Even though area under cultivation is shrinking, by means of increasing productivity and also growing high yielding varieties, India is now food secure. Indian foodgrain production increased from 50.82 million tonnes in 1950-51 to more 295 million tonnes in 2019-20. However, food security has to be examined in terms of availability, accessibility, utilisation and vulnerability. Therefore, apart from production policies and programmes relating to bufferstocking, distribution, monitoring prices become important.
Food security both at the national and household levels has been the focus of agricultural development in India ever since the mid-60s when import dependence for cereals had gone upto 16 percent and the country faced severe drought continuously for two years. The new approach intended at maximising the production of cereals and involved building a foundation of food security on three key elements, namely, provision of an improved agricultural technology package to the farmers, delivery of modern farm inputs, technical know-how and institutional credit to the farmers. The performance of agriculture however has not been satisfactory. The share of agriculture in the gross domestic product (GDP) has registered a steady decline from 36.4 percent in 1982-83 to 15.9 percent in 2019. But, agriculture sector continues to support more than half a billion people by providing employment to 52 percent of India’s workforce.
The following 10 measures to be taken for achieving food security through higher food production.
1. Education and literacy
Role of education in improving farm efficiency and technology adoption has been well established. As agriculture transformed from subsistence to commercial level, farmers seek information on a wide range of issues to acquire knowledge or upgrade their skills and entrepreneurial ability. Literacy emerges as an important source of growth in adoption of technology, and use of modern inputs like fertilisers and machines.
An educated workforce makes it easier to train and acquire new skills and technologies required for productivity growth. Thus, contribution of literacy will be substantial on yield growth and domestic supply of food.
2. Crop diversification
Food availability is a necessary condition for food security. India is more or less self-sufficient in cereals but has deficit in pulses and oilseeds. Due to changes in consumption patterns, demand for fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, poultry, and fishery products has been increasing. There is a need to increase crop diversification and improve allied activities to produce such crops and produces in which we are deficient.
3. Tackling challenges related to climate change
Food security in India can be achieved by paying higher attention to issues such as climate change, limiting global warming, including the promotion of climate – friendly agricultural production systems and land use policies at a scale to help adapt and mitigate climate change’s ill effects.
4. Adoption of digital technologies in agriculture
Digital innovation will transform Indian agriculture and the focus should be on spreading awareness about the potential of such technologies in the agriculture sector, not only from the user and consumer side but also to the governance and policy side. The real challenge is not the development of technology, but instead the deployment of technology. The industry, academia and policy-makers have to come together for the development and deployment of such deep-techs for the agriculture sector.
Farmers can leverage deep-tech and can grow crops in arid areas, making use of technology and other resources more effectively and efficiently. Farms and agricultural operations would run very differently, primarily due to advancements in technology such as sensors, devices, machines, and information technology. Future agriculture will use sophisticated deep-techs such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images, and GPS technology to maximise agricultural output.
5. Integrated water management
India, being crop-based, needs to produce more crop per unit of land and water resources. Alarming rates of ground-water depletions and increasing environmental and social problems pose acute threats to human kind. Improved management of irrigation water is essential in enhancing production and productivity, food security and poverty alleviation. Agriculture is the biggest user of water accounting for over 80 percent of the fresh water withdrawals. There are pressures for diverting water from agriculture to other sectors. It has been projected that availability of water for agriculture use in India may be reduced by 21 percent by 2025, resulting in drop of yields of irrigated crops, especially rice, leading to price rise and threat to food security of the poor. The needs of other sectors for water cannot be ignored. As a result, it is necessary that an integrated water use policy is formulated and judiciously implemented. Modern methods of irrigation like sprinkler irrigation, drip irrigation, fertigation among methods, besides further improving flood irrigation practices need to be given more importance to enhance water productivity.
6. Integrated Nutrient Management
Attention needs be given to balanced use of nutrients. Phosphorus deficiency is the most wide spread soil fertility problem in both irrigated and non-irrigated rainfed areas. To improve the efficiency of fertiliser-use, what is really needed is enhanced location-specific research on efficient fertiliser practices, improvement in soil testing services, development of improved fertiliser supply and distribution systems and development of physical and institutional infrastructure.
7. Integrated weed and pest management
Among the pests, weeds are considered an important biotic constraint to food production. Their competition with crops reduces agricultural production and increases external costs by spreading them across farm boundaries. An integrated weed management approach to land management combines the use of complementary weed control methods such as grazing, herbicide application, land fallowing, and biological control. The resulting combinations provide the best possible solutions to weed problems for land managers.
Adoption of technologies like integrated nutrient management, integrated pest management and integrated weed management needs to be made available for adoption to ensure higher production and sustainability of production base.
8. Improved varieties
In several regions, farmers are not able to get information about the availability of new and improved varieties and some are not having access to quality seeds of these varieties, resulting in lesser yields. This situation has to be corrected by developing a national-level network to monitor and coordinate the activities with the various state government functionaries working in the area of crop production.
9. Awareness on population growth
The awareness of the pressures of increasing population growth and consumption patterns on ecosystem functioning should be created to sensitise farmers on adoption of sustainable crop cultivation and management practices.
10. Focus on small farmers
Increase in food production in India does not necessarily ensure food security, if the poor do not have the buying power. Therefore, participation of small and marginal farmers in food production is essential to achieve food security in the country. Most of them being illiterate and having failed earlier either in adopting new technologies or repaying the loan provided under various development schemes sponsored by the government. They need support not only to procure inputs but also to gain confidence.
The strategy to enhance the food production should address the problems of such unsuccessful farmers, who represent over 80 percent of the total landholders in the country. They own less than two hectare of land per family, mostly marginal and non-irrigated. They have been practicing low-external input farming and the crop yields have been substantially low. However, their contribution to the national food production is considerable and meets a significant part of their food needs.