Twenty First Century Mission : Living with Nature in the Modern Form TECHNOLOGY for CONSERVATION, DIVERSIFICATION and GROWTH

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, “one – parameter” 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.


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 arrears”) 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 “ship – to – mouth” 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 “(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 – 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 – 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 1950’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 – 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 (


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 – 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 – shoe – fit – 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 – 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 “one – parameter” models which do not build local capacities and sustainable income – solutions for the farmers and agricultural workers.

Such solutions can be used to make the available water systems “abundant” (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 – pressure on Indian agriculture. (we need to bring down the number of persons dependent upon land drastically over the next 15 to 20 years).


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 – of the state of farmer series).

Ø Irrigation and water shed management related technologies.

Ø 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.

Ø 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. TIFAC’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.

Ø 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 – shoe – 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!!

Ø 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.

Ø 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.)

Ø Selective use of other non – chemical fertilizers may also be propagated. (Please note that chemical fertilizers cannot be avoided!)

Ø 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.

Ø Plant protection technologies are crucial. Pesticides cannot be avoided. But by better selection and field training actual use can be minimised. Also ‘pest alert systems’ 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.

Ø 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.

Ø Biotechnology plays a major role. We will address it later in the series.


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?








Address during the Inaugural Session at the National Level Capacity Building Workshop – Promoting Eco Agriculture For Sustainability & Climate Change Impacts Management held on 19th December 2011 at Mumbai.

Parama Poojya Kakaji Kantisen Shroff, Hon. Justice B P Singh, Dr. Kirit N Shelat, my friend and  brother Anuj Sinha, Dr. Sanjay Deshmukh, Mr. Ashwin Shroff, Mr. Bhikubhai Dhabi, Mr. Gopi Chanda, distinguished persons in the audience, ISPL staff and experts, persons from media, farmers, NGO Municipal/Government officials, my dear teachers and students, all of you here – NAMASKAAR, PRANAAM.

It is indeed a great pleasure and honour for me to be here and to be sharing some thoughts with you.

Each era, generation – sometimes at a global level, sometimes at the level of societies and nations go through the grip of some IDEALS, sometimes OBSESSIONS, and sometimes FADS.


The current phase of human history especially over the past decade or may be for 5 to 6 years  is an INTERESTING PERIOD in human history and hopefully not in EARTH’s HISTORY.  Mother Earth is much more stronger than what we think.

There is a great churning all around; Hope seems to be much lesser than what it was hundred years ago, during the beginning of the 20th century – if we  take the world as a whole.

Before I proceed further, may I ask you both students and teachers as to what do you think are shaping, gripping.  You can tell quickly about

-              WORRIES – FEARS

-              HOPES

-              GRIPPING IDEAS

Be telegraphic ……quick….fast….so that we can get a quick sample.  Don’t think too much……..You can change your ideas LATER.

React on those…………….. (during the meeting there were many responses ranging from Corruption, Population, Pollution etc., Quick comments made)

Now I go to some items starting early 20th century, to get a historical perspective.

Gripping IDEA for whole world was then the POWER OF SCIENCE, power of Industrialisation, science encompassing health, agriculture etc.,

IDEA:  everything was under the CONTROL OF HUMAN EFFORT.  Imperialist-Colonialist societies, nations had their own HOPES and VISIONS of ruing the world. 

Oppressed colonies had the hope of liberation and use ‘SCIENCE’ to catch up with Imperial developed world.

WORRIES: None at that time, it was grat EUPHORIA

IDEA:  great future for all people; poverty can be ELIMINATED.  You have SOVIET UNION 1917 – later many INDEPENDENT NATIONS. 

But we had two TERRIBLE WORLD WARS. 

1945 – TWO ATOMIC BOMBS dropped.

Many NEW NATIONS came through liberation.  Then HOPES of GREAT RENEWALS.

I was LUCKY(??) to be born 1944 – Soon A FREE INDIA

PERSONNALLY I was gripped by the powerful songs of Subrahmanya Bharati, a great Indian Poet (whose modernity was so INCLUSIVE: GENDER,POOR CASTE;….(Tamil quotings “Tani Manithanukku Unavu Illai Enil indha Jagaththinai Azhiththiduvom”.  If one individual does not have food, we will destroy the whole Universe).

Link it with the Food security paper of UN,

Then the writings of Swami Vivekananada a who envisioned STRONG INDIANS and UNITY OF HUMANITY

And writings of Jawaharlal Nehru (who envisaged a MODERN INDIA BEING FRIENDS WITH SCIENCE

Of course I had world influence of Renaissance, Rationality, (Great western scholars, philosophers, Voltaire, Marx, Hegel and action leaders LENIN ….MAO etc.,) All these led meScience and Technology. 

Later VIKRAM SARABHAI, Atomic Energy, Space, Hi Tech, Electronics, Green Revolution.

Socialist, slogans – Garibi Hatao

Not all of them are bad…………..(as I look back!)

Major changes which took place are:

-              Indian population grew, leaps and bounds.

-              Average of an Indian age grew

-              Bengal Famine of 1940’s, plagues, malaria, cholera, epidemic never repeated.  You are all now lot better than what  we were.

