GFPR 2018 India Launch: India’s Time to Focus on Farmers

Against the backdrop of rising concerns over farm distress in India, and a farmers’ protest movement demanding policy succor, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) launched the latest 2018 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) at a policy dialogue held in New Delhi, India, Friday.

Archana Singh / IFPRI

The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog Vice-chairperson and the chief guest, Rajiv Kumar, echoing the theme of this year’s report, admitted that the global trade can be a double-edged sword, which has its benefits as well as disadvantages. “How do we address this challenge of meeting local needs and requirements with increasing global trade?” Kumar said addressing farm distress with the right policies is now a priority for the Indian government. “We in the NITI Aayog and the government have decided it is finally time we must focus only and only on farmers and farmers’ distress…that’s a real issue which is beginning to haunt us... and (the issue is) so amazingly complex.”

According to the GFPR, the rise of anti-globalization politics and policies around the world poses threats to progress in efforts to end global hunger and malnutrition. The Delhi report launch and policy dialogue were held in partnership with premier Indian research institutions, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), and ICAR- National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (ICAR-NIAP).

IFPRI director-general, Shenggen Fan, in his keynote address, highlighted some of the themes included in this year’s report: the impact of global integration and disintegration on trade, migration, investment and knowledge-sharing. “We don’t want a trade war,” Fan said, adding, “trade war will hurt all, particularly poor and hungry people.” Fan pointed out that nearly 850 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition globally, while 35 million are at risk of famine. He suggested enactment of strong policies to leverage benefits of globalization while minimizing risks to ensure progress towards meeting Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger and poverty by 2030.

Providing an overview of the report’s regional analysis from South Asia, IFPRI-SAO director, PK Joshi, said, “There’s a paradox in South Asia—we are the fastest growing economy and region in the world, but are facing the challenge of triple malnourishment: food insecurity, undernourishment and obesity.” Joshi also cautioned against the rising threat of climate change and its impact on food systems.

Another panelist, Mahendra Dev, director and vice chancellor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), and IFPRI Board vice chairman, emphasized on the importance of food systems approach in analysis of hunger and malnutrition, and pointed out that global trade has more benefits than risks. “India will benefit more from globalization than protectionist policies. India can and should take the high road against protectionism as it needs the global trade and financial capital for high growth.”

Between 1985 and 2007, trade grew twice as fast as GDP, however, since 2012 GDP and trade have grown at the same rate, said Dev, arguing that recent protectionist measures announced by the United States may lead to a further reduction in trade growth.

Drawing from her own experience as an agriculture science student, panelist Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, senior adviser and head of agriculture for South Asia, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), India, said the current educational system focuses on agricultural productivity and yields but not on farmers’ incomes, leading to an imbalance in the way success is measured in the farm sector. “Green revolution’s focus was more on the farm, the new ambition is to focus on farmers, and doubling their incomes,” said Mehta-Bhatt.

Real-time data, as pointed out in the report, can help in real-time governance, and measurement of the income gap for farmers, which is critical to improving their incomes, she added.

But, policy-making, disconnected from politics, has little meaning. “When you talk of policy and forget politics, it will have very little implication to society,” said session chairperson, Trilochan Mohapatra, secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) and director general, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). He expressed concerns regarding some of the structural deficiencies, which impact food security in the country. “Is the subsidized foodgrain (through public distribution system) not reaching the end user? Why does hunger exist? Why are we not able to reach the unreached?”

In his concluding remarks, Kumar from NITI Aayog said, “Thirty-eight per cent of our children are undernourished... and 60 million tonnes of foodgrains are being stocked somewhere while farmers are throwing away their produce.” We need to introspect deeply, and create non-farm employment, following China’s path out of agrarian crisis. “For the next few years, we need to concentrate on curbing hunger and malnutrition, and make sure that our farmers come up to the same level as their urban counterparts,” he added.

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Why eastern India needs a Green Revolution

Women Farmers in field, Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: (flickr) Divya Pandey, IFPRI

Eastern India is waiting for Green Revolution to improve food security and reduce poverty. A large fraction of the population in this part of the country is dependent on agriculture for food and livelihood security. The region is home to the highest density of rural poor in the world and poverty is high among agricultural laborers and sub-marginal farmers cultivating less than 0.5 ha land. Despite several government efforts in the past, eastern India still lags when it comes to agricultural development. Though the region has the best of soils in the country and an abundance of water, sunshine and labor, agricultural performance is appears to be of subsistence level only.

The majority of farming families in this region are poor; increasing their net returns from agriculture is essential to reduce poverty. However, the returns from agriculture are significantly lesser in eastern India compared to, say, the north-western states. For example, average net returns from paddy are 5-7 times lower in Bihar than that in Haryana and Punjab. The crop yields are low and almost stagnating in eastern India compared to the north-western and other parts of the country. For example, average yield of rice is around 2-2.5 tons/ha in Bihar (and similar in other states) compared to 5 tons/ha in Haryana and 6 tons/ha in Punjab. In the case of wheat, the yield is around 2.5 tons/ha in Bihar—significantly below the national average and much below the yield levels in Punjab and Haryana (4.5-5 tons/ha).

