Twenty First Century Mission : Living with Nature in the Modern Form TECHNOLOGY for CONSERVATION, DIVERSIFICATION and GROWTH
Appeared in KISAN WORLD April 2011 Vol 38 No.4
We had a quick review of how to mount a mission for water access for agriculture of the bulky base of Indian agriculture (in terms of the number of persons dependent upon agriculture, though the yield and productivity of these lands are marginal). The mission is aimed at reaching water at the right time and right quantities to the fields of the farmers so that their agricultural yields will be better.
As we had pointed out right from the beginning of the series, â€œone â€“ parameterâ€ approach would not suffice. Multiple parameters would need to be tackled simultaneously, for conservation of the natural resources, diversification of the produce and income earning opportunities as well as for enabling continual growth.
Agriculture in India (and therefore the income of the farmers) has been growing at a very slow rate over the past three decades, even while population and consumption styles and standards are growing rapidly. Solutions for faster agricultural growth ad larger incomes can come from technologies. No doubt again govt. policy and implementation are crucial.
Before addressing them in some detail, let us quickly review the situation about the management of water resources for the upper strata of irrigated agriculture.
WATER MANAGEMENT IN IRRIGATED LANDS
Even amongst the irrigated lands there are a number of different categories. Top amongst them are fed by major irrigation systems, that is huge dams with extensive canal systems. Among the medium and minor irrigation systems will fall various forms of lakes, ponds, ground water based minor irrigation etc.
Amongst these also there are variations such as those dependent on old traditional forms and those with modern engineered storage and delivery systems.
Again these systems vary in different parts of India and there are large variations even within the states. Those interested in having some deeper view of agricultural water resources management of whole of India may read volume 3 of the State of the Farmer (A millennium study) Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India. Its title is Water Resources.
As of new the farmers reached by major irrigation systems (mostly the Green Revolution arrearsâ€) have the benefit of best forms of govt. support in terms continues water availability, energy sources (electricity and diesel), agricultural inputs and marketing channels. They have full benefit of minimum support price.
The farmers of these regions were the early entrepreneurs who took to the new technologies and transformed the face of agriculture in India. Severe food seracity which led to â€œship â€“ to â€“ mouthâ€ existence in most of urban centres of India, has become the thing of the past thanks to these early Green Revolution farmers. It is on the basis of food (rice and wheat) supply stability built by them, the industrial growth of India took place ushering India to the modern economy â€œ(along with it new chain of govt. hospitals, higher education system etc).
But those farmers were not given adequate further guidance and policy support in the later years of Green Revolution when soil salinity, soil nutrient depletion etc started appearing in their fields. The only solution they could resort to was use of more and more fertiliser and pesticides. Increased input costs started showing up in the poor profitability of the rice â€“ wheat agriculture. The farmers started diversifying into animal husbandry, dairying, poultry etc.
The problem is not with the basic concepts and early implementation of green revolution. There are literally thousands of researched studies and committee reports giving the solutions to the problems. Simple, truth is that systems dealing with Nature require continued innovations as they are complex adaptive systems. There is no one â€“ time solution in Nature! But the policy makers and implementers pay little attention to these simple laws of Nature!
Excessive water use and the use of large quantities of chemicals continuously year round continue to flog the soils. The technological solutions are not going back to the 1950â€™s of these areas which was predominantly dry land agriculture. Those areas now require modern water minimising technologies, various new soil reclamation and conservation technologies and also use of biotechnologically derived seeds and other diversified crops â€“ which can give profitable diversification of incomes.
Some load of providing rice and wheat to the whole country should now onwards be borne by the eastern region of India. This aspect is dealt with in some detail in the book India Vision 2020 by Dr.A.P.J.Abdul kalam and Y.S.Rajan. The ideas given there in are based on the work of the group led by the late Prof. S.K.Sinha. He guided the TIFAC team on Agriculture (www.tifac.org.in)
Yes, the green revolution areas covered by major irrigation systems require a fairly large scale injection of new water recycling and water minimising technologies (not only in engineering terms but also through agronomic practices, diversification to crops or plants which can yield better income produce, even for exports). Let the region not be measured by the present out put of rice and wheat alone. They may reduced these and master other appropriate crops or plants. But this transition requires a carefully crafted policy support and implementation which will be much more complex the green revolution.
Newer forms of subsidies (the forms of initial demonstration grants, later part â€“ support etc) need to be evolved and implemented to incentivise farmers to change. It is also important to take into confidence the people concerned. The newer forms of vested interests in the country including from global players through various forms of activism would also require attention. Again technologies can help to reach knowledge to people and to assimilate their ideas.
The areas covered by the medium and minor irrigation systems are more difficult to handle as the varieties in them are many hundreds and are locale specific. Generalised one â€“ shoe â€“ fit â€“ all solutions will fail. This is where Delhi based policy statements and criteria laid by central and state level administrators (albeit through the reports of national or state committee of experts) alone will not suffice. The systems would require flexibilities even at a taluk level. With the availabilities of modern IT systems it should not be difficult to administer, if the basic mindsets are changed.