-              Even most of the CURRENT POOR are better than poor of the past.




Go up!

Also S&T has been humbled from its IMPERIOUS position of early 20th Century (in the minds of people, even science thinkers)

It is      USEFUL


            NEEDED FOR ALL


            MONO VISIONS

            MONO CULTURES


            MONO SOLUTIONS


No longer enough.



 MONO APPROACHES  will be TAKE A HIT and also can cause DISASTERS.

Economists who tried to imitate PHYSICS and MATHS to attempt MONO-PARAMETER measurements of human developments, either as

–            Rate of GDP growth

–            Or planned Input-Output Matrix\

–            Or stock market Index

–            Or MACRO ECONOMIC parameter like FISCAL DEFICIT etc.,

–            ADDED MORE HARM.

No doubt all these parameters have relevance – only as a part of a whole.  But to fit them into strict mathematical formulations to make policies, economists suppressed many crucial ancient parameters, which are not easily quantifiable.

So dear students and teachers and the elite assembled here and especially the HEADLINE seeking media, let us all remember that

-           NATURE  EVOLVES

-           IT IS VERY DIVERSE



Nature progresses through

-              Competition

-              Survival

-              Selection amongst mutants (change agents)

-              Diversity

-              Pluralism

-              Symbiosis

-              Syncretic adjustments

If we remember these basic principles, we can address all the key words of the theme with five elements beautifully brought out by the organisers

-              Agriculture

-              Sustainable development

-              Biodiversity

-              Climate change

-              Public Leadership

(Audience is asked these questions one by one:  How many of you have HOPE ABOUT FUTURE OF INDIA? ABOUT YOUR OWN FUTURE?  Hand raising: Not many for both.  Second had more hands than the first.  Some comments were made on that).

First let us recapture five elements briefly.  Three items  out of them are crucial in the coming years and decade.

“Annam Brahma”  â€œFood is God” we  tended to forget  this  simple  mantra  as  its  availability became very easy for RICH, ELITE &MIDDLE CLASS.  I cannot forget.  I was in Bombay during 1944-49 and later 1957-1964.  Oh God what a rationing of food grains, water, milk………. So I understand the spirit and words of “Annam Brahma” very well!

Now, coming to good, is it enough to assert RIGHT to FOOD OR NUTRITION.

The RIGHT TO FOOD – UN paper by Olivier D Schutter  (20 december 2010)addresses some important issues.  Somehow the word RIGHT, does not meet the needs of people.  It leads to lots of papers, talks, activism etc.,

Nature does not give RIGHT.  It poses before you

-              REALITIES


Empowers you with

-              REASON

-              RESPONSES

We are all a part of the whole – in the EVOLUTIONARY CHAIN, CHALLENGES…………….

Being ADAPTIVE to processes in NATURE, we can survive and flourish – now and for our future generations by which is meant:

All of  you all and your children, (grand)n children and also all the biosphere and its future.

Eco-agro-technology is very good.

Many items proposed by and pursued by Dr. Kirit Shelat, Aswin Shroff, Kantisen Bhai for agriculture and biodiversity come in that category.

I won’t repeat them.  When we deal with Agriculture we cannot be narrowly guided by the food prices, farmers, retailers etc.,  There is a huge domestication animal population (estimated to be about half the human population)  They need food too.  Also wild ones……………Some solutions may  be to use agro wastes.  These are good ideas.  But look at India:  agro wastes have competitive uses ranging from fuel to habitat building material…………….

Therefore the solutions have to be LOCAL.

Another important reality:  the very high population (in some places population density as well) of the world and India as well.  Therefore solutions cannot be by going back in millennia.  We can learn from the past but we need many elements of modern science, biotechnology, water conservation and repeated reuse technologies, food and agri-product preservation technologies as well as new materials, power sources, electronics, optonics, ICT, nanotechnology etc.,

And such applications of modern S&T knowledge and also new researches for animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries, new forms of food and other commercial agriculture products like textiles etc., Waste soils, marshy soils etc., would require newer technologies to be put to use.  Waste water recycling may have to spread to every part: agriculture, industry, services, habitats etc.,

In the search of sustainable developments, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity protection, disaster management etc., we need more and more of S&T-BUT NOT JUST THE CURRENT FORMS OF “FOLLOWER” TYPE APPROACHES and/or ivory tower approaches.  NOT MORE OF THE SAME, but with the new orientations described earlier. Also insect world and pests are part of NATURE………….We have to continuously learn to deal with them.  It is not a one time solution.

That is why we are here: to SEEK, to SEARCH; to ACT.

We need to change our mind sets, discover new paradigms but the goal is to reach all human beings very soon with good quality of living, not as doles of subsidies but with an enjoyable work culture which will provide HUMAN DIGNITY.  We all have to have PRODUCTIVE WORK and REPRODUCTIVE WEALTH to borrow from C.Subramanian from his “India of my Dreams” (1972).  I have quoted it and explained with current context in my book “EMPOWERING INDIANS with economic business and technological strengths” (2001)

Also in emphasising agriculture, we SHULD NOT ignore

-              Manufacturing and

-              Services

This TRIO is crucial for final enrichment of life of all and to provide equity.

