Addressing Members of Parliament on May 17, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan who is now a nominated Member of the Rajya Sabha, displayed a diagram in a booklet entitled ?From Begging Bowl to Bread Basket? authored by the scientist himself.
That diagram had depicted the perception of two American brothers William and Paul Paddock in their book Famine 1975 that according to them the U.S. would not be able to sustain countries like India which were dependent on imports of food grains from the United States after 1974. The US Department of Agriculture, according to this diagram, had computed such a date in 1985 after which even excess foodgrains produced in the United States would not be able to save millions of people dying of hunger in India and several other countries.
Well, as we are all aware, such a catastrophe did not visit either India or other countries named by the Paddock brothers and India had actually more than ten million tonnes of food grains as buffer stock by 1975.
Yet, Dr. Swaminathan did not hesitate to remind the Members of Parliament about the grim situation regarding availability of food grains not only during the late 1960s but also during the present decade.
One might have accused the renowned agricultural scientist of creating scare of an impending era of acute shortage of food grains in the country during the current and coming years. However, almost a fortnight earlier, on May 4, the Minister of State for Agriculture Kantilal Bhuria had told the Rajya Sabha that the Working Group of the Planning Commission had projected that while the demand for foodgrains in India by 2011-12 (the terminal year of the eleventh five year plan) would become 234.26 million tonnes a year, the production was estimated by then at only 223.72 million tonnes.
This was a clear indication that India would have to import upwards of ten million tonnes of food grains a year during that and subsequent years.
One, therefore, has to conclude that the current announcements by the Ministry of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution that India was to import certain quantities of wheat for augmenting the Public Distribution stocks with the Food Corporation of India. Coupled with the import of 5.5 million tonnes of wheat last year, the decision to import another five million tonnes this year are clear signals that India has already entered the era of importing food grains regularly in order to ensure food security for all citizens, not merely the people living below the poverty line and those who depend upon the Public Distribution System.
In fact, the former Chairman of the Washington (D.C)-based World Watch Institute Lester Brown has been saying since the last few years that both India and China would soon have to embark upon importing huge volumes of food grains every year in order to feed their burgeoning populations, and that the combined volume of imports by the two countries would be so large that the world market would not be able to supply that volume. The implications of this statement not only for India and China
However, it appears that at least the Government of India does not appear to admit of the impending crisis. This is a policy decision taken for obvious reasons. However, the fact that a full, meeting of the Planning Commission to discuss agriculture was held on May 14 followed by a meeting of the National Development Council (NDC) on May 29 in order to discuss only agriculture are clear indications that the Government is aware of the impending crisis. That is as good as it goes.
The Government is yet to go the whole hog for undertaking massive agricultural reforms in order to quickly raise the productivity of the main cereals such as rice, wheat, bajra (pearl millet)and jowar (sorghum) besides pulses.
The decision at the NDC meeting was to launch three food security missions for rice, wheat and pulses to be implemented by the states, since agriculture is a state subject according to the Constitution. One has not yet heard when these missions would be launched. One however is aware that the Ministry of Agriculture states in answer to questions in Parliament on agricultural topics that an Integrated Cereal Development Programme, is already under operation under the Ministry'sMacro Management programme in order to enhance the production and productivity of cereals such as rice, wheat, jowar, bajra and other millets.
For pulses and oilseeds, the Integrated Scheme for Oilseeds, Pulses, Oil palm and Maize (ISOPOM) is also under operation. So what will be the new programme that will be initiated in these missions, one would like to ask the Government. The Kharif season of agriculture is already on and if such missions are to be launched, it is time the Government did it without any further loss of time.
Just how poor is the productivity, yield per hectare in kilograms (kg/ha) with respect to paddy has been revealed in answer to another question in the Rajya Sabha on May 4 itself (Q.No.3197) that gives comparative productivity of paddy in India, China, Japan and the United States, recorded in 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-05). In India, the figures were 3,111 kg/ha, 3,041 kg/ha and 3,147 kg/ha in those three years. It was 4,108, 7,498 and 3,899 (kg/ha) in these three years in China. Japan figures were 5,850, 6,414,and 6,648 kg/ha during those three years. In the United States, the figures were 7,477, 7,833 and 7,438 kg/has respectively (The yield of rice is two-thirds that of paddy). (Source: FAO website).
The productivity of wheat in India has been 2,281 kg/ha in 1990-91, 2,483 kg/ha in 1995-96, 2,778 kg/ha in 1999-2000, 2,708 kg/ha in 2000-01, 2,762 kg/ha in 2001-02, 2,610 kg/ha in 2002-03 and 2,713 kg/ha in 2003-04 (ICAR Data Book, 2006).
According to the same source, the wheat productivity in 2002-03 in Egypt was 6,150 kg/ha, in Mexico, it was 4,788 kg/ha, in Japan, it was 4,030 kg/ha, in it was Germany 6,503 kg/ha, in the Netherlands it was 9,119 kg/ha and in Britain it was 7,778 kg/ha. These figures reveal the poor productivity of wheat too in our country.
As such, it is evident that India must strive for raising the yield per hectare of the main cereal crops. This can be done by first, using more fertilizers per hectare, better utilisation of water, proper use of pesticides and insecticides and overall proper management of the agronomic practices. For this, the extension workers have to play a crucial role. Unfortunately, the extension mechanism, once quite active, has more or less collapsed all over the country.
A very large country such as India just cannot depend perpetually on importing food grains in order to feed her population. That is why one views the repeated imports of food grains during the last two years with grave concern.