Workshop on “Green Revolution in Eastern India: Constraints, Opportunities and Way Forward”

Workshop in New Delhi

Eastern region of India, comprising Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal, accounts for more than 50 percent of nation’s food insecure and poor population. These states could not reap the benefits of Green Revolution which was exceedingly successful in accelerating agricultural production and productivity and reducing rural poverty levels. While the nation takes pride in achieving food self-sufficiency with a record production of 273 million tons and reducing the incidence of poverty from 53 percent in 1977/78 to 21.4 percent in 2011/12, the reality is that the eastern states are quite a distance away from reaching the average national agriculture productivity levels and in mitigating poverty and hunger.

As these states were largely bypassed from the High Yielding Varieties (HYV) seeds and other such technologies and continue to have poor agriculture productivity levels, the Government has embarked upon a major mission, popularly known as BGREI-Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India. The main focus of this bold initiative has been to augment land productivity as agriculture is the main source of livelihood and employment for majority of rural population in the region.

To understand how this important initiative of the government can be taken forward, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Tata Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI) jointly organised a national conference during October 9-10, 2017. The conference was attended 150 delegates. Eminent economists, agricultural scientists and policy makers shared their views on macro as well as micro issues that have been holding back agricultural growth in the Eastern states. The participants deliberated upon several aspects viz. technological, land use, institutional, climate change and risk, investments, food security and migration to find appropriate strategies that would help the Eastern states in unleashing their potential.

Dr Harsh Kumar Bhanwala, Chairman, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), attributed low agricultural productivity in the eastern region to small size of land holdings and inadequate rural infrastructure. He laid emphasis on diversification of agriculture by the small farmers to harness the opportunities in horticulture and fisheries activities and income gains. He suggested formation of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) or Aggregators who can provide easy market access to farmers for their produce.

Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Secretary, Department of Agricultural Research Education (DARE) and Director General, ICAR, highlighted a strong need to bring convergence in policies and efforts from planning to implementation which can help in bringing green revolution in the eastern region. An increased spending on agriculture Research and Development (R&D) and improving extension services can go a long way in increasing crop productivity.

Dr P K Joshi, Director IFPRI-South Asia, IFPRI reiterated that India’s eastern region suffers from natural calamities and is largely rainfed. However, it offers numerous opportunities like utilization of rice fallows, cultivation of non-food crops including fruits-vegetables, and their value addition in processing industry. To harness these opportunities, it is important that these states bridge the yield gaps and have climate smart agriculture. He also emphasised to treat agriculture as an agri-business profession whereby entrepreneurship should be promoted among the farmers. In doing so, business models that are best suited for this region should be explored with adequate financial support by the lending agencies and banks.

The conference concluded with some key recommendations-

  • Technological development is critical for accelerated and sustainable agricultural development in the region. Special focus need to be given on adoption of improved seed varieties, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), farm mechanization and conservation agriculture.
  • Reforms are needed in inputs delivery chain (seed, fertilizer etc) and promotion of rental markets (farm machinery, irrigation, land) to ensure optimal land and water use.
  • Institutional reforms are required in improving agricultural marketing, financing, insurance and formation of FPOs/cooperatives.
  • Increase in infrastructural investment by the government in areas such as irrigation, cold chain, reefer vans and other logistics, roads and other transport mechanisms for high value perishable commodities is the need of the hour.

Presentations

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Op-ed article

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.

 

Green Revolution in Eastern India: Constraints, Opportunities and Way Forward

Call for Abstracts

Puri District, Odisha, Oct 2012 Source: Vartika Singh, IFPRI

You will agree with me that the eastern region of India, comprising Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Eastern UP, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal is lagging in agriculture and is home to more than 50 percent of India’s poor and food insecure population. More than three fourths of poor in the region lives in rural areas. India’s success in reducing rural poverty from 53 percent in 1977/78 to 21.4 percent in 2011/12 is attributed mainly to the green revolution. However, the eastern region was by passed from the benefits of green revolution and the increasing concentration of the rural poor in this region is a reality. The persistence of high poverty and food insecurity has a serious economic, social and political implications.

Agriculture in eastern region of India is slowly transforming, but the pace needs to be accelerated by reforming policies, institutions, and markets and by developing agri-infrastructure. Several initiatives such as “Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI)” have been launched to push green revolution for accelerated agricultural growth in this region. However, the region is struggling to ensure sustainable high agricultural growth and continues to linger in a vicious circle of low input – low output syndrome. To overcome the challenges and unleash the opportunities, a critical understanding of the constraints which are impeding the real take off, of green revolution in eastern India needs to be thoroughly analyzed and understood.

To address these issues, we are organising a conference on “Green Revolution in Eastern India: Constraints, Opportunities and Way Forward” on Oct 09-10, 2017 at NASC, Pusa, New Delhi, India. The conference is jointly organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Tata Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI).  The conference is expected to evolve a “road map” with clear prioritization and strategies for accelerated and sustainable agricultural growth in eastern India.