They are mutually dependent.  The classification into these sectors is only for convenience of economics calculations.

A balance between them is not into just in numbers or percentages in terms of GDP but in terms how they result in long term sustainability and near term availability of a reasonable quality life for all and a feeling of security of today and for a distance future.

All the ideas given earlier are scientifically tenable and most of them economically and socially feasible.

But can we realise them and achieve the goals of universal equity, respectful income for all families, and long term sustenance of them with some growth……………….? 

That brings us to PUBLIC LEADESHIP.

I do not want to extend this talk too long…………..Let me use some telegraphic (slightly more than TWITTER) language……………

In India we have suffered through OVERCENTRALISATION – not just at Delhi, but also in  the State capitals.  To achieve these goals we need

-              decentralisation

-              devolution of powers

-              delegation even up to lowest implementing level

-              excellent feed back system between various levels – (learning from how the biology and brain functions to create such f b system).

-              Tolerance to failures (not an audit-punish obsession)

-              Rebuild trust despite current mood of executive bashing

-              No one size fit all type uniform criteria for implementation of public accountability

-              Remember Indian people’s affordability

The above does not mean BIG is out.  Public leaders are out.

NO!  NO!

They have crucial roles too:

-              Central/Federal Govt. has a role to take care of security-internal and global; geopolitics, geo-opportunities……… many grand things.

-              State Govts will have so much of role in terms ECOLOGY, KNOWLEDE CREATION, DISSEMINATION and also global involvement.

-              Big industries etc., are also needed be it for power, biomedical, high quality Pharma, Advance Research, defence, ICT, including Mobile……..

-              BIG versus SMALL is an artificial debate.  NATURE does not categorise one or another as winner.

Remove VERSUS, capture DIVERSITY.  Right items to be executed at right place.  Learn from BIOLOGY and SOCIAL ADAPTIONS.


 (Y S Rajan)



Twenty first Century Mission: Living with Nature in the Modern Form. WATER : FOR LIFE AND GROWTH Appeared in KISAN WORLD March 2011 Vol 38 No.3

Twenty first Century Mission: Living with Nature in the Modern Form.


Appeared in KISAN WORLD March 2011 Vol 38 No.3

We will now continue our planned trajectory about the technological, infrastructural and support systems needed for agricultural prosperity. We took a small detour last month, but a crucial one, because structural and governance reforms in agricultural sector are the essential conditions to allow any technological application, infrastructural expansion and smooth functioning of support systems.

We need to place on the top of the agenda sustained water availability for all agricultural fields in India. In the article – 2 of this series we have quoted some figures about the net sown area. Not only are they alarming after about 60 years of planned development, but they also indicate the inequities. Water is required not only for agriculture but also to all other human activities be it manufacturing, service sector etc and domestic uses. In the last (Feb 2011) issue Dr.N.Mahalingam has emphasized the role of water management for Indian agriculture and food supply.

Water is crucial for life and growth of life – from smallest organisms to big life forms. Naturally therefore agriculture (crops, animals, fishes, birds etc) needs water – quality water, in right quantities at right times.

Also if water falls on the fields at the wrong time, agricultural product suffers. But that is a more complicated issue and we will address those aspects much later in this series.


We will first address the question of availability of quality water in right (sufficient) quantities at right times.

Right times presupposes some form of storage in wells or in ground water or in a check dam, because rain does not always pour on the fields when the farmer wants depending on the growth of the plants. If there is a good irrigation system which is always available as in the canal systems of places like Punjab, then the right times are easy to adjust. Even then some pump sets are needed to fine tune availability, especially when one is concerned about maximizing the yields.

But large parts of agricultural fields in India have poor or no irrigation systems. They depend on rain or some sparse resources of water. They need urgently some water at the right quantities. This right quantity is not to be confused with the excessive use of water in the currently irrigated areas. They waste water and also the excessive use of the water spoils their soils and the environment. We will address the water management aspects of such irrigated agricultural lands separately later; if they can reduce their current levels of water consumption by about 30%, India will have plenty of quality water for industrial, urban and domestic use. Living with Nature in modern forms requires such changes as well. Before addressing those aspects, let us first concentrate on the unirrigated (rain fed) dry and semi – dry agricultural areas. India’s poverty begins from such areas and therefore it is the great priority.

Speedily implementable and imaginative technologies and support systems are required to make these areas prosperous. We have enough of surveyed information (by satellite remote sensing and ground surveys) about availability of dry or wet lakes or ponds (some even inundated) in such areas; and also about the ground water potentials. It is very essential to create water sources for farmers even if they are small sized. Dig up the lakes or ponds and ensure channels of flow of sparse rain water to these lakes and ponds. Also dig wells in areas close to the fields and also create small feeder canals preferably through PVC pipes or some others with plastic liners to ensure that the sparse water resource does not leak away.

For all implementing all of the above, many of the current wage-for-work schemes MGNREGA, other rural development schemes etc can be restructured or fine tuned (as the case may be) to create the labour force for doing such works. If they are strongly coupled with the supervision of the beneficiary farmers with minimum supervision of govt. officials, the projects can be achieved successfully to meet the end goals.


