Ensuring Food Security for All:
Strategies and Options
 

 

The 2014 GAP Report estimates that India’s domestic production will only meet 59 percent of the country’s food demand by 2030 at the current growth rate of Total Factor Productivity (Global Harvest Initiative, 2014). This estimated food production gap raises serious concerns for India’s long term food security. Despite tremendous growth, India is still home to a quarter of all the undernourished population in the world (FAO, 2014). It is of highest priority for India to ensure secure access to food for all its citizens, now and for the future. This article explores various options that India can pursue to ensure adequate food production to meet the food demand of all it citizens by 2030.

Ensuring food security for all is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that India, along with 192 other countries in the world, is in the process of commitment. This goal (SDG 2) aims to ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’. While we are exploring options for India to ensure food security, it is important to remember that apart from Goal 2 there are various other goals (Goal 1 - Poverty Eradication, Goal 3 - Health and Well-being) which will be constrained in their achievement due to food insecurity. India’s approach for Goal 6 (Universal Water Access and Sustainable Withdrawals of Water) and Goal 7 (Universal Access to Clean, Sustainable Energy) shall further impact its food production systems as these are key inputs in agriculture. The availability of resources of land, water and energy in agriculture will compete with growing demands of the same from industrialisation (Goal 9) and urbanisation (Goal 11). Goals on combating climate change (Goal 13), conserving marine (Goal 14) and terrestrial ecosystems (Goal 15) shall also impact India’s food production systems. At the same time, strategies that India adopts in its food production systems shall also impact achievement of these SDGs.

India clearly needs to devise solutions in agricultural production systems for ensuring food security keeping in mind that these choices are extensively linked with other SDGs and thus impact our socio-economic-environment systems. This article aims to identify synergies in achieving India’s self-sufficiency of food for food security (Goal 2) and other goals of SDGs that India can benefit from while choosing its development pathways.

Expanding Land under Agriculture

At 157.35 million hectares, India holds the second largest agricultural land globally (Kaul, 2015). Further expansion of land dedicated to agriculture is one option for increasing production. Land under agriculture has remained almost constant in the range of 140-143 million hectares since the 1990s (Government of India, 2014). With rapid urbanisation (Swerts, Pumain, & Denis, 2014), increasing energy demands and industrialisation which are land intensive phenomenon, expanding land under agriculture without harming the achievement of other SDGs looks rather difficult. The option of converting forested land for agriculture use may adversely impact environmental ecosystems (Goal 14, 15) and further add to the uncertainties of climate change (Goal 13). However, National Remote Sensing Agency estimates put culturable wastelands at 11.74 percent of the total land area of the country1. This seems a possible opportunity to explore for expansion of agriculture to wastelands suitable for cultivation.

Possibilities with Agriculture Intensification

India only has 35 percent of the area sown under irrigation which provides more than 60 per cent of the food (Oza, 2007). Water use in agriculture is around 80 percent of the total fresh water use. This is despite the fact that only 35 percent of the agricultural land is irrigated. Intensification of current agricultural practices may cost heavily on our water resources. This represents a major challenge for Goal 6 which has a target calling for ‘sustainable withdrawals of water and protection of water-related ecosystems’. Intensifying water use in agriculture shall lead to a trade-off with Goal 6 which may not be sustainable in the long run.

Another study has estimated that about 70 per cent of the growth in agricultural production can be attributed to increased fertiliser application (Mondal, n.d.). However, introspection on results from the multiple long-term fertiliser trials in rice-wheat systems have revealed gradual deterioration of soil health and thus long-term productivity due to overuse and imbalanced use of synthetic fertilisers (Roy, Chattopadhyay, & Tirado , 2009). Increasing the use of fertilisers, which are energy intensive in their production, shall pressurise the energy systems in the usual scenario. Further, a 2013 study by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India showed how most common food items contain banned pesticides in quantities that are several hundred times over the permissible limit (Kowshik, 2015). It is noteworthy that India has a potential of 650 million tonnes of rural and 160 lakh tonnes of urban compost which is not fully utilised at present. The utilisation of this potential can solve the twin problem of disposal of waste and providing manure to the soil (Mondal, n.d.). Such interventions can synergise the achievement of sustainable agriculture (Goal 2) and solid waste management (Goal 11).

Raising Agricultural Productivity

For a country that has the second largest land under agriculture, India produces far lower quantities of outputs than it could. If India’s yield rates for rice and wheat were at China’s levels, we could almost double our yields or halve the land used for the purpose (Raghavan, nd). The average yield of rice in India is 2.3 tonne/ha as against the global average of 4.374 tonne/ha. China is the largest producer of rice with a per hectare yield of 6.5 tonne while countries such as Australia (10.1 tonne) and US (7.5 tonne) lead the tally. The report also says India has done better in wheat by achieving a yield closer to the global average. It has recorded an average yield of 2.9 tonne per hectare as against the global benchmark of 3.0 tonne/ha. However, it’s still far from countries like France (7.0 tonne) and China (4.8 tonne) (Tiwari, 2012).

