NEW DELHI, India, May 9, Reuter: Every two seconds India has another mouth to feed.
Experts question whether it can grow enough food by the tum of the century when it will have close to one billion people.
The prospects are far from rosy, according to international economists and farm analysts, although some are cautiously optimistic,
India has made huge gains since the 1960s, when a combination of increased irrigation, improved crop varieties and’ more fertilizers ushered in the green revolution.
Yields and production shot up, bringing property to farmers in the wheat and rice bowl northern states of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh.
The country took great pride in being able to start exporting wheat after a bumper crop in 1983-84, but last year’s drought has forced it to rescue imports.
Since the early 1980s overall farm growth has flattened out, apparently signaling that the green revolution has run out of steam.
Western experts see India caught in a trap of rapidly rising population whose access to key foods has steadily dropped as farm output has hit a plateau.
“The issue is how to kick the economy off that plateau”, said ar international economist who asked not to be identified “they do not really have a good strategy”.
A western diplomat said India’ target must be to get agriculture back to annual growth of two tc four per cent.
“The best I can give them is a maybe. If they stick at two to three per cent they can survive,” he said “The question is whether India wants to go into a high growth path and become a world player or survive by muddling along”.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his government, deeply worried by the failure of last year’s devastating drought, have made agriculture top priority and boosted spending.
Agriculture experts argue, however, that a lot of the extra spending will go in administering the new programs rather than in direct expenditure on the land.
For real change, they say the government must take some tough decisions that could hit a powerful farm lobby at its most potent in the northern States that form the Hindi speaking heartland of the ruling Congress (I) party. Farmers must be made to pay the real cost of providing them with irrigation and electricity. They should be made to repay farm loans and resources must be concentrated in areas where they will do most good, they say.
Senior agriculture ministry official, P.V. Shenoi, said India must grow an extra six million tonnes of food grains a year for the rest of this decade, boosting this to between seven and eight million tonnes a year in the 1990s,
By the year 2000 it will need about 240 million tonnes of the food grains that form the bulk of most Indians’ diet, according to government figures. In the 198384 financial year, India’s best year, it produced about 152 million tonnes.
But to meet the year 2000 target, productivity must be raised enormously. In the best farmed areas of Punjab wheat crop yields match world standards. Elsewhere half the yield is normal.
Agriculture experts say the key to boosting overall food production is to spread modern technology and farm practices to the millions of tiny small holds which take up 76 percent of agricultural land.
These smallholdings, which total less than two hectares (five acres) but may be spread across several tiny plots, still farm their land in much the same way as their ancestors.
Almost three quarters of the country still relies on the vagaries of the annual monsoon and the government has announced a major push to boost dry land farming.
“We have the technology but the problem is getting the technology to the people,” said Shenoi.
World Bank agriculture expert Mike Baxter said: “There are a lot resources. It is a question of getting them all concentrated in the right areas and all working in the same direction”.
“The system is creaky but with substantial drive four per cent growth is possible,” said Shenoi.
“We have to be optimistic. We have all the things that can give us success. What we have to do is pull ourselves together”.