Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Apr 25, 2006
Agri-Biz & Commodities - Insight
Agriculture: Flowering China, withering India
K. P. Prabhakaran Nair
In August 1980 when late President Deng of China made a prophetic statement: "It is glorious to be rich," none had an inkling where the country was headed, but one thing is certain. The Chinese never looked back on the statement. The Chinese seem unstoppable on the road to becoming rich. This author, who was invited by the Chinese government last month, had an opportunity to look at agriculture in that country.
Why is it that while Indian agriculture is going downhill, China is doing so well? India's population, which is growing at a rate of 1.9 per cent annually, has already overtaken the rate of foodgrains production at around 1.5 per cent.
With per capita food availability (of staples such as wheat and rice) at an all-time low of less than 400 gm a day, against the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, norm of 500 gm, and pulses (the primary protein supplement of the vast majority of the poor vegetarians) availability a paltry 26 gm, the country is inching towards a "hunger trap".
The Food and Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, has already placed an order to import 0.5 million tonnes of wheat at 0 per cent duty from Australia. Farmers are dying in their thousands and more than 14,000 have committed suicide.
Commissions after commissions, including the Plan panel, are out "looking into things" in India. First it was the National Commission on Farmers in operation since May 2004 when the UPA came to power and the latest is the one from the PMO's office "to look into the farmers problems". Most probably, the nation will not know what these commissions are recommending, much less what follow-up action is taken.
THE CHINA SCENE
China has 900 million farmers, constituting about 70 per cent of the population, and India has about 650 million, again 65-70 per cent of the population. Both countries' average holding size at 0.5-1 hectare is comparable. Of the 230.4 million hectares of arable land in China, 69 per cent is under grain crops, principal among which is rice. The country harvested 432.9 million tonnes of foodgrains, which translates to an yield of 4.71 tonnes per ha against India's best of 220 million tonnes at the yield less than 1 tonne. In terms of the infrastructure and investments in agriculture, India comes next to the US, but China has much more to show on the fields.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Rice Project Directorate in Hyderabad have been talking about a "hybrid rice" for almost a decade now but it is hardly existent on the ground. By contrast, China's "Super Rice" has been grown for over a decade now.
China has the world's largest number of Farmer Agro Technology Extension Agents (1.5 million), who work with the farmers on the field employing a "Bottom-Up" approach, where innovation takes place taking into consideration the ground reality. This is a far cry from India's Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), whose approach is primarily "Top Down", whereby the "package of practice" developed by an agricultural scientist on the experimental farm is dished out to the farmer for adoption.
A recent study showed that only 0.9 per cent of the farmers in India access information from the KVKs and the most trusted information is sought from progressive farmers who have innovated. This speaks volumes of the kind of ineffective extension technology that we have in place.
It is also equally important to remember that whether the crop blooms or fails, the agricultural scientist/extension officer who dished out the package of practice draws his/her salary on the first of each month. But when the crop fails, the farmer is left high and dry. This is also why the so-called Green Revolution, which is input-intensive, succeeded only in the fields of the farmer barons who were not constrained by capital, land or inputs. That is not the case with the 0.5-1-ha-holding Vidharba cotton farmer. China's mighty, 340-billion yuan (Rs 1,89,7500 crore), rural thrust far outstrips India's Rs 1,40,000-crore rural credit plan.
While India is crying hoarse against the WTO trade barriers, China is moving forward fast, creating a internal market fuelled by domestic consumption. This is in sharp contrast to what our planners are attempting, where the target seems to be "growth at any rate", reflecting in a bloated GDP and a galloping stock exchange, no matter what happens to the quality of life in the country side.
(The author, an eminent agricultural scientist, with over three decades of experience in Europe, Africa and Asia, can be contacted at email@example.com)
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