Wednesday, June 29, 2011

José Graziano da Silva to head FAO......
Jose was the brain behind the much ambitious "Zero Hunger" programme of former Brazilian president Lula da Silva. He will led Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as Director General of the prestigious office and will succeed Jacques Diouf.

All the wishes to the new office bearer for his continued pursuit towards eliminating hunger and malnutrition from the global map.


Waste of invaluable Human Resource

The looming crisis on the labour front is sure to slowdown the pace of farm growth, going much against the projections of government and planning commission. It is mainly the launch of the UPA’s much ambitious welfare scheme MNREGS which brought the dark cloud over the dwindling availability of manpower for agricultural activities, as under the scheme they are paid much without undertaking any worthy work.

This is creating a huge force of unskilled human resource to Indian rural scene which is ultimately going to harm our cause of faster and sustainable development as enshrined in the 12th Five Year Plan. Not much effective work has been taken up and it is just work and rework situation created by the administration in the name of creating employment. NREGS is nothing but a instrument of scoring political mileage for govt. and it fruited well for the UPA which returned to power solely on the back of it in 2009. But by and large, it has been observed that there is rampant corruption across all the states and thus it is just heading towards a cancerous growth of inefficiency and wastage of human resource.

Seed woes

I was really perturbed to go through many of news pieces published about the Bt cotton seed scarcity in major production areas for the ongoing Kharif sowing season, except Punjab, where it has been priced at the highest MRP.

It is the open challenge from the private seed to the farmers and authorities that the situation is going towards hell. So even now if we don’t be enraged and awaken with this incident then the coming days would be worst and it would not be much different from the American corporate model where even a government is alleged to be run by the corporations.

Well before the kharif private seed suppliers has warned state governments that non-revision of cotton seed prices may result in the seed shortages in the upcoming season and so did it happened. It is clear case of cartelisation by the seed firms and inaction from the authorities is making the things pitiable.

Until NSC, SSSC, State Agri Departments and Agri varsities work in tandem for the cause of quality seed production and co-operatives are encouraged, it would be a distant dream to witness a seed secure India.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Irrigation - Untapped potential

India should focus on an integrated water management system for agriculture

Harnessing water resources for farming is critical for increasing agricultural productivity. Undivided India had among the largest irrigated areas in the world, but with Partition a large part of the major canal systems went to Pakistan. Recognising the importance of large-scale development of irrigation facilities, more than half of all public expenditure on agriculture has been spent on irrigation alone. The net irrigated area expanded from 20.85 million hectares in 1950-51 to 62.29 million hectares in 2007-08. And the net sown area increased from 17.5 per cent to 44.2 per cent over the period.

Expansion in irrigation had been most significant in the sixties, with an increase of about 2.3 per cent a year in net irrigated area. But this growth dropped significantly to 1.3 per cent a year in the nineties. Over the years, the dependence on groundwater for irrigation has increased. With little progress in new large-scale surface irrigation schemes, the increased availability of low-cost electric and diesel pumps and a lopsided power tariff policy, tube wells have been the dominant source of irrigation.

A comparative analysis of states reveals the striking differences in irrigation facilities across the country. Punjab tops the list with about 98 per cent of its sown area being irrigated, an outcome of the focus on irrigation in the green revolution. Next in importance among the big states is Haryana, with about 84 per cent of its net sown area being irrigated. Uttar Pradesh is not far behind, in fact it holds the largest share of 21 per cent of total net irrigated area in the country. In Bihar, more than 60 per cent of the net area sown is irrigated, while irrigation covers more than half the net area sown in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. (Click here for chart)

Pattern of land use by year
(million hectares)


Net area

Net irrigated



















2007-08 (p)



Source: Ministry of Agriculture

At the other end, the proportion of net irrigated area to net area sown is less than 10 per cent in Assam, Jharkhand, Sikkim and Mizoram. Most of the north-eastern states in India are ranked low in terms of net irrigated area as a proportion of net sown area. There are many reasons for this — prevalent subsistence economy, limited population, being one of the wettest regions in the world and so on. However, with the growth of commercial agriculture and horticulture in this region, the need for irrigation facilities is being increasingly felt. Maharashtra stands out as a large state with less than 20 per cent of its net sown area under irrigation; there is also a vast intrastate disparity that needs to be corrected urgently, with the Vidarbha region far behind western Maharashtra. Karnataka and Chhattisgarh are the other two large states where the net irrigated area is less than one-third of the net area sown.