Once such a water access is enabled, then simultaneously start introducing infrastructure and necessary training for laying down the tubes and equipment for sprinkler or preferably drip irrigation. There are good companies like Jain Irrigation System who have done remarkable work in many parts of India. Also there are some foreign companies like Netafim (Israeli) which work extensively in India. Use all of them but in a way they can expand fast in many such areas.  They should profit and farmers should profit.

Training farmers with such drip irrigation systems is also another important function. It can also be a great opportunity to create employment for many rural youth.

Laying such infrastructure for drip irrigation, training etc should be funded by govt. If necessary, it will be good to charge some user fee, without complex formulas!

If corporates offer their contributions through avenues like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) accept them!!


Crucial element for such system to work is the availability of reliable electricity or diesel pumps. Most parts of India where poor live are not reached by electricity (about 600 million Indians do not have access to electricity) Where there is an access, it is very often unreliable.

Also unfortunately populist politics and poor (corrupt?) governance systems have led to a situation in areas where Irrigation Pump sets (IP sets) are available, there are reports of wasteful use of electricity, In a recent report in Times of India, it is informed that the power distribution utility in Bangalore district BESCOM is worst hit by 46,000 illegal IP sets and other legal ones are very inefficient in use of power so much so that IP sets gobble up 40% electric power. Power subsidy is also part of the reason. Net result is waster of power and waste of precious ground water.

It is reported that in Gujarat State under the Jyoti Gram Yojana (JGY) the rural electricity loads have been bifurcated into two separate feeders; one for providing 24 hour continuous three phase supply to rural households and the other for agriculture, providing minimum 8 hour assured supply for IP sets. All JGY feeders are metred.  As a benefit now the earlier disturbance to other grids which occurred in Gujarat due to the overdrawal from rural feeders have come down by 80%.

Another model being adopted by Tamil Nadu is to pay for the marginal and small farmers to replace their existing electricity power inefficient IP sets.

In both these cases farmers had some electricity and some pump sets. But for those do not  have, these problems and the solutions given above need to be addressed at the initial stages. In the schemes designed to extend electricity to energize pump sets of farmers in the arid areas, let them be power efficient and also have separated out feeders so that a tendency to misutilise the electricity meant for farming is reduced.

But where the grids are not extendible, solar energy is an option. Jain Irrigation company has reported experiments with small solar pumps. Let us focus on such options also suiting the local conditions.

Otherwise energy supply has to be diesel IP set.


We cannot do any major improvement to agriculture unless we provide for water supply to all the agricultural lands which are being sown now. A pertinent question may arise whether all of them are worth investing upon? Are they having enough potential for good production or are these deprived soils so bad that they are best left alone without expensive investments?   Over a period, market forces may lead these lands to be taken over for other relevant uses : for industry, habitat etc. Why not invest on the lands with better potential for return on investment (ROI) thus producing better crops and wealth?

There is a merit in such questions, purely from scientific and economic view points. But we need to balance the purely technocratic considerations with human and equity aspects. Those owning or working in extremely poor lands and with erratic water access, are already suffering in life. It is the responsibility of the State and the civic society to enable them to progress further. If their lands cannot be salvaged for good agriculture, we need to train them for other productive work in their areas; yes, switching over to some other professions. They will move over. But if it is found that some lands can be reasonably salvaged to a level to give reasonable incomes for them to lead a life above subsistence levels with their land itself, then we should try to help them with water access.

We should, no doubt, be aware that we have limitations of financial resources for these public funded activities and more unfortunately limitations of implementing managerial resources.


Modern information systems can help us to strike an optimal balance.

Remote sensing and various agro climatic and soil surveys have been done in the country very effectively for the past 25 years. We have assessments as to which areas (lands) are best suited for agricultural crops in terms of yields and production. We can also classify other lands in terms of better, medium and poor, capabilities. The social dimensions can also be brought in through Geographic Information Systems (GIS), as we also have fairly good census data about people, their incomes, geographical distribution etc. These multiple socio – economic data overlays can be used to select areas where such enabling of water access described above has to be prioritized by balancing the ROI considerations and the larger social impact dimensions. In addition to ground level monitoring, satellite based monitoring can very well assess as to how well water access and the resultant growth of crops are taking place. Supervision is essential in India!

There have been a number of successful experiments in India in various States by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) of ISRO and several other agencies, educational institutions and NGO’s (Non – Governmental Organizations).


So the areas for a Mission for Water Access for Agriculture in the non – irrigated areas as described earlier – from creating water storage, ground water etc facilities, pumping, creating water distributing systems, as well as drip irrigation infrastructure, and providing electricity or diesel IP sets, training the farmers etc – can be identified for phase I, phase II, phase III etc.

With the availability GIS, one can also easily overlay the Govt. schemes under operation so that financial resources can also be optimized by restructuring / fine tuning the on going programmes as we have described earlier.

This mission will take care of the basic requirement, WATER for the bulky base of Indian agriculture, which is low yielding and therefore is the source of poverty for a large number of our fellow Indians. No doubt they will need better seeds, fertilizer etc – which we will address in later articles. First bring them WATER ACCESS, is the goal of the Mission.

