supply of balanced crop nutrients. the farmers can take up immediate sowing. Fairly well productive soils in combination with assured irrigation and optimum supply of nutrients can enhance the crop yields by 200-300%. depth and drainage facilities. improved varieties and efficient plant protection can also play a significant role in increasing the crop yields. Although the integration of these inputs is critical this has often been overlooked by most of the small and marginal farmers. As most of these irrigation schemes have been commissioned in the recent past. This surplus quantity of water has been causing soil salinity and drainage problems. Introduction of high yielding varieties without adequate investment on inputs and plant protection has been the major cause for failure of cotton crop in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra which has led to the recent death of several hundreds of farmers. Presently over 73% area under crop production is dependent on rainfall and more than one half of this area is located in a low rainfall zone. rather than actual quantity of water used by the farmers.

generally end up with lower crop yields and huge losses. Although their contribution to the national food production has been insignificant. both rich and poor can contribute their best to increase the food production. it has been meeting a significant part of their food needs. mostly infertile and non-irrigated. This is the importance of production by the masses for ensuring food for the poor. paddy and wheat. Simultaneously. in this process of capacity building. With initial support to develop their capabilities. As the backward farmers generally follow the progressive and rich farmers. the large holders can be encouraged to make necessary investments on external inputs with sound technological support to maximise the production. without taking any risk to invest in expensive external inputs. Even these support prices fail to satisfy the farmers. They own less than two ha land per family. if the poor do not have the buying power. the foodgrain deficit within the community will be reduced and even the poor and landless can locally procure foodgrains at the farm gate price. they have lost confidence both in themselves and the Extension Agencies. skills and resources. at 30-40 % lower than the retail price. Hence the strategy to enhance the food production should address the problems of such unsuccessful farmers. Except for some crops like sugarcane. While the rich and elite farmers have been able to adapt improved agronomic practices to earn good returns. who represent over 75% of the total holders in the country. They have been practising low-external input farming and the crop yields have been substantially low. With increasing production. disproportionate to the price for the produce is another problem faced by the farmers in India. where the government has fixed minimum support price. however it will help them to sustain their requirement. It is thus clear that food production cannot be increased merely by promoting the use of agrochemicals and other inputs. particularly by small farmers. Sustainable Agriculture . as they can hardly make some savings with such low prices. They need support not only to procure inputs but also to gain confidence. Although such a strategy will take a long time for small holders to increase their crop yields at par with the elite practising improved agriculture. Most of them being illiterate and having failed earlier either in adapting new technologies or repaying the loan provided under various development schemes sponsored by the government.Rising cost of external inputs. Increase in food production in the country does not necessarily ensure food security. Therefore participation of small farmers in food production is essential to achieve food security in the country. most of the other commodities are subject to severe price fluctuations controlled by unfair market forces and traders. Focus on Small Farmers Capability of the farmers to manage their own farms is another important factor influencing the crop yields. Thus most of the poor can afford to meet their needs inspite of lower income and escape starvation. Initially they should be exposed to various technologies and opportunities to improve the production and then encouraged to adapt improved practices gradually in several stages. poor and uneducated farmers who receive incomplete information or cannot raise money on time to procure critical inputs. small farmers can take their own decisions on cropping pattern and use of external inputs to enhance crop production.

For ensuring the sustainability of small farmers. Cultivation of green manure crop of short duration between two crops is another option to enhance soil fertility. we can reduce the consumption and production of agrochemicals. it is advisable to explore the traditional wisdom and promote local practices. investment in various inputs. farmers are not able collect biomass from the forests and community lands. With the promotion of agroforestry. use of internal inputs. Farmers. it is becoming difficult to generate adequate quantity of farmyard manure which was the major source of nutrients in olden days. In such situations. The study of local traditions will help in understanding the soil fertility and water management systems developed over years. With increasing deforestation. particularly the small holders need proper orientation to take suitable decisions on crop selection. The polluting automobiles need not run up and down between the cities and villages to transport agricultural inputs and outputs. based on the information on technical developments. preferably from organic sources. As these practices have helped in the past to produce enough food grains before the introduction of chemical fertilizers. With better awareness about benefits of organic food. Thus sustainable farming is the extension of traditional practices with necessary modifications. while . least dependence on external inputs. stall feeding and installation of biogas plants can generate significant quantity of farmyard manure. diversion of biomass for fuel and commercial use. it may be useful to encourage the adaptation of indigenous skills. Extension of Traditional Wisdom For ensuring sustainable agriculture. when more poor people can afford to buy adequate food to maintain a balanced diet. production focused on local needs and easy marketability. symbiotic crop rotation. storage and marketing. the consumers will be prepared to pay a higher price for eco-friendly produce. it is possible to produce biomass useful for green manure. But there has been an increase in agricultural byproducts and domestic garbage. Adaptation of dairy farming with high yielding cattle and buffaloes. the consumers can get healthy food and productivity of the soil can also be conserved. In the process of avoiding or reducing the use of external inputs. live hedges and wind breaks. Hence low-external input agriculture can be attractive. government policies and prices of inputs and outputs. efficiency and profitability in the long run. This is a `win-win’ situation for all. sustainable agriculture can promoted on these traditions. greater emphasis on crop diversity. Sustainable agriculture is a set of farming practices which can continue to maintain the farm productivity. Farming systems which can fulfill these criteria can lead to eco-friendly green revolution.It is necessary to promote sustainable agriculture to safeguard the economic viability of the farmers. livestock holding pattern and lifestyle in rural areas. if the small farmers can adapt organic farming. forest coverage. particularly for small holders. The cost of food production can be lower and the retail price of locally produced agricultural commodities will also come down. Large and elite land holders should also be encouraged to adapt these eco-friendly measures for profitability and environmental safety. which can be used for composting. except the transport and traders. without depleting the natural resources and the environment. With a significant change in the ecosystem.

