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 average fertiliser consumption in Kerala. although the potential yield of these crops is in the range of 2500 and 3500 kg/ha. despite the possible water scarcities indicates the scope for increasing the Kharif crop yield with better management. lodging and causes poor floral induction and delayed maturity. This 40% increase in the yield.Table 2 shows crop-wise comparative data on cropping area. 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. This is because the farmers having irrigation facilities have only been making optimum use of chemical fertilisers. the response to fertilizer application is not very encouraging like in United States. susceptible to pests. Even in these crops.the highest in the world. followed by Andhra Pradesh (137.7% with over 70% reduction in fertiliser application highlights the scope for judicious use of external inputs for sustainable crop production. Gujarat and Maharashtra is lower than the national average. diseases.3 kg/ha). This can be due to improper nutritional balance. Crops such as sorghum. while economising on P and K has been attributed to availability of N fertilisers at a subsidised cost. None of the other crops have exceeded this average cereal crop yield. This reflects also on lack of awareness among farmers about appropriate technologies for enhancing crop production. However. with only 87 kg fertilisers per hectare. Indian farmers have been applying fertiliser in 8. whereas the world average is 96 kg/ha. The reduction in the yield by 6.5:2. 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. while 10% area under Rabi has been yielding 2761 kg/ha. gram and oil seeds cover over 35% cropping area. bajra. wheat and cotton consume over 80% of the total quantity of fertilisers used in the country. untimely application and other factors such as varieties. while P and K fertilisers are expensive. . thereby reducing the yield. and four major crops. contributing about 42% of the total foodgrains produced in the country. In India. In China. where the cereal crop yield is 4329 kg/ha . Such excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers. Out of the total area. Rice is the major crop with over 43 million ha.0% lower as compared to China with over 30% lower doses of fertilisers. the average fertilisers applied for cereal crops is 284 kg/ha.6:1 ratio. crop protection and inadequate management. paddy.9 kg/ha). about 90% is under Kharif season with an average yield 1776 kg/ha.3 kg/ha. paddy and maize. It has been observed that as against the recommended N:P:K ratio of 4:2:1. Organic matter content in the soil also plays a significant role in making efficient use of chemical fertilizers by the crops. which induces initial vegetative growth.7 kg/ha) and Tamil Nadu (106. while several backward states lag far behind. The yield of other crops in rabi season has also been higher than that in Kharif season. but the yields are extremely low. 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 average fertiliser application in advanced states like Punjab is 167. the average cereal crop yield in Europe is 4295 kg/ha .only 1. The average cereal yield in United States is 4040 kg/ha. Haryana (123. while the national average of fertiliser consumption is only 73 kg/ha. namely sugarcane.

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

Hence the strategy to enhance the food production should address the problems of such unsuccessful farmers. at 30-40 % lower than the retail price. They own less than two ha land per family. Simultaneously. They need support not only to procure inputs but also to gain confidence. without taking any risk to invest in expensive external inputs. 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. Sustainable Agriculture . 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. they have lost confidence both in themselves and the Extension Agencies. the foodgrain deficit within the community will be reduced and even the poor and landless can locally procure foodgrains at the farm gate price. Thus most of the poor can afford to meet their needs inspite of lower income and escape starvation. They have been practising low-external input farming and the crop yields have been substantially low. While the rich and elite farmers have been able to adapt improved agronomic practices to earn good returns. generally end up with lower crop yields and huge losses. This is the importance of production by the masses for ensuring food for the poor. 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. disproportionate to the price for the produce is another problem faced by the farmers in India. in this process of capacity building. As the backward farmers generally follow the progressive and rich farmers. Therefore participation of small farmers in food production is essential to achieve food security in the country. it has been meeting a significant part of their food needs. It is thus clear that food production cannot be increased merely by promoting the use of agrochemicals and other inputs. mostly infertile and non-irrigated. however it will help them to sustain their requirement. Except for some crops like sugarcane. who represent over 75% of the total holders in the country. 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. Increase in food production in the country does not necessarily ensure food security. With increasing production.Rising cost of external inputs. With initial support to develop their capabilities. paddy and wheat. 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. where the government has fixed minimum support price. particularly by small farmers. if the poor do not have the buying power. both rich and poor can contribute their best to increase the food production. skills and resources. Even these support prices fail to satisfy the farmers. the large holders can be encouraged to make necessary investments on external inputs with sound technological support to maximise the production. as they can hardly make some savings with such low prices. Although their contribution to the national food production has been insignificant.

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

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

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

Ha) Total cereal production Mill.8) 6.4 5. Inputs / Particulars India China Asia Europe North America World Crop land : ha/capita Irrigated land : % of total crop land 198991 Av.7 43. Washington.9 93.7) .3 185.5 7 1928. References Anon.5 5.6 6. Crop-Wise Area.3 123.27 27 49 33 12 10 17 73 284 123 192 87 96 169.814 26.42 398.4 78.6 5.9 39.385 5.70 96.7 (48.2 72.1 10.497 10. 7. D. Government of India. S 17-19.6 15.service to small farmers and to reduce the communication gap presently existing between the agencies concerned with sustainable development and farmers.8 53.8 10.9 119.6 (0.2 5.56 457.971 0.6 23. Table 2.27 0. Table 1: Comparative Agricultural Production in different Regions Sr. No.0 11.1 3.4 79.0 99. 6.5 63.7 22.0 5.7 6.7 11.7 83. World Resources.1 40.0 73.93 875.6) 11.20 0. 1997.2 4.9 3.5 3.5 5.17 399.97 281.5 13.6 50.9 10.2 (0.6 (1.6 3.1 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. fertiliser use kg / ha (1989-91) Total cropped area (mill.5 13. 1994. Tons (1990-92) Average yield of cereals Kg/ha.4 22.08 0.4 660 737 520 1159 458 834 1014 651 1570 576 10.8 31.14 0.1 38.0 4 2757 0.828 5.1 98.0 9.7) 22.4 12.5 104.6 (20.80 196.4 42.2 (2.5 2.9 171.6) 48.6 77.8 6. 1. 2. World Resources Institute.5 74.6 70. 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) 1995-96 126.4 7.02 271. 4.7 51. (1990-92) No.2) 45 (45.4 1993-94 38.9 7.5 49.420 Source: Anon.1 9.3 9. of tractors (million) 0.4 1. 1995.C.5 36.5 10.5 62.69 0.9 45.4) 6. Economic Survey.2 86.51 138. 5.32 1935 4329 2854 4295 4040 1441. 1996-97 : 137-141.8 8.9 35.7 9. 1995. 3.4 25.

0 3.9 7.6 2.1 657 689 582 892 588 786 629 1444 58 697 662 851 814 906 1014 884 1772 68 4.2 5.4 5.2 3.6 26.4 22.8 2.1 152 246 7.9 0.Gram Tur Oilseeds Kharif Rabi Groundnut Kharif Rabi Sugarcane (t) Cotton 6.1 13 17 9.0 (6.1 4.7 19.7 1.6 1.7 6.1 Potato (t) 0.4 5.2 Source: Government of India.3 (2.4 12.6) - . 1997.3 2.7 1.0 13.4) 34.8 9.7 7.5) 87.0 4.0 282.8 5.7 9.6 10.4 6.0 2.3 15.7 7.8 5.6 10.2 7.6 17.0 (3.9 2. 23.0 9.3 154.7 7.

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