Agriculture needs to adjust itself to realities of the global trade regime

Updated: Jan 27 2005, 05:30am hrs
Indian agriculture has come of age: it is now stable. Our yields are consistent irrespective of good or bad monsoons, subject to a variation of less than 5%.

With burgeoning stocks in the country, food security is no longer a issue. What is needed now is to ensure nutritional security for millions of the malnourished. With a resilience capacity built up in our agriculture, we should now venture to launch a second phase of revolution and participate in the global economic environment.

Indian agriculture has to adjust itself to the realities of the global trade regime, including sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS), intellectual property rights (IPRs) and even general agreement on tariff and services (GATS), technical barriers to trade (TBT) and non-tariff barriers.

Agricultural scientists also need to engage themselves in newer areas of innovation, including discovery of new genes for ensuring nutritional security and developing crop varieties resistant to both biotic and abiotic stresses. The sense of hygiene will not only ensure nutritional security but also boosts the prospects of our exports, which at times are hindered on account of SPS measures.

The research agenda, therefore, needs to be enlarged. This would call for stepping up of investment in agriculture research. I feel, at this stage, the support for agricultural research should be increased from 0.5% to 1% of agricultural GDP.

Not only should budgetary support for agricultural research be increased, but the attitude towards research should also undergo change. We need a more science-friendly administration.

In IARI alone, modernising our plant breeding system will require an investment of Rs 20 crore in a span of three years. There are several other agricultural research institutes and universities which also need such support for their research.

Global climate change is a reality and has a definite impact on agriculture. We should prepare ourselves to meet this challenge. Now on account of a bad monsoon the crop yield declines by less than 5%. If the impact of global climate change increases, this variation in yield will be marked with a greater percentage. Tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones and storm surges may become frequent. We need to create a database on these natural calamities.

In areas affected by the recent tsunami, where sea water remained for more than two days, electrical conductivity in the soil has gone up 10 times and the soil pH has gone up. It may take one or two years to restore the soil back to health. Hence these areas will need saline-tolerant crop varieties.

There is a need to conserve natural resources which are becoming scarce. Drip irrigation has grown considerably. For conserving soil health, we need to produce a new generation of farm machines and implements.

It is important that existing extension services undergo changes. There is a need for collaboration between public sector research institutes and the private sector for carrying research from labs to fields at a cheaper price.

There is also a need for setting up of a strong marketing infrastructure with the help of information technology for ensuring both domestic and global price intelligence, and rendering information of quality.

We also need to develop peri-urban horticulture and agriculture for ensuring nutritional security to the vast urban population at cheaper prices. These peri-urban areas should be free from heavy metals and toxicity. Farming in these areas can be done as protected agriculture system on the model of Indo-Israeli Project which ensures growing of crops of different agro-climatic zones.

The writer is director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi