the recipe for the green revolution

a slightly old article in himal explains how the green revolution changed agriculture in punjab:
The state of Punjab which has been literally feeding India, with its annual contribution of 53 percent of wheat and 40 percent of paddy to the food stocks of the country was, at the time of India’s independence in 1947, a food grain deficit area with only 52 percent of its area under irrigation. The 1960s Green Revolution changed all of that. Introduction of dwarf wheat germ-plasm and dwarf varieties for paddy crop resulted in quantum leaps in production. The high tide of the Green Revolution led to intensive production which then led to the emergence of crop monocultures, in general, as farmers, enticed by the productivity of the high yielding varieties of seeds promoted by the agricultural establishment of the country, switched to rice and wheat rotation. Pulses and coarse grains were sidelined – paddy and wheat was where the money was and to which over 71 percent of the gross cultivated area was put. Farm machinery, pesticides and fertilisers and irrigation dramatically increased the productivity of land. Today 95% of the net sown area gets irrigated by a web of canals and tubewells.
my last post was about how difficult it is for any state in india to even think of competing with punjab, and a couple of other states, for a larger share of the market for the two staple crops, wheat and rice, in the country. why is it so very difficult? there are several factors that combine to give punjab an unbeatable edge over most other states in the country:
* irrigation- punjab, as the paragraph i quoted says, started out with a well-built canal irrigation system, thanks to the british, and this potential has been further enhanced by projects such as the bhakra nangal and now the syl.canal irrigation system is the cheapest and most reliable source of water, as compared with manual and machine-operated irrigation systems. over 65% and more of farms in punjab could depend on this source until a few years ago. the national average is around 30-35%. extensive use of tubewells powered by cheap power and diesel ensure that, as the article says, 95% of all farms have assured supply of water.
* intensive farming- the green revolution was all about intensive farming. that translates into intensive application of technology (high yielding seeds, fertilizer and pesticides, farm equipment), intensive use of natural resources (water and double cropping, or two crops a year) and institutional support (research & advice from universities, credit from banks, support prices from the government). as the national portal i had quoted in my previous post says 'the cropping intensity' in punjab is more than 186% (which means two crops are cultivated in most of the available area)- the national average in irrigated areas is around 120%.
* social profile- the punjab land alienation act (1900), a bizarre piece of colonial legislation, ensured that most of the land in punjab went into the hands of the jats. the other upper castes, obcs and dalits own very little. so when the green revolution programme was first demonstrated and later launched on a large scale in punjab this homogeneity must have played a great role in the faster dissemination of the new ideas. and not just in punjab, but across haryana and western uttar pradesh, (the other one and a half of the two and a half states in north india where the green revolution is considered a great success) the story of the green revolution in north india has been the story of the resurgence of the jats. from charan singh to mahendra singh tikait- think of all the ways in which this unified, and large, jat voice worked to make the green revolution work for them more than others.

will some other state, i repeat the question, be able to match the punjab performance? if the fators listed above constitute the elements of a successful formula, how many states in india wouild be able to muster all those elements, and put them together? let's check against that list and see what needs to be done:
1. irrigation: this is a huge problem. if all the states in india were to achieve around 65% coverage of farms through canal irrigation (from around 30-35% now) the public funds required would run to around several hundred thousand crores. the current government in andhra pradesh was voted in on the promise that it'd do just that (increase area irrigated by canals by 73 lakh acres with an estimated, now revised, expenditure of 46,000 crores), but hasn't accomplished even a tenth part of the job until now even after spending more than 20,000 crores on the program. and andhra pradesh has access to perennial rivers such as the godavari and the krishna while many other states aren't so adequately endowed. this fao document should give you some idea of the size of the problem.is it doable?
2. high-yielding seeds, pesticides, fertilizers etc: most of india is using them- to increase to the punjab level more government support by way of subsidies, which means more public funds, and also private funds (which would mean increased credit for farmers) would be required. and much more funds would be required for farm equipment such as tractors (every village in punjab, on an average, has around 35 tractors- how many villages have you ever visited that have around 35 tractors each?). doable?
3. extension support from universities: doable.
4. credit: punjabi farmers access nearly 60% of their credit requirements from the banks. farmers elsewhere, despite policies that stipulate that nearly 18% of credit should go to farmers, have never received more than 10-!5% of their requirements from banks on an average. doable?
5. government support through procurement: the primary reason why punjabi farmers can access more credit, invest more in inputs and technology, is that the government of india buys more than half their harvest. doable?

it'd seem like most of those tasks, especially 1-3, can be accomplished by any state government if there were more money: more money in the hands of the farmer to invest more, more money in the hands of the government to invest more in irrigation infrastructure, subsidies, extension support etc., but the more vital player in this whole programme would've to be the central government. let's look at this way: if say, the central government buys as much wheat (half the crop harvested) from the madhya pradesh farmers (to use the same example as in my last post) as it does in punjab, and at the same remunerative prices (procurement prices have been better than market prices in most of the years since the green revolution started), then everything else would fall in place. because the madhya pradesh farmers now have an assured buyer for a major portion of their produce, and the most dependable one in the land, banks would be more than willing to lend them as much funds as they require to invest more in inputs, machinery and equipment and other improvements. because the farmer is able to invest more, his yields would increase progressively, every year. and because he's bringing more income to the rural economy every year, the state government would start listening to him more and increase its own investments in infrastructure and support through universities and subsidies etc., and in a few years, the madhya pradesh farmer would equal the punjabi farmer in productivity and surpluses. so, if the last task (no.5) is accomplished- that of securing the same kind of support from the central government as the punjabi farmers get (through procurement), all the other tasks, as i said earlier, fall in place. and all the other tasks, even if accomplished, aren't enough to turn a food deficit state into a surplus state if the last task is not completed. and most probably, it'd be almost impossible to accomplish all the other tasks (especially task 4, which in turn affects the completion of task 2) if the last task isn't completed.

so, why doesn't the central government buy from all the states? and stoke green revolutions and surpluses across the country? can't the central government extend that kind of support to all farmers in all states who, as sainath says, place 'food on our table' ? the answer is that there is already enough 'food on our table'.

older posts in this series: [1] & [2]


praveen said...

A minor point.

I think reducing/saving the crop lost during cyclones may also increase productivity, though not in comparably high volumes to your suggestions. I know few farmers in coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh who have lost entire crop for a season due to natural calamities. And I think coastal areas are the major producers in AP.

Few thoughts on how me may reduce/save the crop lost during cyclones:
1. Better weather forecasting. My friend in US carries an umbrella if the weather forecast said it would rain. I never did that watching the weather forecast. Now if they can forecast with high accuracy we can do it too.
2. Growing crops which can sustain cyclones if there is a predicted cyclone in a particular season. (may be sugarcane can sustain more than wheat)
3. Farmers can follow better drainage techniques so that the crop is not drowned for longer time periods.cu

kuffir said...


sorry for responding late to your comment. yes, what you say is true - there are many other minor disasters apart from major catastrophes like cyclones, like hailstorms, unforeseen rains etc., but the focus of my post has been this- the arithmetic of 'food security' has made it impossible for manny states to produce surpluses because surpluses from punjab and two-three other states are released into the markets in every state through the government of india (through the pds etc.,) thereby reducing the total market for local farmers.

praveen said...

got it. thank you.

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