Reincarnating India’s green revolution

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Mar. 31 – India's population might be rising, but food grain production is back to its pre green revoultionn level. The disparity in demand and supply is fueling a stark price rise driving a national and global food crisis.
“Yes, we have a problem,’’ admits Abhijit Sen, economist and Planning Commission member, “and it can be starkly put in the following way: roughly around 2004-05, our per capita foodgrain production was back to the 1970s level,” reported the Times of India on Monday.

The figures tell a stark story. In 1979, at the height of the Green Revolution euphoria, per capita availability of cereals and pulses had gone up to 476.5 grams per day. The corresponding figure in 2006 was 444.5 grams per day, according to provisional government statistics. In 2005, it was still lower at 422 grams. In the case of pulses, per capita net availability today is almost half of what it was five decades ago — 32.5 grams per day in 2006 compared with 60.7 grams per day in 1951.

The reason for this fall in the availability of food is that our farm output is just not growing. Since the mid-90s, the output has more or less hovered around 415 million tonne. “In the eight years between 1996 and 2004, when Indian agriculture was growing at a low 2%, there was, in fact, zero growth in foodgrains,” says Sen.

This stagnation is hitting us all now. For one, food prices are rising and the rise is likely to continue. For another, despite nudging up wheat production in the last two years, the government still needs to import wheat. The problem is, it’s not easy to import. “Last year, India wanted to import around five million tonnes of wheat but couldn’t get more than three million tonnes because there isn’t any surplus wheat going around in the world market,” says food analyst Devender Sharma.

With agencies like the World Bank predicting that the international shortages will last at least two-three years, the crisis is here to stay. “The global food crunch only underlines the fact that India has to meet its needs itself.

Experts say the alarm bells should have rung earlier but the record buffer stocks between 2001 and 2003 led to complacency. “There was a feeling that our food problem had been solved. What remained to be done was just efficient distribution and poverty alleviation,’’says agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan. Fortunes reversed dramatically following bad years in 2003 and 2005. By 2005, the stocks had dipped below the buffer level and have remained there since.