Reaping monsoon benefits

The India Meteorological Department has predicted that the 2010 south-west monsoon is likely to be normal. A recent article in the science journal Nature points out that the current national emission targets are not sufficient to limit global warming to two degree Celsius during this century, as called for in the Copenhagen Declaration. Present pledges, including that of India, are likely to lead to a world with global emissions of 47.9 to 53.6 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2020 — this is about 10 to 20 per cent higher than today’s levels. A one degree Celsius rise in mean temperature will lead to a reduction in wheat production in India by six to seven million tonnes per year.
A climate resilient agriculture, which we need urgently, will have to be based on a two-pronged strategy: maximising farm productivity and production during a normal monsoon period and minimising the adverse impact of unfavourable weather as witnessed during 2009. Unfortunately, we are yet to develop an anticipatory research and extension programme to minimise damage during unfavourable monsoon periods. For example, the deficiency in rainfall during the south-west monsoon of 2009 was 23 per cent and the growth in agriculture and allied sector gross domestic product (GDP) was -0.2. The highest growth rate in agriculture GDP of 5.2 per cent was observed during 2005-06 when the growth in overall GDP was 9.5 per cent. If we had a scientific monsoon management strategy, we could have minimised the loss last year. Similarly, if we have a strategy for maximising the benefits of a good monsoon, we can hope to achieve at least five per cent growth rate during 2010-11 in agriculture and allied sectors.
What should we do to realise such a potential and take advantage of the blessings of nature? In my view, a pro-active monsoon management strategy is imperative and should have the following five components:
l We must improve soil health and help farmers benefit from the nutrient-based subsidy regime which has been introduced with effect from April 1, 2010. If used properly, this revised approach to fertiliser subsidy should promote balanced fertilisation with concurrent attention to both macro- and micro-nutrients as well as soil organic matter. To benefit from this revised approach, farmers should have access to Soil Health Cards containing credible information on the chemistry, physics and micro-biology of their soils. Some states like Gujarat have already started the practice of empowering farm families with Soil Health Cards.
l We must maximise the benefits of all available water sources — rain, ground, river, treated effluents and sea water. The lessons learnt from over 5,000 farmer participatory projects designed to maximise yield and income per drop of water, organised by the ministry of water resources, should be extended to all farms. Every farm in rainfed and dry farming areas, which constitute 60 per cent of our total cultivated area, should have a farm pond, a biogas plant and a few fertiliser trees. This will help build “soil carbon banks” and farm-level water bank which will provide a crop life-saving irrigation when needed. Energy management is another important requirement for irrigation water security.
l We should launch a programme for spreading the best available technologies, including the most appropriate seeds, in the 128 agro-climatic zones of our country. I suggest that during June 2010, the faculty and post-graduate students of agricultural and animal sciences universities, the staff of various departments of government related to agriculture and representatives of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) and other leading banks go from village to village in each one of these zones to check whether seeds and other essential inputs are available to farmers. Such monsoon management teams may be constituted jointly by the state government, financial institutions, state agricultural and animal sciences universities, concerned agricultural research institutions, farmers’ associations and panchayati raj institutions. I suggest the month of June so that farmers can benefit from an intensive exposure to new technologies and climate resilient agronomic methodologies. June 2010, in fact, should be declared as “Monsoon Management Month”.
l Both credit and insurance agencies should do their best in taking credit to the last mile and last farmer and get them the benefit of the five per cent interest rate for farm loans announced by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. Similarly, insurance companies should deliver the benefits of insurance to every farm family. Under the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana, announced by Mr Mukherjee, all women farmers should have access to credit, technology, inputs and market.
l Finally, the economic viability of farming will depend on access to assured and remunerative markets. The Minimum Support Price announced for nearly 25 crops must be enforced. A “national grid of grain storage” —starting with the Pusa Bin at the farm level, storage godowns at the village level and modern silos at the regional level — should be established without further delay. It is painful to observe severe wastage of foodgrains as well as perishable commodities due to poor storage conditions, especially when we observe the toil of farm women and men in sun and rain to produce them.
Many of our problems in the field of food and nutrition security are not related to the lack of schemes, but to the abundance of disjointed programmes operated by different ministries. For example, there is little coordination among large national programmes like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, Food Security Mission, Horticulture Mission, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme and many other projects. When there is synergy among these programmes that’s when progress in improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of small farm agriculture will be fast.
The south-west monsoon will begin in another five to six weeks. We just have a month for launching the above programmes and for ensuring last mile and last farmer connectivity with reference to knowledge, technology, seeds, credit, insurance and market. Unless the Government of India and the state governments take immediate action in organising “monsoon management teams” at the level of each 128 agro-climatic zones, the finance minister will have serious problems in linking outlay with outcome when he presents his Budget next year. There is no time to relax. Each day lost is a blow to food security in our country, already suffering from extensive malnutrition. The future, I believe, belongs to nations with grains and not guns.

M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India’s green revolution.

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