Feeding India's Billion plus Population , the Roadmap Ahead.
Thanks to green revolution. India, with many mouths to feed in the early days of independence benefited much from the green Revolution. It made India a food surplus country. We reaped the fruits of green Revolution for about more than five decades . However, this cake walk is about to get over. With changing patterns of rains , frequent floods and droughts, effect of climate change on food crops, land exhaustion, over exploitation of ground water , decreasing fertility of land with excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, above all , the growing population with no measures to control it, the threat to India's food security, is more than apparent.
Land is a major factor in food cultivation. There are several reforms , that can increase the area under cultivation and the yield. Land exhaustion is where, the land doesn't has sufficient minerals and salts required for cultivation . With every year ,land exhaustion increases the need for more fertilizers to produce the same amount of yield. These lands can be reclaimed through suitable intervention such as addition of lime, phosphorus and other minerals . This will decrease the need for fertilizers, increase the yield. Efforts need to be extended to put land under Non Agricultural use to cultivation, however this must not be at the cost forests and pastrol lands . Utilizing waste lands , and fallow lands must be the priority.This will increase the net sown area . Land being the state subject, states bear more responsibility in implementing these reforms.
There is no food security without water security. India is a water stressed country, with availablity per person per year decreasing ,year by year. With 80% of the ground water being utilized for irrigation purposes alone, the major source for irrigation is depleting day by day. In Punjab , several years ago ,water table could be reached by digging just 200 to 300 feet, now it is difficult to reach the water table even after digging 1500 feet. Methods to recharge the ground water through dug well recharge, bunds, farm ponds, rain water harvesting,should be carried on, so that there remains sufficient ground water for production of crops. However , increasing the irrigation effeciency, is also key for sustainable agriculture. Our effeciency of irrigation is around 30%, this needs to be increased upto 60%, so that the water resource is sufficient for food production, to feed the growing population.
Natural Farming has been the hot topic these days. With continuous fertilizers and pesticides driven cultivation, land is loosing its fertility. This type of food production , has become unsustainable. The thrust for natural farming is more evident. Zero Budget Natural farming in South India has also gained some momentum.However there are downside risks in implementing it. Farmers have given up natural farming in some states on account of reduced yield , and lower income realization. If implemented on large scale , the overall production on an annual basis in the country may come down, threatening food security. However , this doesn't mean , that natural farming must be set aside for some time. The pioneers of natural farming and the government must find ways in increasing the yield and also effective realisation of income for farmers , so that both food security and sustainable cultivation is achieved.
Increased food production will itself not serve the purpose of equal distribution among masses. The Public distribution system is doing the best in this direction. But the Government on its alone cannot feed the large population. There are many private players who run charitable trusts,old age homes , refugee camps, and religious institutions like madrasas , church, Matt, temples are doing great job in feeding large segments of people for free cost. Government should support them with suitable policy tweaks. One such example is Seva bhoj yojana. This scheme refunds the central tax imposed on goods that go into preparation of food , that is distributed for free if cost. More measures are needed to support such non state players. On time payments of MGNREGA workers, proper implementation of minimum wages act , will ensure equal distribution of food among masses.
Genetic engineering is also one such field, with potential to help India with food security in the coming days. Genetically modified seeds in food crops, can help in achieving good yields, as the crops become adaptable to any physical and environmental conditions. However there is no approval of any GM food crops so far. There are also, concerns of its effects on Human and Animal health and environment . Sooner implementation of the GM technology may come handy, but I'll conceived and hasty implementation , may do more harm than good.
Farms ponds, are also once such method, to reduce soil erosion, and increase the food production.farm ponds help the farmers to begin cultivation regardless of delayed rainfall and dry spells. Having a national data on food crops , and the proportion of food crops in the net sown area, will help the government in deciphering the shortage of food crops , in advance. This will inturn help ,the government in announcing MSP and other suitable policies for increased production of food crops.
Even today, 10 to 15% of the food grains , stored in the PDS , get pest infected. This is largely because of insufficient infrastructure. We do store the grains under tarpaulin, thus the grains are vulnerable for rains and humdid atmospheric conditions.In the countries like U.S. large Ceylos are constructed to store the food grains. This may be costlier to implement, but it is must , if we have to secure the food for growing population. The threats to India's food security and the necessity for Securing it , may not be a pressing need today, but it is a 'bound to happen' situation. India needs to take steps prevent any such situation. Only the early bird gets the worm.
- Uday Kiran.D