 We will, in the subsequent articles, address the issue of WATER for other segments of Indian agriculture, including areas in which there is excessive wastage. We will consider relevant issues such as technology, govt role and corporate sector role as well.




TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MISSION: Living with Nature in the Modern Form. AGRICULTURE: PROCESS AND POLICIES Appeared in KISAN WORLD February 2011 Vol 38 No.2

TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MISSION: Living with Nature in the Modern Form.


Appeared in KISAN WORLD February 2011 Vol 38 No.2

          We had planned to survey various technologies and the types of modern agricultural infrastructure needed for India, systematically. They are intertwined with modern energy inputs, modern manufacturing technologies, life sciences and biotechnology, information technology  - to mention a few.

          But we are making a deviation from that plan for the series to address a crucial issue: emotions around prices, mindsets of the media and urban middle class and the reactions of the political system as a whole.

          The way the issues of onion prices was whipped around, is merely symptomatic of such mindsets and non – policies (knee jerk reactions). They are dangerous to the growth of agriculture in India in a modern form leading to agricultural prosperity. It is not good for the farmers either. More of them will run away from agriculture and those who remain with it, will have to face and suffer the wrath of nature, vicious cycles of debts, and dwindling incomes.

Crocodile ears and invocation of essential commodities act to control prices are not at all in favour of farmers.

Urban middle class person and workers from organized sector have a better stability of their incomes. Not that they do not suffer from inflation. But they consume much more goods and services than the farmers or agricultural workers do in villages.

Is there a hue and cry when cement, steel and sand prices go up? Or when manufacturers up their price tags for their goods either directly or introducing a new model (by quietly pulling out an old model)? Even fees for schools, colleges and private tuitions are upped periodically. Salaried employees consider annual increments as their rights.

Even when a stores room or a godown in a factory is destroyed in fire or flood, the employees continue to get their salaries. At best some of the losses may be recouped by the business company by passing on the redevelopment costs to the consumer or else in most cases the losses are recouped through the insurance company. (Note that the payment for insurance company is taken as a operating expense by the company and is passed on to the consumer). Now taxes levied by the governments get passed on the consumer.

What about a farmer? In a good season when the farmers work hard and use better seeds and other inputs, yields (and production) go up. Better yield need not always be a very good news for the farmers. Agricultural workers may get more income. But the farmer who invests on the land and takes risk, may oftentimes be faced with a glut in market if agricultural production goes up beyond the demand of the consumers. Urban consumers may enjoy lower prices but there are not infrequent cases when farmers dump tomatoes, potatoes etc in the farm itself without harvesting, as they do not even get the return for the labour costs of harvesting for selling in the markets! Also better yield seasons may also bring in pests and rodents thus increasing the need for more expenses for pest and rodent operations.

On the other hand when there are poor rains (in their lands – not an all India average we read in newspapers!!) farmers’ yield goes down. Oftentimes, they may not be able to recover in the input costs (of seed, fertilizers, energy for pumps, water, pesticide, labour costs etc). So is the situation when there are excessive rains or floods in their fields. Recent rise in prices of onions is partly due to the loss of crops due to floods in parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

In fact indebtedness of the farmers can be traced to such severe uncertainties in production, yield, and markets.

Most debates in the public space in the English or local language media, almost fully ignore the fact that the sale of agricultural produce from food grains, to pulses to vegetables to cash crops, is one of the most regulated activity. From local level officers to the State Govts (multiple agencies) to the Centre can control the procurement or movement of produce under various pretexts of public interest. A delay of a few days in announcing a minimum support price by govt. can lead to distress sale by some farmers. A temporary ban on exports can affect some sections of farmers who have worked hard to enter a few foreign markets which fetch better price for their products. Such on or off mode create problems in business development in foreign markets. Will we go to a shop which has stocks but the shopkeeper denies you (a new regular customer) the sale of some products on the pretext that he has to supply to govt. designated consumers? When we accept the logic of free trade for all other economic activities why not for agricultural produce? Why does not a farmer have a right to sell to the person who pays him / her a better price (and better terms such as some advance money at the time of placing order and full down payment on receipt of goods?

After ignoring the farmers’ right in the pretext of food being essential (that starts for basic grains and extends to sugar to pulses to vegetables and even sometimes to cash crops like cotton!), we discover periodically another villain – the trader and the middle – man! Not that all of them are angels. But on – off controls, knee jerk non – policies etc encourage speculators. If there is a stability and sincerity in policies, it is possible to evolve trading systems which can judiciously utilize futuristics to remove violent fluctuations of the market. We have institutions in place for it but do not use them!

Govt. procurement of grains at the time of green revolution did a great help to support the farmers adopting high yielding varieties. It was a bold decision by CS (C.Subramanian) to procure the large production of wheat from farmers in Punjab through FCI (Food Corporation of India). Had he not done it they would have suffered a market failure – oversupply and fall in prices. Those who produce more will suffer losses! But today’s India is different. Also our experience with govt. procurement systems and public distribution systems has been very bad. In spite of a number of inadequacies and govt. controls, it is the private sector trading which is maintaining the flow of agricultural produce to ultimate consumers.

