Looking Forward ‘Ever Green Revolution’
For making agriculture sustainable and increasing farmers’ income, ‘Ever Green Revolution’ and peri-urban agriculture practices need be adopted, says Prof M S Swaminathan, in a special interview to Pravash Pradhan, Editor, Smart AgriPost. Edited excerpts:
Q. How has Indian Agriculture evolved over the years and influenced the economy?
Ans: When we became independent, our agriculture situation was practically hopeless. Just before independence, there was famous Bengal famine in 1942-43. Millions of children, women and men died out of hunger. Therefore, Mahatama Gandhi said for those who are hungry ‘God is the bread’, so it is first duty to see that God of bread is available to everyone. JawaharLal Nehru articulated it by saying that everything else can be ignored but not agriculture. So, series of steps were taken, more irrigation projects, fertilizers projects and projects to increase productions initiated. Indian agriculture started getting what we may call modernization from 1950 onwards; the first five years plan onwards. And as a result, today we have come to a stage, when the government has enacted legislation that entitles people legal right to food; entitling people to minimum five kilograms of food grains in a month. So, from Bengal famine to ‘Right to Food’ with domestically grown food grains is a very big change.
Q. Green Revolution that you had ushered in has some side effects. What do you say in this regard?
Ans: Those effects were anticipated by me. When we started the programme in 60s, we were leading towards a shift for existence, shifting from the import of PL480 for our public distribution system to grow our own. We had a very big famine in Bihar in 1963. We had to import nearly10 million tons of food grains. On the other hand, we were shifting from traditional agriculture to modern agriculture which involves use of pesticides, use of more irrigation water, particularly pump water and ground water. We had to begin very carefully. American experience had already shown, there was an American book in 1963 “Silence Spring” about the adverse consequences of excessive use of pesticides and herbicides. So, I had said that we must merchandise the productivity, in a way we can have productivity in perpetuity, not to go up, not to go down. I coined the term of ‘Ever Green Revolution’ .I said to farmers that you must shift from green to ever green revolution. The ever green revolution, alternately called sustainable agriculture. There are adverse effects of overuse of agri inputs. That was clear from the beginning. That is why we recommended integrated pest management, integrated nutrient supply; diversified varieties over large land. In the beginning, they were excited by the higher yield. Earlier they were getting less than one tonne per hectare. Suddenly, they started getting 4-5 tons per hectare. They had more marketable surplus, more income. In fact, in 60s, the Hindustan Uniliver made a study of how the farmers are using the money, more money they have obtained. Because of the more marketable surplus, they built their houses.
Q. Now the government emphasizes on second Green Revolution in Eastern States. What do you say?
Ans: When people talk about 2th green revolution, the eastern parts of the India could be an advantage. Assam, Wes Bengal, Eastern UP and Odisha have more water but the productivity is very low. We made an analysis of the eastern areas, where the entire production reservoir is high. West Bengal has very high potential. In fact, one of the states identified for intensive agriculture district programme in 1960 was West Bengal. Orissa and Assam both also have untapped reservoir. Areas under 1st Green Revolution- Punjab, Haryana and Western UP have now different kind of problems. They should now move from Green Revolution to ‘Ever Green Revolution’. The 2nd green revolution must be in the areas which have high production potential but not been influenced by new technologies. We will have difficulties in coming years, when the population is likely to go up to 150 crores in another than 12 years. We will require more food. We should concentrate on areas where new technologies have not reached. That is why Eastern India is called the birth place of 2nd revolution.
Q. The government is talking about doubling farmers’ income. How practical it is?
Ans: All government servants have pay commission to decide their payment. Farmers also require more money, they are also human being. In Fact, the wide spread poverty and malnutrition in the country are due to low income of farmers. They are the majority of the population. Unlike United States, where farmers are only 2-3% of population, we have 60 % of our population farmers. They are producers and consumers both. When they have little income they cannot consume. Therefore, we should ensure that farmers, especially small are able to adapt the new technologies to increase their income. The International Commission on Farmers even suggested that progress of agriculture should be measured by the increase in the net income of small farmers. It can be done by three ways. One is Higher Productivity. The small farmer, who is producing one ton or 1.5 tons, can produce 3 or 4 tons. Then they will have more marketable surplus. Second is value addition to the biomass. Rice straw is burnt in Punjab and Haryana, but it is very valuable. Value addition to secondary products can raise income of farmers. We have to have the cost effective technologies. There should be remunerative market for the primary produce – wheat, rice, jowar etc. The government has a price commission. It announces prices for a large number of commodities but it is being implemented practically for wheat and rice only. We are importing large quantity of pulses. We should increase the productivity of pulses. We must adopt peri-urban agriculture to increase the farmer’s income.
Q. Do we need more research and innovation in agriculture?
Ans: Yes, it is very important. As early in 1925, National Agriculture Commission said that without research, we will be building castles which will collapse. As we have seen in green revolution, anticipated research is important to get desired things. Particularly with climate change -more droughts, more floods, higher temperature, you need anticipated research and participatory research with farmers. Scientific labs or Krishi Vigyan Kendras must work together with farmers. Research and scientific knowhow should be translated to field level.
Q. What is the current agriculture scenario in India?
Ans: The current scenario is mixed bag. We have made progress, there are some good institutions. But in relation to the importance of agriculture in our economy and in light of the importance of agriculture to feed our large population, investment is not enough. There is the need of more investment in research, much more in extension of technology and infrastructure. There is mismatch between production and post harvest technology. So we have to put more investment.
Q.What are the major Challenges before Indian agriculture?
Ans: There are many challenges. Attracting youth towards agriculture is the problem. The young people will join only when farming is both intellectually and economically attractive. We need more technological transformation of agriculture, new technologies whether it is bio technology or space technology or nano or information technology. Information technology is particularly important. Diversion of land for non-agriculture purposes is the major problem. Irrigation is already a problem in Punjab, Tamil Nadu and other states.
Q. What is your view on GM technology? Can we use Bio-technology for increasing productivity?
Ans: Bio-Technology is a broad term whereas GM technology is an important component. It is the heart of bio technology, genetic modification. We have food tissue culture, we have aqua culture; they all come under the broad areas of bio technology and bio production, bio pesticides and bio fertilizers. Therefore, bio technology is of great advantage for our farmers, to our system and to our country. The choice of technology is important and genetically modification is an important component of biotechnology.
Q. Fragmentation of land is another major issue. What do you say about land reforms?
Ans: Land reforms started just after we became independent. The reforms were done well in West Bengal and Kerala but not in all states. Today the agriculture land is shrinking. The original land reforms concept was the proper land distribution, but that is not going to happen as there is not much land for distribution. There are some farmers, who have large lands, but a majority of them are small farmers. Land reforms also mean enough facilities for land levelling, watershed management. Mahatama Gandhi NAREGA can do a lot of work, improve the soil fertility, soil health care and soil health cards, which Prime Minister is also talking about, so many of these things can be done.
Q. What do you say about the blue revolution that Government is talking about?
Ans: It is very important component as land and water both are sources of food. Only 10% food comes from blue revolution and 90% food comes from green revolution. In coming time, how we are going to use sea water which is 97% of land is very important. At my centre in Chennai, we have developed methods to use sea water for farming along the coastal areas. We have 8000 kms of coastal areas. Therefore, seafood is going to be important component of food security. We have to move from food security to nutrition security consisting of micro nutrients, proteins and so on. Green revolution helped to increase calorie availability while blue revolution will help to increase nutrition security.