- Role of Agri-Inputs
- Emerging Issues in Indian Agriculture
- Alternative Farming Systems
New Approach to Agriculture Sector
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Agriculture intensification driven by Green Revolution in the mid-1960s through adoption of fertilizer-responsive high yielding varieties (HYVs), farm mechanization and use of agrochemicals including fertilizers transformed India from the country living on ‘ship to mouth’ to the problem of ‘handling food surplus’ within five decades.
Role of Agri-Inputs
Three agri-inputs namely, seed, fertilizer and irrigation water, have played a leading role in India’s remarkable growth in agriculture production.
- The food grain production increased by 3 times in last 50 years. However, Food grain requirement will be 400 MMT in 2050 against the present production of 285 MMT.
- Introduction of fertilizer-responsive HYVs of rice and wheat in mid 1960s laid the foundation for success of Green Revolution. India is currently the 2nd largest producer (Nitrogen + Phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5)) and consumer (N+P2O5+ Potassium oxide (K2O)) of fertilizers in the world.
- Expansion in net irrigated area from 26.3 million hectares (Mha) in 1965-66 to 67.4 Mha in 2015-16 provided the strong base for the adoption of high yield agriculture.
Emerging Issues in Indian Agriculture
Soil Health Degradation
- Practicing the high yielding intensive agriculture has put extreme pressure on soil health which is reflected in terms of continuous depletion of soil fertility.
- Problem of nutrient mining has aggravated after 2010-11 due to selective implementation of nutrient based subsidy (NBS) scheme only for phosphatic and potassic (P&K) fertilizers.
- In addition to primary nutrients (NPK), deficiencies of secondary and micronutrients have become widespread in Indian soils due to intensive agriculture.
- Deficiencies of at least six nutrients – Nitrogen (89%), Phosphorus (80%), Potassium (50%), Sulphur (40%), Zinc (36%), Boron (23%) are widespread in the Indian soils.
- Also, fertilizer use efficiency is also low, which not only affects crop yields but also affects environment due to escape of unused nutrients.
Declining Crop Response
- The average crop response to fertilizer application (kg grain/ kg NPK) decreased from 12.1:1 during 1960s to 9.1:1 during 1980s and it is 5:1 in the current decade.
Inefficient Water Management
- The water management related challenges are low water use efficiency, water-energy nexus, growing water-intensive crops in water-deficient areas, excessive toxic elements and salts in water, and poor rainwater management.
- Secondary salinization and waterlogging in canal command areas and rapidly falling water tables in the tube well irrigated areas have been observed.
Decreasing Farmers Income
- The declining farmers’ income is largely on account of low average crop productivity and poor price realization.
- Government of India announces minimum support price (MSP) for crops. However, farmers are forced to sell their produce at much lower prices due to the exploitation by the middle men, called Aadhtees.
Alternative Farming Systems
- Alternative Farming Systems rely mainly on the on-farm generated organic/biological nutrient sources, unprocessed mineral sources, crop rotations, bio-inoculants for nutrient recycling etc. for sustenance of soil health.
- Prominent systems which have attracted attention in India include organic farming, biodynamic farming and zero budget natural farming of Subhash Palekar. However, there is no country having more than 1 to 2% area under organic farming.
What needs to be done?
Sustenance of Soil Health
- Augment the organic nutrient sources by composting the agricultural, urban and industrial wastes; and returning the crop residues to the soil.
- Central and State Governments should work in tandem to provide financial assistance to improve the availability and use of organic sources of plant nutrients.
- For soil health enhancement, Government should link composting to Swachh Bharat mission and provide it free of cost to the farmers @ 1 MT/ha.
Correction in Fertilizer Policy
- A number of initiatives such as shift from urea to 100% neem coated urea, reducing the weight of urea bag from 50 kg to 45 kg and providing soil health cards to all farmers have been taken to reduce urea consumption. However, it has not helped much because pricing is the overriding factor.
- Simple solution is to bring urea also under Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) scheme and transfer the subsidy directly into the farmers’ accounts rather than routing through the fertilizer industry.
Efficient Water Management
- Education of the society at large on the necessity of ‘judicious use of water’, ‘har khet ko pani’ and ‘more crop per drop’ is the first step.
- Focus should be on agriculture sector with management technologies which have potential of water savings ranging from 10% to 60%.
- Regulatory mechanisms should be put in place in each state for utilization of groundwater resources.
Enhancing Farmers’ Income
The Inter-Ministerial Committee, constituted to examine issues relating to doubling of farmers’ income by 2022, has identified seven sources of income growth namely,
- Improvement in crop productivity
- Improvement in livestock productivity
- Resource use efficiency or savings in the cost of production
- Increase in the cropping intensity
- Diversification towards high value crops
- Improvement in real prices received by farmers
- Shift from farm to non-farm occupations
The integrated farming system (IFS) models developed by IIFSR, Modipuram integrate the latest production technologies of farming and livestock/ aquaculture development and management.
- A step towards bringing reforms in Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) was taken by the Union Government in 2015 through creation of National Agricultural Market (NAM).
- Since the APMCs are a state subject, operation of NAM faces innumerable difficulties. Farmers should be assured of minimum 50 to 60% of consumers’ price in case of perishable commodities and 70 to 80% for the other produce.
Indian agriculture is passing through a phase where sustainability of soil health and crop yields have come into question. The dependence on fertilizers will continue to increase in the foreseeable future. However, there is a scope for substituting 10 to 25% of nutrient demands through Integrated Nutrient Management.
Along with Fertilizer policies need immediate course correction in Fertilizer policies and implementation of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for subsidy in true sense, alternative farming systems, with scientific validation of new technologies have a significant role to play.