Added to the problem of inadequate irrigation is the fact that the utilisation of irrigation potential has been dropping steadily in India with numerous problems afflicting the existing irrigation sources: poor maintenance to deal with wear and tear, depleting water table, inadequate power for lifting device, non-availability of water, diversion of water for non-agricultural purposes and so on. It goes without saying that an integrated approach to water management is crucial in ensuring optimal use of water for agricultural output.

Indian States Development Scorecard, a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics, focuses on the progress in India and across the states across various socio-economic parameters.

Boosting farm performance in India

Agriculture has to feed 1.2 billion Indians. But while the economy grew 7.4% in 2009-10, agriculture grew by just 0.2%. The production of foodgrains grew 1.96% per annum from 2001-10 while the area to produce food-grains has just increased by 0.3%. Meanwhile the population has increased over 17% over the period 2001-11. How can we increase farm productivity?

Public spending which varies across states, has to increase. States like Delhi and Sikkim spent more than Rs 7,000 per hectare but Rajasthan spent less than Rs 330 per hectare on average between 2001-10. Many farmers in India don't have access to enough capital to buy seeds & fertilisers. Land holdings are also small, restricting production. Without more public spending yields can't go up.

More foodgrains have to be produced for every hectare to feed our people. Gujarat and Chhattisgarh have improved their productivity by more than 90% and 70% respectively but are still behind Punjab and Haryana. In Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, productivity fell in 2009-10 compared to 2001. Higher productivity can also help farmers gain from higher food prices. In UP, Rajasthan, Orissa, and Himachal Pradesh more than half of the workforce is engaged in agriculture but at very low labour productivity, defined as agricultural GDP divided by total agricultural workforce. This shows how much states can leverage their agricultural workforce for development.

The agricultural workforce is estimated to be 286 million in 2010 against 234 million in 2001. But the percentage of total workforce engaged in agriculture has fallen from 58% in 2001 to 55% in 2010. At the same time, the contribution of agriculture to GDP fell from 23.2% to 17.7%. Despite a bigger workforce in agriculture, the contribution of agriculture in the Indian economic growth has come down drastically.

Agriculture in different states is still driven by the traditional methods of cultivation, limited awareness about crop information systems, new seed and fertilisers and has huge dependence on weather. The problem lies back deep in the lack of robust policy initiatives and agriculture in many states. Different schemes of the government are limited in terms of reach and access by the poor farmers. The agriculture sector needs more marketing assistance and training of farmers on new high-yielding technology so that they can increase their per capita GDP by getting both the right price and increasing the yield.

The states can be classified into three categories depending on the type of strategy they need to follow to improve their agricultural and labor productivity.

Value-Chain Enhancement Strategy -These states which have higher agricultural productivity & GDP must invest in developing food value-chains for timely supply. These states can enter the profitable, value added segment of food-processing. These include: Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Tripura, Delhi and West Bengal.

Technology - Upgradation Strategy The states at the middle of agricultural productivity need to invest in new information systems, introduce high yield seeds, quality fertilisers and equipment. These include: UP, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.

Investments Strategy -The laggards need to invest heavily to train farmers about good farm practices and high yield methods. Interest-free loans, subsidised seeds and fertilisers are needed in Rajasthan, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal, Sikkim, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.

AMIT KAPOOR- The author is with Institute for Competitiveness

FAO’s thought for food

Feeding the world’s seven billion people is not an easy task. As the number of mouths to feed rises, so will the complexity of solutions required to meet the challenge

Feeding the world’s seven billion people is not an easy task. As the number of mouths to feed rises, so will the complexity of solutions required to meet the challenge. A return to simple farming is not an option.

Yet this is what multilateral agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) advocate. Now, 50 years after the Green Revolution was begun, FAO wants to turn the clock back. On Monday, this adjunct of the United Nations proposed a model to overcome the food barrier. It wants to carry out what it calls Sustainable Crop Production Intensification,or SCPI,that it describes in a new book Save and Grow.

This approach advocates a return of focus on the small farmer, use of resources “wisely” (meaning less intensively), fewer pesticides, soil conservation and water preservation. It wants small-hold agriculture to be made profitable; transfer of “appropriate” technologies and much more. Basically a return to pre-1960s’ way of doing farming.

There is something eerie about such advocacy. There is no doubt that today resource constraints are acute. India, for example, has witnessed some of its intensive agriculture regions deplete their water levels alarmingly. This even as demand for food has gone up dramatically. This is going to rise further after food security is enshrined as a law. In such a situation, it would be suicidal to return to “organic” farming as it were. Water use would certainly come down, but so would output—a recipe for chaos. India has also pretty much exhausted its land frontier—the potential use of land with the available technology.