One may point out the subsidies to the farmers for fertilizers, electricity etc. Some subsidies are required. But these policies are more used for political ends and not for building up a robust infrastructure for the farmers to be resistant to the vagaries of monsoon and weather; for building up some sustained future trading systems; and to create a protective insurance cover against natural disaster. For all these three items, a stable policy system which allows amongst other things a free market trading system which can help farmers and which can look at traders also as good economic citizens, is essential.

If such policies are implemented then corporate sector can also invest in agriculture and assure a profitable price to the farmers, bring them good technologies and inputs and above all free them from continuous indebtedness. Govt, also can attempt forming a few such major corporate entities run on professional lines to compete with private sector and be able to act as a regulator by making others to emulate them.

Some persons may be totally cynical about govts capability to set up such corporate entities. Some others may continue to insist that corporate sector entry into agriculture will spell a disaster for farmers and will further worsen the current levels of exploitation of poor and marginal farmers. Experience in Maharashtra and southern part of India in terms of sugar cane producers and sugar mills is encouraging, as also many green vegetable outlets which are operating in southern part of India.            

The model we suggest is not an extreme swing from total govt. control to total free market. But we should have some vital elements of free market – not to interfere with prices and supply chains through knee – jerk fiats. To buttress the swings and the normal business cycles (if demand of a agri produce increases supply of it increases to a point of over supply and then starts reducing to a level below real demand. This is so in all sectors be it steel, cement, cars etc), scientifically managed futuristic systems can help the trading by farmers. The corporates who invest in agriculture may work with farmers’ cooperatives, NGO’s and / or   local trading chains. Of course, there will be some disturbance to exiting vested interests – in the private and public (govt) sectors which operate now.

But our approach and policies should be to educate people that some price rise fluctuations are inevitable and we cannot expect farmers to keep on giving their produce at a low price while other sectors enjoy growth and better consumption. Farmers need more income; intermediating supply chain managers like traders, transportaters etc also need to be profitable in their business. Agricultural produce is perishable; therefore things have to move fast.

If good futuristic systems and scientifically planned information systems (to be funded by Govt. but run by professionals) are in place, all over India data can be speedily and efficiently collected to inform the farmers, traders, govt. etc in advance so that unnecessary supply (and production) bottlenecks do not develop. If free trade is allowed with better information, it will help the producer, supply chain manages and consumers.

Also public regulators can use technology to even out supply chain distortions – under supply or hoarding through release of agri produce preserved over longer period. (Let us not tinker with control of exports. We should encourage exports also. That will help Indian agriculture in the long run by giving newer challenges). In a keynote address given by Dr.R.Chidambaram, DAE Homi Bhabha Professor (currently Principal Scientific Adviser to Govt. of India) at Chennai, June 25 – 28, 2001 he describes about food preservation by radiation being used by 40 countries for over 100 food items. He has described that DAE has set up commercial food irradiation facilities for potatoes and onions at Nasik. What about using them for storing potatoes and onions for a large time and release them only at a few selected times when normal supply from farmers is low? It is about a decade after his talk. What are the public systems doing to make it large scale in other places and run them commercially?

Freeing agriculture is a complex issue. Our main focus had been on the need to free the farmers from draconian and knee – jerk market controls. We are aware that there are other critical issues like the large scale debts in which many farmers are already locked up. How to salvage them? Then how to make the money flow to them being maintained from pre – sowing time onwards to post harvest sale? Once debts are “released” as one – time action and also free – market mechanisms and corporate sector activities are set in place it is possible to maintain the money flow. Also creation of a good insurance cover for all farmers is a must. Govt. has a major role. Many currently marginal farmers may get upgraded or they may shift to other professions. We will address these some time later.

The above suggestion does not mean that we should expect the farmers to create enough surplus to upgrade their infrastructure for water, seeds etc. For many of these as one time investment, govt ought to provide as they invest for urban infrastructure,  and as they used to do far dams. Also support key R & D needed for them through different responsive mechanisms. We will address these later.

First and foremost let us look at agriculture as a modern economic activity and learn to treat the actors in it as important as we all are. They need their economic freedom and not be mere plowers and suppliers of “cheap food” and other agri produce. They need to earn more taking advantage of market mechanisms.

Let us begin thinking in these lines. Then we can aim at an agricultural growth 6 to 7% and also importantly more wealth to the producers and agri supply chain managers.





TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MISSION: Living With Nature in the Modern Form AGRICULTURAL PROSPERITY Appeared in KISAN WORLD January: 2011 Vol 38 No.1

Article 2

TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MISSION: Living With Nature in the Modern Form


Appeared in KISAN WORLD January: 2011 Vol 38 No.1

We have taken up a great challenge on ourselves last month. But it is not on utopia nor one of the pleasing slogans which are mouthed in the country, very often. It is an achievable target though having many exciting challenges.

          First and foremost base for such a society is agricultural prosperity. It is not merely in terms of agricultural GDP alone. It is about the prosperity of all those who are engaged in agriculture as a profession (Dependent on agriculture is a negative and pessimistic formulation!). It is about those who will proudly embrace agriculture as a profession just as one may do for other professions such as being a scientist, lawyer etc.