We are inviting contributions from you and your colleagues for presentation in this conference. We shall appreciate if you and your colleagues submit a brief abstract of about 500 words for including in the conference by September 7, 2017 in the following broad areas:

  1. Constraints in Production System
  • Agricultural performance in Eastern India vs Western India
  • Land ownership and tenurial arrangements
  • Investment and subsidies
  • Agricultural risks
  1. Technology Adoption and Constraints
  • Adoption of improved varieties
  • Adoption of conservation technologies
  • Farm mechanization 
  1. Institutions and their Effectiveness
  • Irrigation and water markets
  • Financing agriculture
  • Agricultural markets
  • Farmer Producer Organizations
  1. Opportunities in Eastern India
  • Bridge yield gaps
  • Potential of agricultural diversification
  • Potential of rice-fallow utilization
  • Opportunities for agro-processing
  1. Role of Private Sector
  • Climate smart agriculture
  • Solar power for irrigation
  • Reform to promote agri-business

You can send your abstract to Vaishali Dassani (v.dassani@cgiar.org). Please send complete details, including the topic under which your abstract falls and the corresponding address.

Concept Note

 

Technologies for Maize, Wheat, Rice and Pulses in Marginal Districts of Bihar and Odisha

Farmer in the field at Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: (Flickr) Divya Pandey, IFPRI
Farmer in the field at Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: (Flickr) Divya Pandey, IFPRI

Despite rich in natural resources such as water, fertile soil, mineral reserves and sun,  Bihar and Odisha have not been able to capitalize upon their vast resources due lack of infrastructure (like roads, power and markets), concentration of the poor population with high density in most parts, weak institutions (such as credit, insurance, education and extension) and weak governance.

A recent chapter on Technologies for Maize, Wheat, Rice and Pulses in Marginal Districts of Bihar and Odisha summarizes the current state of agricultural productivity and the potential of different technologies in two of the most economically backward states in Bihar and Odisha, India for their principal crops, rice, wheat, maize and pulses. Focusing on marginal districts in the two states, the chapter assesses the suitability of different technologies to uplift the areas (districts) out of their current low level equilibrium (in terms of production performance) and thereby raise the standards of living.

The authors identify the marginal (backward) districts for these crops based on current yield and its performance over time. Subsequently, the choice of technologies for marginal areas for each case is analyzed ex ante. In this approach, the potential is assessed under conditions in which a given technology might not be widely adopted currently but has a comparatively high potential to deliver upon adoption.

The short listing of technologies for these crops has been done based on a clearing house approach in which, in consultation with different stakeholders, the potent technologies for districts have been chosen.

The identified technologies for

Rice: Varietal substitution towards (climatic) stress-tolerant, high-yielding varieties; Mechanized Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) technology; mechanization of agriculture promoted by custom hiring centers - specific promotion of the self-propelled paddy trans-planter machine; and use of integrated nutrient management, involving use of both organic and inorganic fertilizers.

Maize: Hybrid seed (particularly high yielding single cross hybrid seed).

Wheat: Surface seeding technique for rice-wheat systems; Zero tillage wheat with Resource Conserving Technologies (RCTs); and Laser land leveling (LLL).

Pulses: Stress-tolerant high-yielding varieties; inter-cropping of pulses with other crops; and technologies such as line sowing/seed drilling/zero tilling.

Following this, through a structured survey of the households, the reasons behind slow or poor adoption of available technological innovations were examined. The profile of the identified technologies in terms of their uptake over time is looked at, besides assessing the role of complementary inputs that affect the feasibility for the respective areas, as well as the prospects for adopters of technology to multiply. The real opportunities and constraints for technology adoption are gauged directly from the farmers, including their aspirations about crop choices and the technologies that exist to grow them. It was found that maize and pulses are the crops that farmers currently aspire to get into.

It was found that in both states, there is generally a significant lack of awareness of agricultural technology, more so in marginal districts of Odisha. Some modern technologies, like hybrid rice in Bihar, have become quite well known to the farmers, while others, like Systems of Rice Intensification, in spite of having existed for quite some time, have not yet broken the information barriers.

Authors highlight that farmers and farmers belonging to the lowest caste fare badly, both in awareness as well as adoption of technologies. Translation from awareness to adoption has been quite difficult for most technologies.

In general, the technologies related to varietal adoption have been comparatively successful in this regard. In many others, as they get more complex and there is a greater need for complementary inputs, adoption of certain technologies, even in the presence of awareness, has been difficult.

The chapter highlights that policies for technology promotion in the marginal districts have to take into account the current state, as well the aspirations, of the farmers. These aspirations relate both to the crops/activities that farmers want to engage in as well as different technologies that they want to adopt but cannot because of constraints.