The agricultural initiatives announced under various heads by the Union Finance Minister in his budget speech in February 2011 are relevant especially in terms of the details though of course, the allocation of Rs.300 Crores is a pittance. I hope that instead of frittering the meagre funds away, they could be used to define specific locale â€“ specific practical solutions for each location with the involvement of local community. These solution can be used to give new directions to channelise the govt. funds which are now being frittered in â€œone â€“ parameterâ€ models which do not build local capacities and sustainable income â€“ solutions for the farmers and agricultural workers.
Such solutions can be used to make the available water systems â€œabundantâ€ (even in minor irrigation areas) in the actual sense and to provide good income generating and sustainable yields. These solution packages should also include training for those who would like to move away from agriculture as it is also important to relieve the dependence â€“ pressure on Indian agriculture. (we need to bring down the number of persons dependent upon land drastically over the next 15 to 20 years).
TECHNOLOGIES FOR CONSERVATION, DIVERSIFICATION
Even while dealing with the agricultural water resources in irrigated areas, we have touched upon various aspects of technologies needed to help the farmers in these regions to transition into a sustainable agricultural water resource management regime. The water which they save, will also be used for the growth of industries, services and residential areas in these regions, thus leading to a better quality of life.
We have so far dealt with all segments of Indian agriculture in terms of some glimpses modern approaches needed in the new century for agricultural water resources and how to transition to new water management system.
While water is vital for agriculture (plants, animals, birds and fishes), that alone will not be enough to lead to agricultural prosperity of the farmers, farm workers and the country as a whole.
It is necessary to deploy various technologies right from the input side, the process of agronomy, to marketing and value addition. While many of these will require special treatment as a separate article for each, let us attempt an overview now.
These may be listed as under:
(We have adapted some of these from volume 10 Rain fed Agriculture â€“ of the state of farmer series).
Ã˜ Irrigation and water shed management related technologies.
Ã˜ Innovation in drip and sprinkler systems to spread to more crops. Currently they are cost effective only in plants having large spacing. Also there is a need to reduce cost of production and installation even by reducing some better features in order to affordable by small and marginal farmers.
Ã˜ High yield technologies : Besides use of better seeds it is also necessary to reduce inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides by optimising dosages and timing. This will require soil testing of all fields (through govt. supported soil testing units) and providing scientific prescriptions by practical experts to the farmers about the right nutrient mix for specific crops. TIFACâ€™s experience in Bihar and other places as well by the work of National Agro Foundation set up by the late C. Subramanian are good examples. Mobile soil testing vans available all over India will help a great deal in helping farmers to optimise inputs.
Ã˜ The above require a close interactive working with the farmers. In addition to direct extension services, TV, IT, DVD, CD internet etc can help. (one â€“ shoe â€“ fit all type programmes should be avoided!). Result demonstrations at various locations in the actual farmer working conditions are crucial. The other e-systems to be only supportive and should not take away bulk of the funds!!
Ã˜ Seeds : Rigid and fool proof quality control systems right from seed production up to distribution is a must to safeguard farmers. Presently the govt. systems are weak; private systems vary from the best to the worst. If necessary policy measures to introduce modern corporate systems will be useful. Price management should be pragmatic and not populist or dogmatic.
Ã˜ Intensive extension programmes for enhancing fertilizers use in rain fed areas is important to improve yield. Soil test results will help to optimise use of NPK with other nutrients. (See mobile can idea.)
Ã˜ Selective use of other non â€“ chemical fertilizers may also be propagated. (Please note that chemical fertilizers cannot be avoided!)
Ã˜ In this context innovation in fertilizer production to have a large number of small units distributed all over the agricultural regions is required. This was the dream of C.C.Shroff, founder of Excel Industries. Indians should innovate so that fertilizer transport costs can come down.
Ã˜ Plant protection technologies are crucial. Pesticides cannot be avoided. But by better selection and field training actual use can be minimised. Also â€˜pest alert systemsâ€™ may be developed through use of modern remote sensing and ICT technologies. Govt. systems should be ready to rush to right areas in right time when there is a pest attack.
Ã˜ Produce handling technologies from harvesting to storing to packaging to delivery in order to be helpful to farmers to get better price and in time. With proper policy and financial support systems, corporate sector can play a very good role.
Ã˜ Biotechnology plays a major role. We will address it later in the series.
EQUITY AND EDUCAITON
We have not addressed all technology elements in the above. But he glimpses were meant to highlight the crucial role of technologies as well as policy business support systems.
One cautions: while technologies and (business) organisation systems are crucial (as also govt. policy and fund support), they also tend to increase inequities, if proper education and training are not imparted to all segments of the society. Therefore careful attention have to be given right from the beginning.
But to keep away the use of technologies by people (farmers) means keeping them away from prosperity.
Can 2011 mark a decade of new resolve for all of us?