x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Time for a second green revolution in India

One way for India to revive its economy and ensure better food security would be to invest adequately in the agriculture sector.

At a time when India's economy is staring at a crisis, with its trade deficit running at an all-time high, inflation spiking and the rupee recording its sharpest decline in decades, the country's parliament last week passed an ambitious $22 billion (Dh80bn) plan to provide cheap food for the poor, aimed at eradicating hunger and malnutrition.

It is a noble intention, but as this newspaper argued recently, the food security programme will put further pressure on the economy, mainly because the country will have to increase its imports as its own grain output is inadequate to meet the demands of such a massive programme.

The situation is a paradox of plenty in a country where malnutrition is on the rise. India has vast swathes of fertile land as well as plenty of water for irrigation - the ideal conditions, in other words, for successful, high-yield farming. According to experts, the country is capable of producing an additional 100 million tonnes of rice each year, enough to feed about 400 million people.

Food security became a major cause for concern in the 1960s, when it caught the imagination of India's policymakers and spawned the green revolution, an ambitious plan to transform the country's agricultural land via high-yielding crops, increased use of fertilisers and a raft of land reforms. Considerable investment was made in rural infrastructure. The power and irrigation sectors, the key support mechanisms for commercial agriculture, were given greater priority. Unfortunately, that focus shifted in successive decades with the result that agricultural production began to tail off as investment all but dried up.

The fallout from that shift is alarming: the share of agriculture and allied sectors in GDP has fallen to 13.7 per cent in 2012-13 from 51.9 per cent in 1950-51, although 53 per cent of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

One way to revive the economy and ensure better food security would be to reinvest in this sector. India has the knowledge and the expertise to monitor and prevent - even reverse - water and land deterioration. It also has the right conditions to increase yields per hectare and it has the available workforce.

Certainly, this would require a series of large steps, but the resources are there and the need has never been more imperative.