Preparing for a second green revolution
The time is ripe for a second green revolution in the country and Prime Minister rendra Modi is a man in a hurry. With agricultural yields continuing to be much less in eastern India than its potential, he has recently renewed a call for such a revolution in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Assam and other NE States. This has become critically necessary if the country has to enhance foodgrain output, reduce import of lentils and oilseeds and ensure a more broad-based and inclusive agricultural growth. In particular, putting aside a part of the land to cultivate lentils can guarantee pulses as a source of proteins to the poor at affordable prices. Prime Minister Modi has also been candid enough to admit that while the first green revolution helped the country overcome food shortage and banish the spectre of starvation, it also ‘left behind problems of environmental degradation’. In this context, he has pointed to the depletion of ground water in Punjab, Harya and western Uttar Pradesh, where the first green revolution was concentrated. The Prime Minister has also stressed on using scientific techniques to raise farm yield in ‘less land, less time’, as well as ‘per drop, more crop’. He has also called upon private individuals to set up laboratories which can test soil and issue its health card so that through this ‘lab to land’ input, farmers can know about the deficiencies in their lands, fertilizer requirements and type of crops that can be grown. And for good measure, the Prime Minister also wants a blue revolution to raise fish production, like white revolution has done for milk and green revolution for crops.
What needs to be kept in mind is that despite the first green revolution in the early Seventies, 60 per cent of cropped area in the country is still dependent on rains. Rainfed areas still contribute more than 80 per cent of the pulses and oilseeds grown, apart from a substantial part of horticultural and animal husbandry produce. The first green revolution in agricultural productivity was also primarily limited to wheat, which is why the thrust has been more on raising rice output in States in eastern India in the last decade through flagship schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yoja. The previous UPA government too did its bit, which saw States like Bihar doubling their rice production in 2011-12. Assam too has been performing well, despite a series of scams plaguing its agricultural department. The State became a first category rice producer in 2012-13 after record production of 52 lakh 33,000 metric tonnes in all the three seasons of ahu, sali and boro paddy. Assam has also been consistently raising its pulses output in the last few years, and plans to be self-sufficient in onion in the next 2-3 years. Considering the never ending scams by the agriculture department in providing shallow tubewells, greenhouses, farm implements, seeds, fertilisers and other agro-inputs, it is to the great credit of farmers in the State for toiling ceaselessly in the fields to raise crop yields. In fact, their labour is nothing less than herculean, considering the near-absence of irrigation support, crop insurance, agro-marketing and minimum support prices. Whether the Prime Minister’s initiative for a second green revolution finds fertile soil in Assam remains to be seen.
Farmers in Assam and other NE States must also be aware about what a second green revolution may mean to their livelihood. A section of social scientists believe that such a revolution may actually end up driving a large number of small and margil farmers from their lands. They fear that the new agriculture will be industry-driven, and the Indian government will tailor its agri-policies to encourage commercial crops rather than subsistence crops, contract farming, leasing of farmlands, setting up land-sharing companies and future trading in agricultural commodities. If special purchase centres are set up or direct procurement of farm produce begins, will small farmers be benefited or will big farmers stand to gain exclusively? Assam and the entire Northeast remains primarily agrarian, but how far has scientific farming practices and new age agricultural thinking percolated down to our farmers? Is there any broad public discourse in the region about sustaible agriculture that does not damage the environment? The Tarun Gogoi government in Assam in the last 14 years has taken a target-based approach to agriculture while turning a blind eye to sundry scams, but surely it has failed in setting up a broad agri-infrastructure that could have empowered farmers in the State. As agriculture is a subject in the State List, the Central government and State governments need to work closely if they want results, with the Centre taking policy decisions relating to agricultural prices, credit and trade, and States implementing and maging these developmental policies. Whether or not agriculture becomes agribusiness in the coming years under the guise of a second green revolution, governments of Assam and other NE states need to respond effectively to the Centre’s initiatives to safeguard the interests of their farmers.