There are, of course, fixes to the problem. Africa, for example, has a huge land mass available for agriculture, but lacks technology and experience of the kind that India has. Indian farmers have been relocating there to big farms that are available on long leases. Indian farmers can reap economies of scale (most farmers in African countries are parcelled out in 50-100-hectare lots) while Africa can get its farmers trained. Then, there is the use of biotechnology to boost output using the same level of inputs.

These ideas hardly find any mention in SCPI, which, shorn of its verbal promise, is something that is hardly practicable today.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The growing


Seed shortages during the sowing season have become regular phenomena across the country. The reasons vary from public agencies’ incompetence to seed companies’ hidden motives, adding to it the middlemen, agents and distributers further play spoilsport in the vicious cycle with the rising cases of black-marketing and spurious seeds, particularly in Bt cotton.

Cotton sowing is in brisk pace in major growing areas, thanks to more than normal monsoon rain across the cotton growing belts. The well timed arrival of southwest monsoon and higher prices has encouraged farmers to go for early sowing of cotton, but the reported cases of shortages of Bt cotton seed and rampant incidences of black-marketing is waning the good show.

The seed shortage is anticipated to be over 10% for the 2011 kharif season, which may result in the area under cotton declining by one million hectare from the present 11 million hectare. Cotton production, too, may come down by three million bales from the 33-million bale production estimate for the current season.

This demand-supply gap led to the black-marketing of Bt cotton seeds across the cotton growing states. The cotton seeds were even distributed under police protection during the last few years in many parts of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, as there were riots for seeds.

In 2010, Bt cotton was grown on 9.4 million hectares in the country or 85.5 per cent of the total estimated 11 million hectares under cotton in India. Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are major Bt cotton growing states in the country. Bt cotton has surpassed 90 per cent of cotton acreage this kharif season with farmers continuing to gain from the high-yielding seed since its commercialisation in 2002. There are 80 companies marketing 300 hybrids of Bt cotton seeds in India.

Demand & Supply situation for the Kharif season, 2011;


Demand (lakh packets)

Supply (lakh Packets)

Gap (lakh Packets)




~ 50

Reasons for the shortage

Quality seed is said to be the basis for successful agriculture production; but imagine the situation where only half of the seed demand is met with and only handfuls of farmers prove to be lucky enough.

The unseasonal rainfall in November and December damaged the field activities regarding seed production, which may have resulted in a shortage situation, as per the industry source. But as per the distributers and agents, shortage of cotton seeds is also attributed to the farmers' preference for particular varieties. Otherwise, a lot of seeds are available in the markets from other seed companies and of many brands.

It is alleged that a few seed brands popular with farmers had created an artificial shortage. Thus, knowingly going with lesser quantity seed production, which seems to compensate its profits and make the business lucrative enough.

The premium price

In all cotton growing states, the prices of Bt cotton seeds for BG 1 and BG 2 cotton seed has been revised at Rs 830 and Rs 930 per 450 gram packet, respectively, for 2011-12. But seed companies had sought an increase in the MSP to Rs 850 and Rs 1,050, respectively.

From March 2011 onwards, private seed industry has been lobbying with the State governments to increase Bt cotton seed. They were instrumental in bringing together various Agricultural Ministers in Ahmedabad to discuss this. Subsequently, Gujarat increased the seed prices, followed by Karnataka and other States.

There was intense pressure in Andhra Pradesh to increase the seed prices. Government also organized a series of meetings, claiming it is only to discuss fixing of seed prices. Of course, it is another matter that there was no discussion on any other seed, but Bt seed.

While these efforts have been going on, private seed industry has been releasing information to the media claiming that there are 3.4 crore Bt seed packets, and they expect the demand to be more than this. Their expectation was that the shortage or additional demand would be 40 lakh packets.

Farmers prefer cotton seeds of particular companies, which were not able to meet the demand. This is leading to sale of these particular brands in black market at higher prices. Dealers say that apart from Mahyco (MECH 7351) there is a shortage of some varieties made by companies like Ajeet Seeds and Nuziveedu Seeds too.

Major Private players:

  • Rasi Seeds
  • Nuziveedu Seeds
  • Mahyco-Monsanto
  • Vibha Seeds
  • Shriram Bioseed
  • Ganga-Kaveri Seeds
  • JK Agrigenetics Ltd.
  • Ajeet Seeds
  • Others

Black-marketing on a high

Black marketing of Bt cotton seeds has become a routine issue during the sowing season in the past few years. At many of the places farmers have to pay as much as Rs 2000- 3000 for a 450 g Bt cotton seed packet with a printed price of Rs 700- 900.