High population pressure on land, combined with relatively low crop-yields, results in lower average per capita income for farm households in the region. The average annual farm incomes in eastern states are also nearly half of the national average. The region is also highly vulnerable to climate change and thus suffers from high inter-year crop yield variability, making agriculture more vulnerable to climate extremes such as droughts and floods. For example, during 2009, a drought year, paddy yields in Bihar dropped by nearly 15% compared to normal year yields, leading to serious social and economic impacts. A similar situation played out in other eastern states, too; however, in north-western states like Haryana and Punjab, the yields were similar to that in normal years. Therefore, the major policy challenge is to promote sustainable intensification of agriculture to make agriculture more profitable and resilient to climate change.

IFPRI conducted some surveys in major states of India to map the adoption of improved varieties of crops and new technologies. Surveys from the eastern states show that most farmers there continue to use 25-30 years-old seed varieties with low yield potential and high susceptibility to biotic and abiotic stresses. Further there is negligible adoption of conservation agriculture (CA) technologies (zero tillage, laser land leveller, etc). In contrast, Punjab and Haryana are adopting the latest varieties and technologies. Non-availability and lack of knowledge are reported to be the important constraints in adopting modern varieties and technologies. Lack of a legal framework for land leasing was also stated to be a constraint in adopting the latest technologies and committing investment to development of farm assets. Global experiences reveal that legalised land leasing improves efficiency and reduces poverty.

Despite all constraints, in recent years, agriculture in eastern India has begun to transform, but the pace needs to be accelerated by reforming policies, institutions, and markets and by developing agri-infrastructure. Diversification of agriculture in eastern India towards high-value produce is the next step forward to increase farmer’s income. There is enormous scope for dairy, horticulture and fisheries in eastern India. An integrated-farming-system approach can generate additional incomes for farmers along with higher crop and water productivity. Research shows integrated farming system is the most reliable way of obtaining high incomes to the farmers. It would need investment in developing physical and financial infrastructure such as agro-processing, rural warehouses, cold storages, cold chains, and financing institutions.

Market availability is yet another factor to consider. In the absence of suitable marketing facilities in the region, most farmers sell their surplus at non-remunerative prices soon after harvests. In addition, marketing and the ability to negotiate a good price for produce is severely constrained. Therefore, adequate facilities need to be created in rural areas through public–private partnership to provide price advantage, reduce transaction costs and give access to efficient input- and output-markets. The region also has experienced low investment in agriculture development, especially on land, water, markets and extension services in comparison to other parts of India. IFPRI research shows that encouraging private investment in irrigation development will trigger agricultural growth in the region.

The success of all efforts will rely on how farmers are consolidated through self-help groups or farmer-producer organisations or cooperatives to take advantage of economies-of-scale.

Finally, a comprehensive approach by integrating technologies, policies, institutions and agri-infrastructure is necessary to usher in a new green revolution, in eastern India this time.

This piece was originally published in Financial Express.


IFPRI South Asia Regional Office

Katrin Park/IFPRI
Katrin Park/IFPRI

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) launched its South Asia Initiative in 2002 and established its South Asia office in New Delhi in 2005. The South Asia office engages in evidence-based research and capacity strengthening related to food and nutrition security in the region. This research engages in evidence-based policy research and capacity-building activities related to food and nutrition security in the region. This research focuses on agricultural diversification, climate change, markets and trade, nutrition and health, science and technology, and governance. Go here to know more about the new South Asia brochure.

Highlights of Recent IFPRI Food Policy Research in India

Source: (Flickr): Pallavi Rajkhowa, IFPRI
Source: (Flickr): Pallavi Rajkhowa, IFPRI

IFPRI began its enduring partnership with India nearly 40 years ago. In fact, IFPRI’s first Board of Trustees in 1975 included Vijay S. Vyas, Director of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India. IFPRI and India’s partnership played a particularly important role following the Green Revolution when that partnership analyzed the necessary policies to both promote domestic food production and to encourage farmers to adopt new rice and wheat varieties. IFPRI’s studies on the Green Revolution in India showed that agricultural growth had a strong impact on poverty alleviation and that further attention to agricultural growth was necessary to reduce poverty. In the late 1970s, amid stagnant food production, weather-related crop losses, and an ever-growing population, the Indian government sought food security solutions that extended beyond food aid; technology and rural development played leading roles in the IFPRI-India working relationship during that period.

During the 1980s, IFPRI’s research focused on India’s agricultural sector, particularly on agricultural growth linkages to the nonagricultural economy; the impact of high-yielding rice varieties in South India; and instability in foodgrains production, food subsidies, dairy development, and livestock demand. Research conducted during the 1990s included studies on topics such as public expenditure and poverty in rural India, incentives and constraints in the transformation of Indian agriculture, and high-value agriculture. Research topics since the 2000s have expanded to include malnutrition, public investment, climate change, value chains, capacity strengthening, and biofortification. As of 2015, the Institute has produced more than 450 publications on India’s food security and collaborates with dozens of Indian institutions.

IFPRI receives continuous financial and logistical support from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Department of Agricultural Research and Education within the government of India and works alongside dozens of research collaborators in the country. This brochure highlights some of the key collaborations between IFPRI and its Indian partners, describing recent and ongoing work.

Read more from the brochure

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