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.

although the potential yield of these crops is in the range of 2500 and 3500 kg/ha. This is because the farmers having irrigation facilities have only been making optimum use of chemical fertilisers. the average fertiliser application in advanced states like Punjab is 167. whereas the world average is 96 kg/ha. None of the other crops have exceeded this average cereal crop yield. Crops such as sorghum. Such excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers.3 kg/ha. thereby reducing the yield. Even in these crops.the highest in the world. The yield of other crops in rabi season has also been higher than that in Kharif season.9 kg/ha). which induces initial vegetative growth. the response to fertilizer application is not very encouraging like in United States. Out of the total area. about 90% is under Kharif season with an average yield 1776 kg/ha. and four major crops. This can be due to improper nutritional balance. while 10% area under Rabi has been yielding 2761 kg/ha. lodging and causes poor floral induction and delayed maturity.7 kg/ha) and Tamil Nadu (106. the average fertilisers applied for cereal crops is 284 kg/ha. while P and K fertilisers are expensive. Gujarat and Maharashtra is lower than the national average. It is only because of an increase in the yield of wheat that the average yield of cereal crops has increased during recent years. crop protection and inadequate management. 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. The average cereal yield in United States is 4040 kg/ha. wheat and cotton consume over 80% of the total quantity of fertilisers used in the country. paddy and maize. Haryana (123. while economising on P and K has been attributed to availability of N fertilisers at a subsidised cost. diseases. where the cereal crop yield is 4329 kg/ha .5:2. In India. followed by Andhra Pradesh (137. the average cereal crop yield in Europe is 4295 kg/ha . In China. This reflects also on lack of awareness among farmers about appropriate technologies for enhancing crop production. 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. bajra. Indian farmers have been applying fertiliser in 8.3 kg/ha).0% lower as compared to China with over 30% lower doses of fertilisers.6:1 ratio. namely sugarcane. paddy. gram and oil seeds cover over 35% cropping area. with only 87 kg fertilisers per hectare. Organic matter content in the soil also plays a significant role in making efficient use of chemical fertilizers by the crops. The average fertiliser consumption in Kerala. while several backward states lag far behind. but the yields are extremely low. This 40% increase in the yield.Table 2 shows crop-wise comparative data on cropping area. However. untimely application and other factors such as varieties. despite the possible water scarcities indicates the scope for increasing the Kharif crop yield with better management.only 1. The reduction in the yield by 6. susceptible to pests. . contributing about 42% of the total foodgrains produced in the country. Rice is the major crop with over 43 million ha.7% with over 70% reduction in fertiliser application highlights the scope for judicious use of external inputs for sustainable crop production. It has been observed that as against the recommended N:P:K ratio of 4:2:1. while the national average of fertiliser consumption is only 73 kg/ha.

Soil productivity is based on the mineral composition and structure of the soil. supply of balanced crop nutrients. where the water distribution has been undertaken by the State Irrigation Department.In irrigated areas. Scope for Increasing Crop Yields The factors responsible for higher yield are high soil productivity. They may also develop an attitude towards the application of optimum doses of fertilisers. post-production management for value addition and marketing. even the large holders have been making grave mistakes and ending up in losses. improved crops. while causing soil erosion and loss of mineral nutrients. The problem is becoming more serious with recent climatic changes. as compared to normal crops grown under rainfed conditions. still believe that excessive use of water can increase the crop yields. In rain fed areas where soil moisture conditions are uncertain. Fairly well productive soils in combination with assured irrigation and optimum supply of nutrients can enhance the crop yields by 200-300%. efficient water management. if irrigation facilities are available in times of emergency. In these areas about 65% of the precipitation is lost through surface run off. 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. the farmers can take up immediate sowing. While excessive use of water has been responsible for damaging over 9. the irrigation tariff for different crops has been fixed on the basis of scientific water requirement.0 million ha fertile farm lands and turning them into saline wastelands. With such facilities. there has been gross misuse and wastage of irrigation water. . the farmers who were earlier practising dry farming. Although the integration of these inputs is critical this has often been overlooked by most of the small and marginal farmers. depth and drainage facilities. This surplus quantity of water has been causing soil salinity and drainage problems. farmers are unable to take any risk of cultivating improved varieties or applying higher doses of fertilisers. intensity of earthworm and microbial activities. with the confidence of providing initial irrigation to protect the new crop. leading to reduction in crop yields. when unexpected rains damage the crops and confuse the farmers in taking corrective measures. As most of these irrigation schemes have been commissioned in the recent past. rather than actual quantity of water used by the farmers. In the absence of adequate extension education. better plant protection. Due to free access to water which does not cost more. Hence the crop yields in these regions are extremely low. improved varieties and efficient plant protection can also play a significant role in increasing the crop yields. rainwater in nonirrigated areas has been wasted to a great extent. Excessive use of water for irrigation has also been causing nutrient loss and acceleration of pests and diseases. Warm weather and intensive sunlight are the other important inputs which are more favourable in India compared to most of the other countries. while depriving many other farmers of irrigation. 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. Selection of suitable crops. if greater emphasis is given to watershed development and storage of rainwater in farm ponds and percolation tanks. organic matter. These problems can be handled more efficiently.