The seed companies have also taken advance booking amounts from the dealers and, in turn, dealers also get bookings from farmers as early as January for ensuring the required seed quantity.

Inter-state black marketing is in operation across the border districts of Andhra, Maharashtra and Karnataka at very large scale. The blackmarketeers earn booty within a few days, almost equalling to their year round income.

Vigilance and Quality Control department has to be created and made more pro-active on field level rather than its engagement in only issuing certificates and licences.

Possible implications

As some farmers grudgingly buy, others are left with no choice but to go for some other alternative crop this season due to the prohibitively high rates demanded by touts. The next choice is maize, which fetches less than half the price a quintal of cotton does. Thus, area under cotton and, ultimately, the production will be affected by such diversion of cotton area with other alternate crops sown in case of seed shortage. It would prove a bigger jolt for the whole Indian agriculture situation, as cotton is the crop that has climbed the ladder of success globally at utmost speed and within a minimum time.

The cotton seed business has transformed into a purely cash business and even advances were given by the farmers in parts of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh for booking the required quantity of seed packet 6 months before the supply. The trend has made farmers more vulnerable to the defaults by dealers and other middlemen by the assurance of supplying certain quantities of seeds well on time.

Who is responsible for this fiasco - Companies or Government?

Seed prices were increased by the governments, with no independent verification of the information proffered by the seed companies about rising seed production costs. However, their own information shows that seed farmers, who invest their capital in seed production and sell them to the companies, get only 20-30 percent of the market price of the seed cost. When the seed prices were increased by Gujarat, it was reported that Rs.500 of the increase would go to seed farmers. Government in AP did not even declare how much of the rise of Rs.180 would be shared with the seed farmers. In either case, none of the governments have taken any legal guarantees from the seed companies about sharing this price increase with the seed farmers.

Government looks helpless in tackling the menaces of demand-supply imbalance, black-marketing and spurious seeds and, thus, ensure supply of the preferred brand seeds in large quantities.

Today, our greatest agony is that the government establishments like NSC, SFCI, State Agriculture Departments, etc. have proved to be completely incompetent in seed production activities even after owning vast tracts of cultivable areas and employing a large chunk of human resource.

There seems to be a lot of distortion, fudging and deliberate misinformation being spread by the seed companies, primarily to increase the anxiety among farmers and mint profits out of such anxiety. Unfortunately, government seems to be a ‘knowingly’ silent spectator, if not a partner-in-arms.

So, to ensure the required quantity of quality seed well on time to the farmers, government has to either maintain a fair stock of seeds for the upcoming season, or strengthen the infrastructure at their very own establishments and set up an authority to check the repetition of such untoward situation time and again.


Dr. Gurdial Singh, Jt. Director-Agriculture, Punjab

“Due to good returns from cotton during last year, currently, we are witnessing a 15-20% rise in the area covered under cotton. This season farmers have got 25 lakh packets of Bt cotton seeds and there is no such problem of cotton seed shortage reported from anywhere in Punjab. About 20 companies are marketing the Bt cotton in the state and cotton sowing is in its full swing as we received few pre-monsoon rains since last one month”.

Mahesh Galtani, Owner- Ajanta Seeds, Mehekar, Buldhana Distt, MS

This season we have sold about 20,000 packets of Bt cotton seeds @ Rs 930/- per packet of 450 g as per its MRP and also fixed by the state government. Our agency deals with the seeds of Mahyco-Monsanto, Ajeet Seeds and Krishidhan Seeds. As the seed produced is less this year due to unseasonal rains in many parts of peninsular India, the supply side was constrained booking was more. We already supplied the quantities booked with us.

N. S. Reddy, Farmer, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh

I have bought 5 packets of Bt cotton seeds for my land at very exorbitant price of Rs 1500 per packet. As it was available in the open market so I have purchased the same with a local tout. It seems everyone, including government, companies and department is all hands in glove to exploit the poor and destitute farmers.

Untoward substitution

The use of grains like wheat, rice and bajra as poultry feed may put a question mark over the perennial issue of food security and unwanted shift in the cropping system of major production centres.

We are all bound to surpass the highest ever mark of wheat production during the current season, but inspite of much hue & cry in the market, government seems nonchalant over allowing the wheat exports. India's current food stocks stand at 27.8 million tonnes of rice, 31.4 million tonnes of wheat and 0.1 million tonnes of coarse grains, adding up to a food mountain twice as large as is required by official buffer stocking norms.

