Agri Business

Food production looks East

Vishwanath Kulkarni | Updated on May 27, 2013 Published on May 27, 2013

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In the past two years, India has emerged as one of the large exporters of foodgrains. To be precise, India has become the largest exporter of rice and a major player in wheat for the past two years.

This has been largely possible due to the record high output of these cereals with the total foodgrains production crossing 250 million tonnes (mt) for two years in a row.

Despite the drought impacting production in certain States, mainly Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the overall production is expected to cross the magic figure of over 250 mt this season too.

Compared with the output in 1993-94, the overall production has risen by about 40 per cent. Rice production has increased 31 per cent from around 80 mt to about 105 mt, while wheat output has increased 58 per cent from around 60 mt to 95 mt in the period.

Similarly, the production of coarse cereals has seen a 35 per cent increase from 31 mt to 42 mt, while the output of pulses has been relatively been sluggish in the past two decades rising 29 per cent from 13.3 mt to 17.21 mt. Maize production has zoomed 124 per cent from 9.6 mt to 21.5 mt during the period.

Lower yield

This growth in food output is largely characterised by an absolute increase in the cropped area, the use of improved hybrid seeds and complex fertiliser nutrients, expansion of irrigation, and increased mechanisation.

Besides, the economic incentive to farmers in the form of progressive increase in minimum support prices over the past several years has aided the growth.

Notwithstanding this, the yield of many a food crops continues to be lower than their global average. Though the production of cereals such as rice and wheat is quite comfortable, the country faces shortfall in domestic supplies of pulses and oilseeds.

As a result, India continues to remain a net importer of pulses and edible oils. The area under crops such as wheat and maize has seen a steady increase, whereas the area under coarse cerealshas been declining because of the reduced demand.

Land holding pattern

Interestingly, the increase in food production has been possible despite the decline in the average land holding, which has shrunk from about 1.55 hectares in 1990-91 to 1.16 hectares in 2010-11.

This progressive fragmentation of land holding amidst shrinking arable or cultivable land as more agriculture land gets diverted to other purposes such as industry, could pose a big challenge in the years ahead to sustain the rising demand from growing population.

This apart, the emerging challenges for agriculture include climate change, degradation of land and a shrinking water table.

Constraints

The other major constraints for food production would be the overuse of marginal land, and the imbalanced fertigation — which is becoming evident as the usage of cheaper urea in recent years has increased with the rise in prices of complex nutrients such as DAP and MOP among others. Though the intensive cropping system mainly in the north-western States of Punjab and Haryana has helped raise food output and self sufficiency, the trend is not seen as sustainable as the water table in the region has been declining.

To reduce dependence on these States, the Government has embarked on a strategy of shifting the water intensive rice cultivation to eastern States such as Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh among others through the scheme Bring Green Revolution to Eastern India.

The early response has been encouraging and the country may have to may have to rely increasingly on these States to meet its food requirements in the years ahead.

Published on May 27, 2013
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