Agricultural Credit and Banking to ensure better services. improved drainage. The State Agricultural Extension Department and the Krishi Vigyan Kendras should focus their role on providing such field technical service through training. Production of efficient farm equipment and machinery can improve the productivity and reduce the cost. Food Processing Department. Need for Support and Coordination Transfer of Technologies: Indian agriculture in general is due for modernisation. Use of earthworms can further improve the quality of the manure. coupled with improved drought tolerant crop varieties and integrated pest management can be promoted to boost the yields. Research and Technology Development: There is good scope to further improve the crop production. the farmers can reduce their overheads on crop production and generate additional employment. If the idle time can be used for non-farm operations and to run small scale industries. plant protection measures and installation of irrigation system are some of the new initiatives to further enhance the crop yields. organic matter content. Replacement of local seeds with certified seeds. biopesticides. . storage and marketing are other areas where both small and large holders have been incurring heavy losses. safe agrochemicals and improved seeds. mineral nutrients. The Agriculture Department should also play a role in coordinating between various other departments like Irrigation Department. This area need introduction of modern technologies and infrastructure development which can add value to the produce. In arid and semiarid regions where the use of chemical fertilisers is risky. These techniques are also useful to improve the quality to synchronize the harvesting time with peak demand for the produce. demonstration and field visits. change of crops. use of improved farm implements. macro and micronutrients is very critical to induce flowering and crop yields. control the maturity period and to enhance the crop yield. Presently the tractors are hardly used for 250-300 hours in a year. Development of safe and inexpensive biological plant protection devices should also be given priority. Post-harvest processing. floral induction. These include the use of efficient irrigation systems. while reducing the cost of handling. mainly for pre-sowing operations and for occasional transportation. which have direct bearing on crop yields and cost of production. as the balance between organic manure. The soil productivity can be further enhanced through soil and water conservation. contour bunding and establishment of live hedges. through application of growth regulators and hormones. It is therefore necessary to strengthen the linkage between the Agricultural Research Institutions and State Agricultural Extension Department with the farmers at the village level. These are available both in natural and synthetic forms useful for control of vegetative growth. which has been presently adapted for a few selected crops. Simple techniques for soil.generating additional income and energy. water and plant analysis to maintain nutritional balance. adaption of tree-based farming. Farmers can be oriented to make judicious use of nutrients based on the soil fertility. application of organic manure and biofertilisers. biofertilisers. weed and pest management to reduce nutrient losses are some areas where technology transfer has been lagging behind. soil moisture availability and the crop requirement. preferably through local voluntary agencies.