Low agricultural productivity is identified as one of the primary causes of the low yield. When change in total factor productivity was measured for Indian states, the improvements in efficiency were observed to be low for most of the states and efficiency decline is observed in several states implying huge gains in production possible even with existing technology (Chaudhary, 2012). Increasing efficiency of resource inputs in agriculture for enhancing food production is identified as a critical step for food security. Further in India, sustainable farming also includes the aspect of livelihood farming considering that agriculture is the source of employment for more than 60 percent of the population. Keeping this is mind, increasing agricultural productivity through adopting efficient production systems seems the most suitable approach to achieve food security with minimal negative impacts on other SDGs.

Low agricultural productivity follows from a lot of reasons. About 85% of the farmers in India are marginal or small farmers with less than 2 hectares of land for farming. The average farm household makes Rs 6,426 per month. Over half of all the agricultural households are indebted. The average loan amount outstanding for a farm household in India today is Rs. 47,000, which is an extremely heavy burden (Shrinivasan, 2015). Possibilities of huge potential increase in production even with existing technology will happen only by empowering the small farmers. The first step in this direction should be to increase the availability of investments and operating funds to farmers for agriculture (Kumar & Mittal, 2006). An empirical study (Das, Senapati, & John, 2009) indicates that financial inclusion of farmers in the organised financial system boosts agriculture output.

Information and awareness amongst farmers on the various implications of use of inputs and sustainable techniques of agriculture also plays a critical role. Agricultural Extension Services play a pivotal role in transferring good practices and green technologies to farmers but it demands huge expansion in their scope and reach. Numerous technologies and approaches for water and fertiliser efficiency and matching seed technology with local climatic conditions for diversification and multi-cropping have been developed in India. But considering the potential for increasing agricultural yield in India, there is still massive investment needed in agricultural research and development. India currently spends only 0.76 percent of agricultural GDP on public agricultural research. The commonly accepted target for public spending on agricultural research and development for developing countries is one percent of agricultural GDP (Global Harvest Initiative, 2014). This would mean that India needs to increase its research spending from INR 5600 crores to approximately INR 14000 crores.

This article indicates that for India to achieve food security without trading off achievement of other SDGs, there are certain choices it will have to make. While expanding agriculture on cultivable wastelands and replacing organic compost in place of fertilisers for agriculture are some of them; the bulk of the potential lies in investing in increasing agricultural productivity. Empowering the farmers with investment opportunities and knowledge, along with dedicated investments in agriculture research are identified as keys to enhancing agricultural productivity. q

Anshul S Bhamra
and Harshita Bisht
abhamra@devalt.org & hbisht@devalt.org

Peer Reviewed by
Aditi Kapoor,
Director - Policy Advocacy and Partnerships,
Alternative Futures

Endnote

1http://agridr.in/tnauEAgri/eagri50/FRST201/lec13.pdf

Bibliography

Chaudhary, S. (2012). TRENDS IN TOTAL FACTOR PRODUCTIVITY IN INDIAN AGRICULTURE: Delhi School of Economics.

Das, A., Senapati, M., & John, J. (2009). Impact of Agricultural Credit on Agriculture Production. Researve Bank of India

FAO. (2011). Energy-smart Food for People and Climate. FAO.

FAO. (2014). The State of Food Insecurity in the World. UN.

Global Harvest Initiative. (2014). Global Agricultural Productivity Report

Government of India. (2014). Pocket Book of Agricultural Statistics.

Kaul, V. (2015). India has enough land for farming but there are other bigger issues to worry about. First Post.

Kowshik, P. (2015, April 7). Farm to Plate: How safe is your food? India Today.

Kumar, P., & Mittal, S. (2006). Agricultural Productivity Trends in India. Agricultural Economics Research Review,

Oza, A. (2007). Irrigation and Water Resources. India Infrastructure Report.

Raghavan, S. (nd). Livemint. India’s agricultural yield suffers from low productivity.

Roy, D., Chattopadhyay, P., & Tirado , D. (2009). Subsidizing Food Crisis:. Greenpeace India.

Shrinivasan, R. (2015, June 27). Does it pay to be a farmer in India? The Hindu.

Swerts, E., Pumain, D., & Denis, E. (2014). The future of India’s urbanization. Futures, Elsevier,, 43-52.

Tiwari, R. (2012, April 2). Indian crop yields less than global average. The Economic Times.

 

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