More yield per hectare

Published: Friday 31 January 2003

More yield per hectare

-- Agricultural growth in India has always laboured under the burden of producing more. The idea was: grow only foodgrains. That meant: not ecologically adapted cereals such as millets, but rice and wheat. The green revolution programme was single-minded: it came up with hyv (high-yielding variety) seeds for rice and wheat only. Dwarf wheats and rice were introduced, and the country was well on its way to prosperity.

Truly, it was. India became self-sufficient in foodgrains by the mid-1970s. But two other things happened. There began to emerge a regional imbalance in agricultural production. This can be gauged from another set of figures, that of irrigation. By 1996-1997, the state of Punjab had 92.9 per cent of its area under irrigation, followed by Haryana (76.2 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (68.7 per cent). On the other hand, only 14.4 per cent of Maharashtra was irrigated, and 21.9 per cent of Karnataka. Secondly, and more importantly, the country's cropping patterns were completely transformed.

This transformation can be summarised thus: rice-wheat in the north, and rice-rice in the south and east. Among other effects (such as intensive water use, see next section), this led to the complete marginalisation of legume cultivation, even in traditional legume-growing areas. Even as the area under cereal cultivation in Punjab has increased from 50.9 per cent in 1966-1967 to 73.5 per cent in 1997-1998 (rice: 0.227 million ha to 2.278 million ha; wheat: 1.4 million ha to 3.3 million ha), leguminous crops such as pulses and oilseeds came to be grown far less widely (pulses: 13.47 per cent of cultivable area in 1966-1967 to 1.1 per cent in 1997-1998; oilseeds: 6.2 per cent to 1.8 per cent). Their B-grade status -- less profitable; less subsidy; less institutional support -- is reinforced by the manner in which they have been shunted to marginal lands.

Legumes naturally enrich soils (see box: Legume logic). "We have been pleading with farmers to go back to legumes. The government should come up with incentives for farmers who agree to grow legumes in place of paddy," says G S Hira, a soil physicist at the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, Punjab.

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