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Towards a hunger-free India

Vishwanath Kulkarni | Updated on January 28, 2019

Agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan tells Vishwanath Kulkarni of the challenges in ensuring food security. Exceprts:

How do you assess the growth of Indian agriculture in the post-liberalisation era vis-a-vis the Green Revolution years?

Agriculture growth in India was practically stagnant until the onset of the Green Revolution. The term Green Revolution refers to production advance through productivity improvement through a modification of plant architecture and physiology. After the 1970s, the growth rate has been less, partly because of marketing and pricing policies. Progress happens when technology and public policy are mutually supportive.

Has the agrarian crisis become more acute in recent decades?

Yes, largely because of policy neglect. The monsoon and the market are two of the major determinants of the well being of farmers. The monsoon has been erratic - partly due to climate change, and both internal and external markets are not pro-small farmer.

How central is MSP to the farmers’ problems today?

MSP is central to the stability of farmers’ incomes. Even in the United States the PL 480 programme was developed in the 1960s to ensure the stability of prices of food crops. This is why in the National Commission on Farmers we have recommended a support price of C2 plus 50 per cent. If prices are not favourable, farmers will have difficulty in repaying loans, leading to the demand for loan waiver.

Is there a future for less resource-intensive farming/natural farming?

Inputs are needed for output. Therefore, it is important to ensure the supply of adequate inputs either through organic farming methods or through chemical means. Natural farming involves harmony between technology and ecology. We should promote ecotechnologies that can promote higher productivity without danger to the long-term production potential of the soil.

What should be the thrust of agriculture research?

Agriculture research should concentrate on what I have referred to as evergreen revolution methods. Land and water resources are shrinking; the only way to meet our requirement is through productivity improvement. Agriculture research should capitalise on new technologies, including genetic modification.

Will GM crops play a crucial role in feeding the rising Indian population over the next 25 years?

GM crops will be particularly useful in the case of breeding varieties with resistance to abiotic stresses like drought, floods and sea level rise. We should, however, have a transparent regulatory system to measure risks and benefits which inspires public, political and professional confidence. It should also be ensured that GM technology is promoted in a way that small farmers can benefit. In other words, instead of hybrids of Bt cotton, cotton varieties (like Gossypium arboreum) should be developed with Bt gene, the seeds of which can be kept and reproduced by farmers themselves. Hybrid seeds are expensive and the small farmer will have to buy the new seeds from the company every year. Higher productivity coupled with affordable input cost should be the scientific pathway. It is also important to look at what Chinese scientists are currently doing in exploring the possibility of raising crops on the moon. Sustainable food security, essential for a hunger-free India, is likely to be a major scientific challenge.

Published on January 27, 2019

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