The so-called “Green Revolution” that ushered in an era of self-sufficiency of food grains in India since the 1970s, has started succumbing to the pressures of technology fatigue, degradation of soil and water resources and adverse effects on health of farmers due to increased exposure to harmful agricultural chemicals. At the same time, there is a dire need to improve agricultural production and achieve a growth of 4% per annum in this sector, to feed the growing population and meet overall economic objectives.
The government initiated a scheme under the overarching umbrella of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) in 2010-11, called Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI). The scheme aims to shift cultivation of water intensive crops from the north-western part of the country to the eastern states of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, eastern Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Although the scheme is seemingly well-intentioned and aims to provide a mix of farm enterprises including livestock, aquaculture, tree planting etc., the little details of the programme show a clear tilt towards rice and wheat. However, experts indicate that the policy should have taken into account a more detailed view of the region than just its fertile soil and abundant water resources. This article tries to analyze the implementation design of the scheme with respect to its objectives.
The objectives of BGREI can be paraphrased as raising production and productivity of rice and wheat using latest technologies; promoting cultivation in rice fallows to raise cropping intensity and consequently farmers’ income; efficient water utilization and water harvesting; and promoting post-harvest technology and marketing support.
While the intent of the scheme is definitely on raising yield and production of staples – wheat and rice, such a focus may very likely result in the perils of monocropping that have surfaced in the Punjab-Haryana region. Crop rotation and a mix of farm enterprises is imperative for maintaining soil health and income diversification of the farm household. The region from UP to West Bengal grows crops like potato, maize and some pulses, besides horticultural crops like lychee and mangoes. Bringing rice fallows under the plough is commendable, but the choice of crops should preferably be pulses and oilseeds. Of course, there could be other alternatives, but the priority should be to avoid monocropping; this is necessary for long-term sustainability.
Water is not just another resource; water bodies and watersheds are hydrological units around which communities and cultures thrive. Presently, water resources are under tremendous and constant pressure and hence the emphasis on increasing water use efficiency and water harvesting is a welcome step. Watershed development and management have emerged as a viable, grassroots intervention to not just manage soil and water resources, but also to promote farm and off-farm income generation activities. Therefore, one would have expected the entire design of water management to be built around watersheds. However, BGREI does not make any explicit mention of such an approach. Adding to the lopsided vision is the failure to address issues of drainage. Vast stretches of the eastern belt are prone to regular floods and water logging. Alkaline-saline and degraded soils in Punjab and Haryana are a direct outcome of excessive irrigation, with no thought to drainage. Thus, there is a likelihood of repetition of the same problems in newer areas. To add to the poor plans is the 20% allocation of funds under BGREI to water management. It may be noted that this 20% includes farm mechanization activities also.
“Agricultural technology” has somehow come to imply only production. This perspective worked in the initial years of Green Revolution when food was scarce. In today’s scenario, the focus has to be on post-harvest technologies, forward logistics and marketing, equally if not more than production technology. Neglect of post-harvest and marketing aspects is evident by the measly 5% allocation under the scheme. This neglect is also due to the fact that rice and wheat do not need much secondary processing and BGREI overlooks other crops, horticulture, aquaculture etc. where secondary processing would need investment and training. Institutionalizing integrated market systems with warehouses, warehouse receipt financing and community-level primary processing and cluster-based higher processing should have been envisaged.
Now let us look briefly at the total central allocation to BGREI and its application. Utilization as a percentage of allocation declined from 91% in 2010-11 to around 71% in 2013-14 and 2014-15. State-wise break-up of the funds allocation for 2013-14 shows that the expenditure on demonstrations has been 75% to 100% of the target. But when it comes to marketing support, only West Bengal spent 100% of the allocation, while most of the other states drew a blank. This is a grave situation and requires inquiry and course correction. Post-harvest and marketing support cannot be neglected if farmers are to receive proper price for their produce, and in turn adequate returns. Perhaps, it would be appropriate time to review the allocation, now that BGREI has been in vogue for about half a decade.
BGREI was launched to achieve sustained food grain production to meet the needs of the growing population, especially in the backdrop of Right to Food. While this basic objective is not disputed, the method of implementation needs a more critical approach. The very fact that the focus had to shift from the granary-states of Punjab and Haryana to the eastern states highlights the unsustainable and exploitative methods adopted in the earlier Green Revolution. For BGREI to succeed and remain sustainable, attention should have been paid to crop rotation, farm enterprise diversification, watershed development approach and effective post-harvest interventions and market linkages. The allocation of budget should have taken these aspects into consideration instead of the routine thrust on production technologies alone. All is not lost and corrective measures are possible. It is just that the time is now.
|Aashish Argade is an FPM (Fellow Program in Management) student at IIM Ahmedabad. He has done his masters in agri-management and is currently pursuing fellowship in the Agri-Business Management.|
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