Low crop yield in India: WHAT FARMING NEEDS: A GIANT TECH LEAP

Source: The post is based on the article “WHAT FARMING NEEDS: A GIANT TECH LEAP” published in the Livemint on 22nd November 2022.

Syllabus: GS-3 – Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country.

Relevance: About low crop yield in India.

News: Low crop yield in India is a grave concern for Indian Agriculture.

How low crop yield in India stands against the yield of various countries?
India's Yield Gap
Source: Livemint

Soy yields in India are three-four times lower compared to the US and Argentina

Mustard yields are almost half compared to canola grown in Canada (mustard and canola belong to the same Brassica genus).

India is among the top producers of cotton in the world but yields are less than a fourth when compared to China.

Average rice yields in India are 57% of China and lower than even Bangladesh and Vietnam.

India is the largest producer of milk in the world but cattle milk yields (per animal per year) are 60% of China and less than a fifth of the US.

Why are crop yields so abysmally low in India?

This is because,

1) Low investments in public research: Total agriculture research spending in India grew from $0.5 billion in 1981 to $4 billion in 2016 (in purchasing power parity terms). During this period, spending in China grew from $0.2 billion to $7.7 billion,

2) A weak IPR regime discourages the private sector to invest and innovate, 3) Small farmers are unable to invest in crop management practices and technologies which can improve yields, and 4) Under the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act, 2001, farmers are allowed to reuse, exchange and sell seed of any variety. This restricts the private sector only to hybrid seed varieties.

5) In India, farmers have been growing the same seed variety for two decades. For instance, Indian farmers are forced to plant soybean seeds which were released for cultivation more than 15 years ago.

6) Outdated technologies: For instance, In cotton, India is the only large producer growing hybrids. While the rest of the world is growing open-pollinated varieties.

Read more: We must break ‘lock-ins’ of water usage in agriculture
What are the potential impacts of low crop yield in India?

a) Impact farmer incomes, b) Low yield will lead to inefficient and unsustainable use of soils, nutrients, water and land.

c) Farmers resort to illegal seeds: As seed technology is outdated, to save on labour costs of clearing weeds and increasing yields farmers resort to planting non-approved seed varieties. For instance, nearly a fifth of India’s cotton area is now planted with illegal herbicide-tolerant GM cotton seeds.

Why India needs to work on its low crop yield?

1) According to the FAO, the world will need 50% more food by 2050 to feed the increasing global population along with a lower carbon footprint, 2) India’s arable land is shrinking, and 3) As climate shocks become frequent, agriculture will emerge as a strategic sector for India and the entire world.

The only option left for India is to achieve agriculture sector growth by improving productivity.

Read more: India’s Agriculture Exports: Status and Challenges – Explained, pointwise
What should be done to improve low crop yield in India?

-The focus should be to increase output not just per unit of land but also with respect to water and fertilizer use.

Upgrade farmers regularly with improved seed varieties.

-Central bodies and others have to be strengthened with resources, so they have the capacity to deliver to the changing needs.

-India should develop science-based crop management practices armed with data analytics. For instance, the variable rate technology (VRT) in US helps farmers to track soil health in real-time.

Overall India has to focus on precision agriculture along with sustainable practices like zero-till and mulching to improve its low yield.

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