This has led to the steep plunge of the wheat prices not only below the government's promised minimum support price, but also the market price of maize. This resulted in the large scale use of wheat in poultry feeds in place of maize. As price is the first consideration in choosing any raw material for the production of any manufactured product, the suite followed for the poultry industry.

Maize and Wheat both are important components of poultry feed; but Maize has traditionally been in use, particularly in Indian conditions added to the same recent spike in the prices of the corns made it far from being used in the poultry feeds.

In addition to wheat, Bajra and other coarse grains and Soya are now being used as an ingredient of the poultry feed in the view of the maize price touching a high, which is proving detrimental for the steady growth of the poultry industry.

The poultry industry uses nearly 60% of India's corn production while the starch industry consumes around 25% ; the remaining grains are used as cattle feed and for human consumption. Poultry and cattle farmers are now opting for bajra and broken rice for feed which was being sold for Rs 11,000 a tonne.

“Wheat is available for as low as Rs 7.50 per kilo, compared to corn which is selling for not less than Rs 10 per kg due to demand from industrial users such as starch processors and exports”.

MSP and other production incentives made the wheat production cheaper, which is not the case with Maize and other crops. But private sector hybrids and its suitability to be grown in more than one season with extended growing season.

Since the private trade knows that the government would not allow exports, it is not entering the market. The government's own capacity to procure grains is limited outside the traditional procurement areas of Punjab and Haryana, making no sense of the concept of a minimum support price outside these privileged states.

The private sector has largely been kept aloof from the agricultural affairs in the country and never incentivized/ promoted by the union or state governments. Their considerable presence cannot be seen more than inputs domain. Supply side has been largely mismanaged by the public agencies like FCI, SFC, MMTC and other state level agencies.

Implications on Food security

With this unwanted diversion, the food security would be at stake, keeping in view the burgeoning population and money doled over the Wheat –Rice programmes in India. Since green revolution wheat has dominated the scene and patronised by almost everyone, from policy makers to the research fraternity with a blind eye towards other food crops, alike many of the millets and pulses which are in rich nutrition, can resist more adverse growing situations, with the engagements of least inputs and at lasts brings higher remuneration to the growers. Government’s skewed policies are largely to be blamed for the inequitable crop distribution, unsustainable growth and sorry state of agriculture.

The reason trotted out for not allowing exports, despite the fact that a large portion of the stocks are stacked in the open, in danger of being drenched in monsoon rains and spoilt beyond redemption, is that the government does not know how much of grain would be required to implement the proposed/ upcoming food security law.

So chicken will eat wheat this year! As prices stay depressed, farmers will switch from wheat to some other crop or just simply reduce acreage, come next sowing season. There could well be a shortage of wheat next year, thanks to policy that makes chickenfeed of wheat. This is most unfortunate. Blame it on the bureaucracy's refusal to take a decision. Domestic grain prices have plunged, thanks to bumper harvests, stocks far in excess of buffer stocking norms and a steadfast refusal to allow export of grain.

Superior grain wheat has become chicken feed in India, as low prices make it the best option for poultry farms that usually feed birds a mix of expensive corn and soyabean meal.

High moisture content in corn harvested in Bihar along with an increase in exports have been attributed as the main reasons for higher corn prices. Wide scale local availability of wheat grains also considered to be a point in its possible role in replacing the maize as an ingredient of poultry feeds.

Indian Poultry under simmering stress

Poultry industry is under stress due to multiple set of problems. They are barely able to survive despite decline in the feed prices due to the new found use of the other substitute grains of Wheat and Bajra in place of Maize.

During summer, farmers have to invariably use sprinklers and water coolers to keep birds cool. This not only requires additional expenditure, but also needs extra space, because of which production comes down leading to drop in supplies.

Rise in input cost and lower consumption due to summer season have resulted in poultry farmers barely recovering cost of production, as retail prices remain stagnant for the last few years.

India is the world’s fifth largest broiler producer with an estimated production of 2.3 million tonne per annum. However, there is a huge scope for growth of poultry industry as the country’s per capita consumption is only 2.4 kg per person per annum. Per capita consumption of broiler meat has grown at 10% in last 15 years”.

Road ahead

Corn supplies will start in a month or two from the states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and there is some hope of price correction with this. The rabi yield accounts for only 15 % to 20% of the total maize production in the country. However, it is important for the industry to keep a stock of one-to-three months.

The beleaguered industry has already asked the Centre to stop corn export to ensure stable prices. And as per industry estimation, if corn exports are discontinued, prices will fall by 5% to 10%, which can provide a sigh of relief to the poultry farmers and industry at large.