NOT a great film buff, but this reporter recalls having seen Satyajit Ray’s “Ashani Sanket” (The distant thunder) and Mrinal Sen’s “Akaler Sandhaney” (In search of famine) quite a few years ago. In the second film Smita Patil and Babita from Bangladesh, had made the famine situation most lively by their roles. One wishes the 1943 Bengal famine does not visit us again. According to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen a famine is no longer possible in India because of the vigilant media now.
Has the failure of agriculture anything to do with the present situation? It is true that there have been a severe drought in the country during 2009, which has affected agricultural production, in most parts of the country. But then, there is no dearth of foodgrains in stock with the official agencies such as the Food Corporation of India. Based on this fact, the Union Government has made no secret of its intentions to shift the blame on the shoulders of the State Governments since under the Constitution, agriculture is a State subject. The ruling party at the Centre however, appears to be oblivious of the fact that the same party rules over large states such as Maharashtra and Rajasthan and also Andhra Pradesh.
India which had produced more than 230 million tonnes of foodgrains only a year ago should not blame nature for the failure of agriculture. Consider Punjab and Haryana. Both states had suffered drought to the same extent as in other parts of India. Yet both have produced kharif crops which totaled equal to or even more than production of last kharif season.
Why did it not happen to other states where rainfall was lower than normal? This is because of the lack of management of agriculture on the part of the larger states, Yes, the situation was bad in many states. However, proper management would have brought higher production as it had happened in Punjab and Haryana.
It appears that the higher production of foodgrains in the years from 2006 to 2008 had made the Union Government complacent. When at a Press conference in 2008, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was asked if the second Green Revolution much talked about in Government circles including the President and the Prime Minister has taken place, his reply was that production of 230 million tonnes in the previous years had proved that the second Green Revolution had indeed arrived.
This was a surprising statement to come from the country’s Minister of Agriculture, because during the first Green Revolution, genetic measures were in play in order to produce more wheat per plant than earlier, caused by introduction of a gene found in China which was picked up in Japan, and to USA after the World War II. This gene had helped change in the “plant architecture” as Dr Swaminathan used to describe the change, according to which plants became shorter with the infusion of the gene and the energy was diverted to produce more grain than foliage.
This had happened in 1968 with the help of the Mexico-grown wheat seeds, 18,000 tonnes of which were ordered to be imported by Agriculture Minister C Subramaniam. Seed multiplication had taken place at several research institutions. The new seeds were priced at Re.1 per seed yet farmers bought them without any complaint. The result was spectacular. In just one year, wheat production had increased from a little more than 12 million tones to 16 million tones.
Can the Minister of Agriculture claim that his “Second Green Revolution” has actually taken place in India?
All that has happened with wheat is that only Punjab has registered productivity going-up from the pre-Green Revolution days of one to two tonnes per hectare to something like 4.5 tonnes a hectare. Nowhere else has such a progress made. There is now a project being implemented at the Wheat Research Institute, Karnal to produce “super wheat” which will have a productivity of eight tonnes of wheat a hectare. If that happens, one can claim that the second Green Revolution has taken place but not before rice productivity too increases to that level.
Whatever the Union Government says, it has totally failed to safeguard the interests of the common man with respect to prices of essential commodities. The Government has to pay the price for this failure. Will someone in the Union Council of Ministers accept the responsibility and pay the price for this and the Government’s failure on the price front?
However, one must accept the fact that it is well nigh impossible to bring down the prices of pulses. One has to be candid that the prices of most pulses, including arhar will not come down at all. The per hectare yield of most pulses has remained stagnant for decades and there is no possibility yet that more arhar will be produced per hectare than at present. One should not be astonished if the price goes up to Rs.100 a kilogram in the very near future This is because productivity of pulses has not kept pace with the population. The per capita availability of pulses which has come down from about 56 grams per person per day twenty years ago is now only about 30 grams per head and will go down further. Imports will only slow down this process. Has the Government the courage to undertake research that will increase the productivity of pulses?