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A plan to double food output
Dear Minister Radha Mohan Singh:

You have been provided with the huge opportunity to leave footprints on the fields of agriculture.  

We believe that India can double its agriculture production within 10 years. This would mean India producing 500 million tonnes of food grains that would facilitate exporting 200 million tonnes. We can then emerge as a strong food bowl of the world. This is not just desirable but immensely feasible.

India has been endowed with favourable conditions for achieving this quantum jump. We have large arable land; and low levels of productivity. The reasons for low productivity include the small size of land holdings and lack of application of science, technology and management. These deficiencies can be addressed and resolved.

1.    Agglomeration of land holdings: The present average size of land holdings does not lend for high productivity farming. We must consolidate land holdings to large size farms to marry technology. This can be done without alienating farm owners from ownership. Punjab and Rajasthan have already amended the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Acts that provide for leasing of land over 15 years extendable by another 15 years.  Other states should follow the lead and thus liberate farming from the current problem of unviable small land holdings.

2.    Enable agri graduates to work in farms: There are 65 agriculture universities in India that turn out 11,900 graduates and post graduates a year. Most of them seek employment with government, banks or other urban occupations. Few take to farming or work in rural India. The talent wastage is simply humongous.

3.    Lack of technology: Another factor relates to the absence of technology in farming. The small size of holdings and the unprofitable nature of farming drive away the best talent from farming.

A simple six-point program that involves application of common sense will do.

a.    Selecting the right crop: Traditionally the farmer instinctively choses rice or wheat as the default crop. This made for self-reliance but was not related to the suitability of the crop to agro climatic conditions. Remember you cannot set up a steel plant on the Marina beach.

b.    Testing and correcting soil: All farmers in developed countries do this. In India, very few farmers do this. It is extremely important to test the soil and match the crop to the characteristics of the soil. The soil needs to be corrected for salinity, acidity...

c.    Quality seeds: GIGO, aka garbage in garbage out, is equally applicable to farming. Much attention is given in developed countries to the selection of quality seeds that ensure the quality and quantity of output.

d.    Optimum use of water, nutrients: The system of flood irrigation needs quick correction. Focus is needed on getting maximum output per unit of water consumed. The present wastages in use of water and nutrients need to be avoided.

e.    Appropriate mechanisation: Farm labour is becoming scarcer. The drudgery involved in farming needs change. There is an imperative to work constantly on simple gadgets to increase productivity. Farm mechanisation should receive high attention.

f.    Holistic management: In agriculture, we continue to expect the farmer to be omniscient. He selects the crop, tends it, protects it, harvests it and markets it to a profit. He should be familiar with the changes in weather conditions and also in best marketing practices. From science to technology to management he should perform all functions effectively! Now that’s a tall order. Farming needs efficient and holistic management.

The 6-point program, combined with agglomeration of land holdings, can help achieve huge jumps in production. Unlike industry, agriculture doesn’t involve long gestation. Thus results can be achieved over the next two seasons.

Luckily demand is aplenty. China imports over 26 million tonnes of soybean from distant North and South America. This can be supplied from India. Profuse production of corn and sugarcane can also help in large-scale production of ethanol (like Brazil and US) that can save substantially on petroleum imports.

As demonstrated by Gujarat, a double-digit growth in agriculture can impact on much larger sections of the population and eliminate hunger and poverty in quick time.  The goal can be to double food output before 2022, the 75th year of independence.

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