          Can it take place in India? Yes, if we start organizing agriculture in the modern context and not be lingering about the agriculture we have inherited over 10 millennia.  Of course, over the ten millennia, India’s agriculture had transformed itself in many ways. Over the past two – and half – millennia Indian agriculture was the primary anchor for India’s glory in arts, sciences, technology, military etc. It is the agricultural prosperity of those periods which supported artisans and innovators.


         The great Chola empire spread to several countries of the now south east Asia. Its ship technology, dam technology, and above all the majestic temples, arts, literature etc. made a great mark in Indian history. Some of them continue even today. So was the great empires which rose in the Indo – Gangetic plains. About 200 villages around the ancient town Nalanda fully supported the world famous Nalanda University since seventh century for over five centuries till it was destroyed.

          India’s strength in world trade derived from such an agricultural prosperity continued. India along with China dominated the world trade till about 1850 A.C.E. Later it was lost out due to the lack of its adaptation to the Industrial Revolution and also due to the colonial domination.


         Post industrial revolution, the national economies in Europe and later USA, even while dependent on the basic foundation of agricultural prosperity, started expanding into manufacturing on mass scale. Science, technology and engineering gave unprecedented strengths to make goods, military equipment etc. These also led to generation of electricity which later revolutionized the world of manufacturing, lighting, living etc. It is a great modern strength which did not exist in the earlier centuries.

          Availability of electricity made possible emergence of new metallurgical industries and also importantly large scale availability of many chemicals like fertilizers, pesticides etc. Also helped in pumping water and regulating irrigation.

           Thus the old forms of agriculture got transformed to mechanized forms and also had the benefit of giving more nitrogen, phosphorous and other micronutrients required for the plants. Thus agricultural yields grew to unprecented levels. Also the productivity of individual agricultural worker increased many fold. Growth of manufacturing sector allowed many older forms of value additions (making juice, jam, milling of grains etc) to expand to many areas hitherto unforeseen.

          Cash crops like cotton sugarcane also were grown in much larger quantities and with much better qualities (due to the increase of knowledge in agricultural sciences).

          Similar major changes took place in fisheries, poultry, animal husbandry and forestry – the basic elements of agriculture.

          New industries in agro food processing sector grew up. Also agricultural wastes were used in many new forms including making of paper and other materials. Commercial forestry led to newer industries in construction and furniture making.

          If one describes all of these, it will be mind boggling. Simultaneously manufacturing sector and related services sector like marketing, shipping, tourism (due to better transport) etc also grew during the 19th and 20th century in the (presently) developed world (which were developing then!) When they were developing, Indian economy had to stagnate under the colonial rule and then decay during the later part of 19th century and early 20th century.


          But in the developed countries, the growth of manufacturing and related services was so high and diverse that in the overall GDP of those countries, the share of agriculture began to diminish. But still overall growth and diversification of agriculture was very high. The number of persons engaged in agriculture started to diminish fast and came to a level of less then about 10% of the total employed population. But the prosperity of agricultural sector is still very high in these countries. Individual farmers in the developed countries are rich or having better incomes compared to their own country’s standards. This situation prevails in USA, France, Germany and many other countries of Europe. Japan which is an industrial giant and having limited land resources, still maintains a good agricultural base. Yields for grains in Japan is about three times that of India and that of China is about twice that of India. All developed countries realize the basic importance of agriculture and act on the principle that agricultural prosperity is crucial for their national prosperity and the sustained security of that prosperity.

Let us again recapitulate the basic concept of  agricultural prosperity: Persons having agriculture as a profession are rich, the country has abundant agricultural products for their own country’s people in the affordable prices and also have enough to export. Consumer options are plenty. Not all countries can have all these elements. But India with its size and natural endowments such as arable lands, available water, rich biodiversity, conducive weather, diverse agro climatic zones, vast coastal regions, highly skilled and fast learning workforce, and good science and technology infrastructure in agriculture and related areas, good industries and business houses and trading networks, can excel in all of them. 

What about the current status in India:

Look at a quote: “The All India policy is to promote the welfare of the people and to secure a progressive improvement in their standard of living. This includes the responsibility of providing enough food for all, sufficient in quantity and of requisite quality. For the achievement of these objectives high priority will be given to measures for increasing food resources of the country to the fullest extent and in particular to measures designed to increase the output per acre and to diminish dependence on the vagaries of nature. Their aim will be not only to remove the threat of famine but also to increase the prosperity of the cultivator, raise levels of consumption and create a healthy and vigorous population.” The ten objectives of the policy included: “increase in production of food grains and protective foods; improvement in methods of agricultural production and marketing; stimulating production of raw materials for industry and exports; securing remunerative prices for the producer and fair wages to the agricultural labour; ensuring fair distribution of the food produced and promoting nutritional research and education.”

          I think, almost all the readers will agree with the tasks envisioned above. And perhaps may also feel that we have to go a long way to achieve the goals set there in.

          Do you know when this was said? I was amazed too when I first read it during 1977 and saddened when I read now during 2010.

It is from report which was the first ever elaboration in January, 1946, of an all-India policy on agriculture known as “Statement of Agriculture and Food Policy in India”. And I have extracted it out of the Report of National Agricultural Commission (1977), Govt. of India.

