Before 1950, food shortages were frequent in India. The poor state of Indian agriculture was high-lighted by the famous Bengal famine of 1942, which took a heavy toll of human and cattle life.
However, after independence top priority was accorded to the agriculture sector which caused miraculous developments in Indian agriculture. Now, we are not only self-sufficient but have enough surplus food grain to export to other countries as well. The record production of 181 million tons during the year 1992-93 is a testimony to the resilience of Indian agriculture.
The rapid rise in total food grain production in India was made possible by use of modem technology of intensive agriculture. For a period of about two decades, beginning in 1950 A.D., the rising productivity was largely due to rapid rise in overall area under cultivation of cereals.
The total cropped area grew from 97.3 million hectares in 1950 to about 124.3 million hectares in 1970 A.D., while the food grain production was doubled. From a meagre 50.8 million tons in 1950 A.D. it grew to 108.4 million tons in 1970 A.D. After 1970, there has been an insignificant rise in total area used for grain cultivation. However, the rising trend in production has been maintained at the same pace due to the Green Revolution which revolutionized Indian agriculture during the period.
It enabled us to produce more and more grains from the same fields. Total cropped area fluctuated around 125 million hectares but the food production shot up to 176 million tons in 1990-91 and to 181 million tons in 1992- 93. In order to maintain the crops we had to expand irrigation facilities, use large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. This was naturally an expensive proposition but we had to feed a rapidly growing population and acquire self-sufficiency in food grain production.
Rapid strides in food grain production resulted in degradation of soils and their erosion. By 1990 A.D., we were losing about 5,300 million tons of soil every year which corresponds to about 16 tons of soil per hectare (Gurmel Singh quoted by Venkataramani 1991).
There was extensive degeneration of fertile soils. Since 1985 A.D. the total area under cultivation has not increased, meaning thereby that we have probably reached the utmost limits. The cost of extending our irrigated area is rising every day while rapidly rising demands of edibles have necessiated large imports of fertilizers as their production is not sufficient for country’s total requirement. The amount of energy used in agriculture has also been rising. A large number of traditional varieties of crop plants we cultivated earlier have disappeared or are on the brink of extinction.
Though per hectare fertilizer-use and energy consumption in India is pretty low as compared to world’s averages but even this is enough for us. Our agriculture is slowly being converted into an unsustainable system. In years to come, the cost of fertilizers and chemicals which we use in our fields, the cost of energy which we require for cultivation, even the cost of seeds which we plant are likely to rise, making the agricultural products costlier. This will affect the millions of uneducated poors. Naturally we shall have to find some other sustainable alternative. It will be wise if we start right from now before the greedy ways of intensive agriculture take their toll.