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Article on agricultural productivity written by Mr. Kushagra Bajaj

Business | Sugar

ET, Delhi / Published Jul 21, 2008

The fundamental malaise behind the current global food crisis is that, the world over, the yield of agricultural crops has been nearly flat for over a decade.

Let us consider the productivity of wheat in India. It was 2.71 tonnes per hectare in 2002. It fell a few notches to 2.63 tonnes per hectare in 2007. India’s productivity in rice was 3.14 tonnes per hectare in 2002. This has moved up marginally to 3.18 tonnes per hectare in 2007. The productivity of wheat in America has inched down from 2.7 tonnes per hectare in 2002 to 2.6 tonnes per hectare in 2007. Even Brazil’s sugarcane productivity has merely climbed up from 70 to 71.10 tonnes per hectare in the same five year span.

If we scan the accompanying tables, we can see that there has been practically no tangible increase in the yield of wheat, rice, corn, soyabean or sugarcane in any part of the world over the last 10 years. Agricultural productivity has stagnated internationally, while the consumption of agricultural products has steadily increased with the increase in income levels and population growth.

Let us come closer home. India’s average rice yield today is 2.9 tonnes per hectare. By comparison, China’s average rice yield, at 6.3 tonnes per hectare, is more than double that of India. South Korea has achieved an even higher rice yield, i.e., 6.8 tonnes per hectare.

What is the reason for India’s consistently low agricultural productivity? In traditional agricultural practice, the productivity of foodgrains has averaged around one tonne per hectare, according to Prof Jeffrey D Sachs, professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Traditional agriculture is patterned on a single annual crop and a single harvest, i.e., only one planting season in a year. The average yield of foodgrains has gone up to two tonnes per hectar, and in some cases, even up to three tonnes per hectare, after the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution triggered a quantum jump in productivity by creating high yielding varieties of seeds and by enabling the optimal use of fertilisers and pesticides.

But agricultural productivity has again stagnated after the Green Revolution. Agricultural yields are now languishing around the world. But even here, what causes concern is that India’s agricultural productivity is even lower than that of many other countries. India has 170 million hectares under foodgrain cultivation, producing 220 million tonnes of foodgrains in a year. China has only 60% of this arable land area. But it is able to harvest twice the quantity of foodgrains that India produces.

According to the government of India’s Economic Survey, the rate of growth in India’s food production is 1.2% a year, significantly less than the population growth rate of 1.9%. The creation of additional irrigation potential in Indian agriculture was 3% a year in the 1990s. It has declined to 1.8% in 2007.

The total central plan spending on agricultural and allied activities, as a proportion of India’s gross domestic product (GDP), is projected to decline from 1.42% in 2007-08 to 1.30% in 2008-09. Clearly, there is need for a greater focus, on the part of both the central and state governments, on the growth of the agricultural sector. What is also needed is an institutional mechanism to bring into being effective public-private partnerships that can change the face of Indian agriculture.

 But while India’s agricultural productivity has tended to stagnate, the country’s per capita foodgrain consumption has continued to spiral. India’s total foodgrain consumption is now growing at a rapid clip with the country’s fast burgeoning population.

There are an estimated 400 million poor people in India. These poor people are now beginning to consume staple foods which they were not able to afford earlier. Consequently the demand for staples is beginning to steeply rise in India, creating apprehensions of a possible food shortage.