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

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

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

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

Table 1: Comparative Agricultural Production in different Regions Sr.4) 6.5 63. Crop-Wise Area. 2.6) 48.9 45.7 22.5 5.80 196.4 22.97 281.8) 6.0 4 2757 0.4 79.0 73.1 3.4 5.8 53.6 (20.93 875.4 660 737 520 1159 458 834 1014 651 1570 576 10.4 25.3 123.5 13.1 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. S 17-19. World Resources Institute.9 39. 1996-97 : 137-141.0 9.5 13. (1990-92) No.1 10.7 51.971 0.6) 11.5 2.1 38.6 (1.5 36.9 7. 1995.C. Inputs / Particulars India China Asia Europe North America World Crop land : ha/capita Irrigated land : % of total crop land 198991 Av.8 6.5 74.7 43.3 185.6 70.6 15.7 (48.5 5.9 3.4 12. Washington.2 86.1 40.7 9.51 138. References Anon.2 72. of tractors (million) 0.service to small farmers and to reduce the communication gap presently existing between the agencies concerned with sustainable development and farmers.497 10.3 9.6 50.5 3.02 271.8 10.5 10. Ha) Total cereal production Mill.6 77. D.385 5.7 6.5 49.5 104.2 (2.7) .8 8.56 457.27 0.1 98.4 1. fertiliser use kg / ha (1989-91) Total cropped area (mill.420 Source: Anon.6 (0. Economic Survey.69 0.27 27 49 33 12 10 17 73 284 123 192 87 96 169. 6. Tons (1990-92) Average yield of cereals Kg/ha.2) 45 (45. 1995.828 5. World Resources. 7. 1.70 96.42 398.17 399.14 0.9 35.6 5.08 0. 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) 1995-96 126.2 5.9 171.4 42. 1994.7) 22. 3.4 7.4 78.2 (0. Table 2.6 23.6 6.9 119.4 1993-94 38.0 5. 4.9 93. Government of India. 1997.0 99.20 0.7 11.0 11.8 31.5 62.1 9.5 7 1928.6 3. No. 5.2 4.9 10.7 83.32 1935 4329 2854 4295 4040 1441.814 26.

0 9.8 2.7 9.0 282.6 2.2 7.3 15.4 12.8 5.7 1.0 3.9 7.3 154.4 6.1 4.Gram Tur Oilseeds Kharif Rabi Groundnut Kharif Rabi Sugarcane (t) Cotton 6.6) - .1 657 689 582 892 588 786 629 1444 58 697 662 851 814 906 1014 884 1772 68 4.6 10.4 22.2 5.6 1.7 7.4 5.6 10.6 26.0 (6.9 2. 1997.0 13.3 (2.4) 34.8 5.7 7.5) 87.3 2.7 19.7 7.7 6. 23.0 2.6 17.1 152 246 7.7 1.0 4.2 3.0 (3.1 Potato (t) 0.2 Source: Government of India.1 13 17 9.9 0.8 9.4 5.

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