India needs to overhaul its approach towards agriculture

Tuesday 31 July 2007

the circle of Green Revolution seems to be complete. Punjab's agricultural growth of 1.86 per cent last year was just a plot in a declining graph since 1970. It is clear that the farming system could not sustain itself feeding on super-intensive inputs, organically as well as financially. Such farming technology has robbed off all things natural from agricultural nature. Water table in large parts of central Punjab today is below 10 metres.

Green Revolution was undoubtedly a useful response to food insecurity (on emergency) at that point in India's history. But the euphoria made us forget that the strategy could not have been a permanent one for a country like India. The fact that intensive agriculture could happen only with high level of irrigation became prohibitive for agricultural growth across the country, with diversity of ecology, rainfall and water table. The inertia of Green Revolution forced us to a cumulative investment of more than Rs 2,000 billion in surface irrigation systems till now. The orgy of construction was also fuelled by 'not-so-hydrological' unholy nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and contractors for lucrative extraneous considerations. The era is marked by criminal oversight that a large part of Indian food production came from rainfed agriculture. This oversight prevented Indian agricultural planners to put their minds into rainfed and dryland agriculture that could be more financially viable and sustainable in terms of food security and livelihood.

But surface irrigation could not meet Indian agriculture's ever-increasing water demands. A large part of the irrigation network is either incomplete or is not functioning. By now, agricultural practices have developed astronomical thirst, given the promises of surface irrigation. Inspite of heavy investments, by the 80s, the area cultivated by groundwater overtook that of surface irrigation's. A quick look at any suicidal farmer's accounts will reveal the growing level of indebtedness created by the 'amenities'--borewells for example.

Official calculation points out that net rainfed area has shown a decline of 9.8 per cent between 1994 and 2003, while net irrigated area increased by 12 per cent. It is ironical that the increased irrigation should be contributed by tubewells and wells. Did anyone point out that water from tubewells were rainfed too? In fact, a lopsided cropping pattern and seed selection based on unmet supply of irrigation has turned vast area in the country into 'dark zones'. If we look at it carefully, even the water in the surface irrigation system is rainfed. We have managed to waste a lot of rain countrywide, at an astronomical cost.

And since we can't import rain, let's import foodgrain.

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