          Not that nothing has been done. A lot has been done. Not enough to cater to the population which has grown about five fold since 1946. Also not enough to reach the real potential of India. India has been blessed with a very large arable area; in terms of ratio of arable land to geographical area, we are the highest in the world. Let us again recall: India which has 2.45 percent of world’s land resources has rough 4 percent of world’s fresh water resources. Of course, our population is about 16% of world population. Still we are very well endowed by nature.

          Some of the main reasons why we do not achieve agricultural prosperity are as under:

v Our centralized thinking forgets the diversity of India and arrives at ‘uniform’ policies (one – shoe – fit – all type ideas).

v In addition to the above defect, implementation is tardy. A few years of success of green revolution was never followed up with vigor.

v Linkages of research to fields, market and businesses are poor.

v Our ideas of equity does not look at India holistically and stymies reforms of the agricultural sector. We need to accept the fact that the number of persons in the agricultural sector (fields, to fisheries to poultry to animal husbandry to forestry) need to be reduced drastically to reach a level of about 20 percent of employed persons, (from the current 65 percent). Rest moved to other prosperous sectors like agroprocessing to manufacturing to services.

But in view of many missed opportunities over six decades, about 60% of Indians are now struggling with agricultural subsistence. Also there are many regional variations. Therefore the reforms should be such as to benefit all of them simultaneously and soon. We will identify a few important elements.

The crucial input to agriculture is water, so much so that Thirukkunal, the great Tamil classic, has Rain in its the second chapter after the first chapter of prayer to God.

It is not enough to talk about irrigation and water availability in overall terms of single national indicators. We need to disaggregate the information to understand some elements of the complexity.

          Let us now look at the situation of coverage irrigation in India. About two thirds of agricultural lands are not irrigated and depend upon the vagaries of monsoon. But even within them there are sharp differences see Table – 1

Table 1: Net irrigated area to Net sown area

Size Class

1970 – 71


1975 – 76


1980 – 81


1985 – 86


1990 – 91


ACGR (%)


Marginal (< 1 ha)














Small (1-2 ha)














Semi-Medium (2-4ha)














Medium (4-10 ha)














Large (> 10 ha)














All Size Class

























Source: State of the Indian Farmer, A Millennium Study, Volume 3, Water Resources, K.V.Raju, A.Narayanamoorthy, Govind Gopakumar, H.K.Amarnath  Ministry of Agriculture – Government of India (2004) New Delhi. This is from a set of 27 reports.

As far the growth rate, it is at a pitiable rate. Even for large size farms the rate is low. For others it is terribly slow. Overall figure for all sizes, the irrigated area is one third. Since even now the figure of one third being the irrigated area is quoted in many writings even by Govt of India, the growth beyond 1991 would have been much lower. Perhaps in the process of liberalization of industries, and opening up of India economy to enter into the challenges of globalization, attention to extend irrigation to rest of the two third of sown areas has taken the back seat.

As per the State of Indian Farmer Vol.3 quoted before, India has spent about Rs.92000 crores on irrigation (at 1996 – 97 constant prices) since independence. 292 major irrigation projects and 944 medium irrigation projects had been introduced since the first five year plan to eighth plan (1992 – 97). In addition there are other minor schemes as well. Net irrigated area as of 1996 – 97 in India was about 54 million hectares (Mha) well below the ultimate irrigation potential of 140 Mha. Even the created facilities are not used efficiently; there are many reasons. But we have a rich experience to fall back upon: What to do and What not!   

Also since there is no organized plan of aggregating land holdings, and no clear policies for organized corporate investments in agriculture, attention of the real potential stakeholders on Indian agriculture is low.

It is not due to lack of money. In the December 2010 Vol.37 No.12 issue of Kisan World, an article “Financial Inclusion – Urgent Need For Overall Prosperity” by Dr.N.Mahalingam clearly brings out how agricultural sector and water management companies can raise money for investment.

What is now required, is a set of clear headed policies and their implementation. The policy should be such as to take care of landless agricultural workers, marginal farmers, small, semi medium, medium and large farmers and allow for aggregation through cooperative and / or corporate routes as well as for successful migration of many persons from agriculture to other sectors of economy. Also there is a need to induct various upgrading technologies into Indian agriculture. Before enunciating such policies, it is necessary to interact with and educate people, politicians, government administrators at various levels, financiers, bankers, media persons, business persons and others and also allow for many local variations (always remember that India is diverse). Modern media can help to reach people faster and also to learn from them. It is important to carry on this information sharing, interaction and dialogue in various Indian languages as well, in a well orchestrated manner. All need to approach the issues with one single goal in mind: agricultural prosperity for India and its people, being the foundation (though its GDP share may be about 20 – 25% only) to lift other sectors of the Indian economy.

Already let us not forget that the GDP growth for the year 2010 – 11 is touching 9 percent because of this year’s agricultural growth. If proper policies are formulated and implementation is done with speed and steadfastness, agriculture can grow faster and lift India’s GDP growth rate to 12% or more for at least a decade more.

Not only India will be prosperous, its natural endowments will shine in prosperity.

How to proceed? We can discuss in the next issue.