Given the evidence of the disconnect between awareness and execution, a holistic approach taking into account the whole process of adoption from information to support in adoption will be needed. The state of the farmers dealing with illiteracy, small land sizes and social barriers mandate a tailored approach in technology choice for the lagging districts in Bihar and Odisha.

Fighting Droughts in Bihar

Solar Panels in Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: (flickr): Divya Pandey, IFPRI
Solar Panels in Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: (flickr): Divya Pandey, IFPRI

Bihar recorded only 122 mm of rain in the month of June this year against the normal 169 mm—a deficit of 28 percent. IMD reported deficient or scant rains in 23 of the 38 districts and it had ruled out the possibility of good rainfalls till July 17th. This is the sixth year of irregular monsoon and drought-like conditions in Bihar in the last seven years.

What can government of Bihar do to deal with frequent droughts?

High cost of irrigation is a big reason why agriculture in Bihar is so vulnerable to droughts. If irrigation becomes more affordable, droughts would have much less impact on farm economy and the farmers.

At present, Government of Bihar provides cash subsidy of Rs. 25/liter on diesel to farmers in drought affected blocks to make irrigation more affordable for them. It is perhaps the largest conditional cash transfer scheme in agriculture sector in the developing world. Between 2008 and 2014, the state government allocated 17.6 billion rupees this scheme—to little effect. The scheme, though well intended, is poorly implemented.

The diesel subsidy scheme has some nice features. One, it does not distort prices. Farmers get cash subsidy. Two, opponents of cash transfers often worry that the value of the subsidy may not keep up with the price of the subsidized commodity. Not in this case. Government of Bihar promptly raised the subsidy from Rs. 10/liter to Rs. 25/liter as diesel prices increased. Three, there is much less paperwork involved in this scheme. Farmers do not have to submit proof of land ownership, and so, even a tenant can claim the subsidy if his neighboring farmer attests that he has irrigated his land.

The diesel subsidy scheme has been ineffective in spite of all these good features. We talked to 240 farmers in 16 villages of Nalanda to understand why. We found three major problems with the way the subsidy scheme works.

One, the subsidy money reaches farmers too late in the season. Only farmers in drought affected blocks qualify for subsidy. By the time a block is declared drought affected, it is often too late in the crop season. It make take much longer for the money to reach farmers.

The delay would matter less if farmers could count upon eventually getting the subsidy. But they cannot. What qualifies a block to be drought affected is not clear, transparent and automatic. This trigger needs to become automatic and transparent. Government of Bihar should outsource this decision to a technology institution like IIT-Patna or the state agriculture universities. They would track rainfall in all blocks of Bihar and declare a block drought affected in real time. Once a block is declared drought affected, all farmers there should automatically become eligible for subsidy and they should be able to collect it from their nearest bank or post-office.

Late and uncertain payments make the diesel subsidy more like a compensation for crop losses and not a conditional cash transfer, it is meant to be, to induce farmers to irrigate more to reduce the crop loss from drought.

Three, smallholders rarely get the subsidy. The transaction costs are too high for them. A farmer who cultivates 0.5 acre land is entitled to Rs. 375 in subsidy—in 3 installments of Rs. 125 each. He may have to spend up to Rs. 60-80 in transport costs and lost wages just to collect the subsidy from his block office. Government of Bihar should build a system of cell-phone based cash transfers system if it wants to reach all farmers.

Subsidizing diesel is an ad hoc measure to make irrigation affordable. Even if implemented well, it can only mitigate the impact of drought. With droughts becoming so frequent, Bihar needs programs for drought-proofing the agriculture. Economic gains from rapid GDP growth will come to a naught if agriculture remains vulnerable to droughts in Bihar. We saw this in 2009 when one big drought wiped out gains in poverty reduction from five years of double digit growth in state’s economy. The number of poor people living below poverty line (BPL) increased by 4.7 million between 2004-05 and 2009-10 even as the per capita GSDP grew at 6-8% per year. This misery is avoidable. Farm economy in Bihar can become more resilient to droughts.

The drought in 2009 was much more severe in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh. Still, there was much more crop loss in Bihar mainly because farmers in Bihar pay 25-30 times more for a cubic meter of water than his counterparts in north-western India. Improving rural power supply can make groundwater irrigation affordable in Bihar too. It can be the best possible investment for drought-proofing agriculture and the most effective poverty reduction strategy for the state.

Rapidly falling price of solar panels offers another opportunity to make irrigation affordable. In 2012, the minor irrigation department of Bihar revived 34 public tubewells in Nalanda by connecting them to solar panels. Our research shows that farmers have benefited a lot from the solar powered tubewells. There are more than 5000 defunct public tubewells in Bihar. The defunct tubewells can be revived to provide affordable irrigation and drought proofing in 50 thousand to one lakh hectares of land if they are solarized and their management is turned over to farmers.

Read More Striving For Drought Proof Agriculture in Bihar, India

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