Milk Unions. as presently undertaken by the sugar cooperatives. In case of onion. Farmers belonging to both these categories are not willing to involve others for cultivation. With such large scale contract farming. there is need for relaxation in the Land Reforms and Land Ceiling Acts. Land Reforms and Consolidation: There are two kinds of land holding patterns. there is good scope for improvement. processing and marketing to ensure stable market and remunerative price. advice on suitable cropping. These support services can be established by the government or competent Farmers’ Organisations and made available to farmers regularly. Among them are many absentee landholders who are afraid of leasing out for cultivation. it will be economically viable to introduce new technologies and provide a stable market for farm produce. Strengthening of Farmers’ Organisations: Dependency on outsiders has been the cause for rural exploitation. is well within the reach. There is also a wide gap between the elite and backward farmers within the country. The task of achieving sufficiency in food production. To reduce the exploitation by middlemen. In the absence of such organisations for other commodities. The first category of farmers have large holdings but are unable to make efficient use of such lands for agricultural production. Corporate sectors interested in agricultural development may be permitted to take land on lease from farmers. through mass media can help the farmers to take suitable decisions. Hence there is an urgent need to review the present Land Ceiling Acts to encourage corporate farming. as the present Land Reforms Acts can entitle the tiller to own the land. tea producers and many such commodity growers have been very successful in India in organising the growers to improve their production.Information Support: Weather forecasts. while procuring critical inputs well in time. the price had increased by 400-600% but the benefits of such price rise has hardly reached the growers. These organisations can also motivate the farmers to adapt improved farming practice. farmers can appoint their own technical advisors and extension officers. The other category of farmers is those having small holdings. post harvest handling such as storage. which are affecting the crop production. periodic reports on area under various crops and scope for further expansion and incidence of pests and diseases. with only 10-15% reduction in the production. Farmers interested in leasing land for short or long term may be allowed to do so on attractive terms. These organisations can arrange loan from financial institutions for their members. while safeguarding the interest of the farmers. Conclusion Looking to the prevalent farming practices in India and the scope for coping with advances in agricultural development in other parts of the world. Farmers organisations like Federations of Sugar Cooperatives. there has been tremendous harassment for both growers and consumers. village level farmers’ organisation should be developed throughout the country. involving small farmers. keep their land. The Agricultural Extension Department should reset its role as a facilitator to coordinate with various departments to ensure better . where improved agricultural practices are not feasible. Hence. This calls for various kinds of farmers’ organisations to cover certain geographic areas and who are specialised in handling specific commodities. information service on market demand and supplies. Apple Growers Cooperative. With the development of farmers’ organisations and improvement in crop production. Grape Growers Cooperative.

8 8.6 50.5 63.7) .814 26. Table 2.497 10.8 53.8 6. 2.828 5.9 10.C.2) 45 (45. Inputs / Particulars India China Asia Europe North America World Crop land : ha/capita Irrigated land : % of total crop land 198991 Av. 1997.7 (48.80 196. Crop-Wise Area.9 39.14 0.1 40.1 38.0 11.20 0.4 79.4 12.5 10.7 43. World Resources Institute.6 5. S 17-19.6 23. Tons (1990-92) Average yield of cereals Kg/ha. World Resources.2 5.5 36.5 5.1 98.5 7 1928.6) 48.6 3.0 99.7 83.5 49.56 457.8 10.93 875.0 5.5 74.8 31.971 0.1 3. fertiliser use kg / ha (1989-91) Total cropped area (mill.4 7.6 (0.5 104.32 1935 4329 2854 4295 4040 1441.5 5.2 (2.97 281.2 (0.2 4.9 35.70 96.2 72. 1.9 3.4 78.27 27 49 33 12 10 17 73 284 123 192 87 96 169.0 9.service to small farmers and to reduce the communication gap presently existing between the agencies concerned with sustainable development and farmers.7 11. Table 1: Comparative Agricultural Production in different Regions Sr. 1995.5 2.9 93.2 86.4 42.69 0.51 138. Yield and Food Production in India Foodgrains Area (Million ha) 1980-81 Food Grains Kharif Rabi Cereals Kharif Rabi Pulses Kharif Rabi Rice Kharif Rabi Wheat Jowar Kharif Rabi Maize Bajra 1995-96 Yield (kg/ha) 1980-81 Total Production (million tons) 1995-96 1980-81 Area under irrigation (% of crop) 1995-96 126. 6.1 1023 933 1195 1142 1015 1434 473 361 571 1336 1303 2071 1630 1499 1318 1778 1727 1460 2207 552 354 540 1855 1776 2761 2493 129.42 398.4) 6.4 5.4 660 737 520 1159 458 834 1014 651 1570 576 10.1 10. 7. Government of India.4 22.8) 6.3 9.6) 11.6 77. of tractors (million) 0.7 22.4 1. 1996-97 : 137-141. 3. 4.4 25.420 Source: Anon. D.7 6.4 1993-94 38.9 119.0 4 2757 0.7 51.08 0.02 271.27 0. 1995.3 123. Washington.7) 22. (1990-92) No. 5.6 15.6 (1.385 5. Economic Survey.5 13. 1994.9 45.6 (20.7 9.3 185.6 70. Ha) Total cereal production Mill.9 171. References Anon.1 9.17 399.6 6.5 13.5 3.5 62.0 73. No.9 7.

8 5.2 5.1 152 246 7.9 0.7 19.8 5.4 12.0 (6.0 282.0 (3.4 5.4 6.7 7.7 1.9 7.4 22.3 2.1 Potato (t) 0.0 13.0 4.6 2.6 10.6 17.6 26.1 4.7 7.1 657 689 582 892 588 786 629 1444 58 697 662 851 814 906 1014 884 1772 68 4.3 15.7 6.2 3.9 2.6) - .3 154.7 1.4) 34.8 9.2 Source: Government of India.7 7.2 7.5) 87. 1997.Gram Tur Oilseeds Kharif Rabi Groundnut Kharif Rabi Sugarcane (t) Cotton 6.0 9.4 5.1 13 17 9.0 3.0 2.3 (2.8 2. 23.6 10.6 1.7 9.

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