The importance of the sector is beyond economic boundaries as it not only provides two square meals to our teeming millions and raw material to thousands of agro industries but also earning opportunity to 54 per cent of the workforce.
The production of foodgrains has reached to all time high at 264 million tonnes in 2013-14 from 50.82 million tonnes in 1950-51. During the period, wheat production increased over 12 times, rice over 4 times and oilseeds over three times. Production of pulses, which has been stagnating at 14-15 million tonnes during last two decades, increased to over 19 million tonnes in 2013-14 sending a strong positive signal that India is inching towards self-sufficiency in pulses.
However, burgeoning population and changing economy and consequent food demand puts a renewed pressure for enhancing production with diversified farming.
Technology led development in agriculture initiated during the mid-1960s (Green Revolution) helped turn the nation from a deficit state and importer of foodgrains to surplus producer and exporter. So much so that domestic production could help offset the global food crisis during 2008.
However, while the production of major foodgrains increased by leaps and bounds, we are still heavily short of edible oils and pulses, which are causing huge foreign exchange outgo. The important and related issue, which often required serious concern of institutions and policy makers, is the likely future demand for food. This is more important in view of the diminishing natural resources, changing economy and dominance of small and marginal land holdings and increasing abiotic and biotic stresses.
Several projections for food demand and production are available for 2016-17 and 2020-21. Considering the actual past patterns of observed demand and the fact that cereals consumption per capita has declined since at least mid-1990s, the XII Plan Working Group on Crop Husbandry, Demand and Supply Projections, Agricultural Inputs and Agricultural Statistics have made projections of 257 and 277 million tonnes of foodgrains, 59 and 71 millions of oilseeds, 97 and 124 million tonnes of fruits and 161 and 189 million tonnes of vegetables for 2016-17 and 2020-21, respectively. Added to these are the increased demand for milk at 139.7 million tonnes, meat at 11.4 million tonnes, eggs at 100 billion numbers and fish at 12.8 million tonnes. These projections suggest a substantial increase in the production of majority of the food commodities except foodgrains, which has already exceeded the likely demand at the end of Twelfth Plan.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research estimated India’s foodgrain requirement at 256 million tonnes for low income group in 2020, comprising of 112 million tonnes of rice, 82 million tonnes of wheat, 39 million tonnes of coarse grains and 22 million tonnes of pulses. The demand for edible oils will be about 11 million tonnes.
To achieve these levels of production the growth rate of domestic output need to be accelerated to 3.5 to 4 per cent p.a. from the existing level of 2.4 per cent. It is also noteworthy that India has very high levels of malnutrition and although there are many reasons for this, deficiencies in calorie intake remain one of the most important. National Food Security Act (NFSA), which entitles majority of the households some very cheap cereals have been built upon the very principle of meeting the minimum food requirement to all the needy and is likely to increase cereals demands beyond the projections made by different institutions.
Challenges and growth drivers
The factors that may put formidable challenge include shrinking land-base, dwindling water resources, the adverse impact of climate change, shortage of farm labour, and increasing costs and uncertainties associated with volatility in international markets.
The drivers for growth in coming years will be (a) viability of farm enterprise and returns on investment that depend on scale, market access, prices and risk; (b) availability and dissemination of appropriate technologies that depend on quality of research and extent of skill development; (c) plan expenditure on agriculture and in infrastructure which together with policy must aim to improve functioning of markets and more efficient use of natural resources; and (d) governance in terms of institutions that make possible better delivery of services like credit, animal health and of quality inputs like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and farm machinery.
Addressing ICAR scientists Prime Minister Modi stressed upon a second green revolution for broad-based, more inclusive and sustainable approach of farming to produce more food and other commodities without depleting the natural resources. The inclusive strategies of development should further increase the incomes of the poorer sections of our society. This means that diversification of agricultural production must be emphasised much more than it was in the past. This will trigger requirement of specialised cold chain management through mutually supportive forward and backward integration of post-harvest and marketing infrastructure in rural areas.
The production opportunities lies in the multiplicity of the seasons and varying agro-climatic regions that offer attractive opportunities in offsetting the adverse impact of weather and also open a new window to produce the same or alternate commodity in the next season to build upon the food stock. Similarly there are some very high potential regions in the country that are under-utilised and could be transformed into an alternate food bowl with appropriate technology support and efficient and effective input delivery and support services.
The price policy should be more inclusive and effective for crops other than rice and wheat with broadened net and benchmarking for perishables to administer a mechanism for price stabilisation for the benefit of both the producers and consumers.