Chinese aggro

India lagging behind due to bad practices

Published: Monday 15 May 2006

Chinese aggro

-- Ever since Deng Xiaoping extolled the virtues of wealth, China has been frogmarching towards affluence. I was invited by the Chinese government last month and had the opportunity to look at their agricultural sector and got an insight into the difference between what goes on in this country and what happens there. Why is Indian agriculture going down the tube, while China is prospering?

A population explosion might be one of the explanations. In India, the population is growing at 1.9 per cent annually, as against the 1.5 per cent growth in food grain production. The Malthusian theory, in which population growth overtakes food production, has been in operation since almost a decade. Food availability is at an all-time low of less than 400 grammes per capita, while the norm stipulated by the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, is 500 grammes. With the availability of pulses (the primary protein supplement for most vegetarians) down to 26 grammes, the country is inching towards a hunger trap. Wheat imports have started again after seven years. Against this background, the claim of the chairman of the National Commission of Farmers last June that India is self-sufficient" in wheat seems hollow. Farmers are dying: more than 14,000 have taken their lives. This does not happen in China.

China and India have a comparable number of farmers: the former with 900 million, constituting about 70 per cent of the population, the latter with about 650 million, 65-70 per cent of the population. In both countries the average holding is 0.5-1 hectare (ha). Unlike in India, however, where the rich farmers of Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Andhra and even Tamil Nadu, to an extent, can hold hundreds of acres, China has millions of farmers spread all over the countryside. Of the 230.4 million ha of arable land, 69 per cent is under grain crops, principally rice. This shows that China's food policy will continue to be grain-centred, unlike India's.

China harvested 432.9 million tonnes of food grains, which is 4.71 tonnes per ha. India's best is 220 million tonnes with an average yield of less than one tonne. In terms of the infrastructure and investments in agriculture, India comes next to the us, but China has much more to show on farmers' fields. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Rice Project Directorate in Hyderabad have been talking about a hybrid rice for almost a decade, but one doesn't see it in the field in a big way. In contrast, the 'Super Rice' of China has been on farmers' fields for more than a decade now.

What makes China's agriculture tick? The answer, primarily, lies in its capacity to innovate at the farmer's level. China has the world's largest number of agro-technology extension agents (1.5 million), who work with the farmer on the field employing a bottom-up approach. Innovation, thus, takes place in tune with ground reality.

This is a far cry from India's Krishi Vigyan Kendras (kvks), organisations that employ a top-down approach, in which the 'package of practice' developed by an agricultural scientist is dished out to the farmer. It is important to remember that an experimental farm operates without the constraints of capital, land or inputs, whereas the farmers -- especially, the small and marginal ones -- do not have that luxury. There are, for example, seeds with low viability and irrigation problems.

A recent study showed that only 0.9 per cent of the farmers in India access information from kvk s; progressive farmers who have innovated are trusted more. It is equally important to remember that whether the crop succeeds or fails, agricultural scientists or extension officers get their salaries. But when the crop fails, the farmer burns his fingers. This is the primary reason that the so-called green revolution succeeded only in fields of substantial farmers.

China's energy-conservation targets alongside growth goals are charting new directions. This is in sharp contrast to what our planners are attempting, in which growth at any rate does not impact the quality of life of the masses.

The author is an agricultural scientist

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