India was unique and innovative among developing countries in launching its Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. But this is no longer an India story. Many countries have followed the same path and achieved more. China has outpaced India in yield as well as productivity, given the same levels of input conditions. India has lost the entrepreneurship in this sector and has landed itself in a situation reminiscent of the 1960s and PL-480s.
The stagnation/decline in yields, productivity and even land under cultivation has been largely attributed to aspects of physical and financial infrastructure, poor prices, demographic changes and growth in real estate at the cost of agriculture. Less apparent as a contributor to this situation, and indeed a potential show-stopper, is the agriculture-related institutional set-up in the country, which is steeped in archaic thinking and procedures that had worked decades ago but no longer do. Over the years, it has created entrenched interests along the lab-land-consumer chain. It promises more of the same, with little regard for innovation, diversity and growth.
The world has seen a massive change in variants of crops and methods of improving productivity. There are a range of new varieties of food grains and pulses that are being grown at high levels of yield without increased application of traditional fertilisers and pesticides. This is better than the indiscriminate use of chemicals that pollute groundwater.
Indias current institutional mechanism is unduly centralised, conservative and bureaucratic in decisions relating to permitting new varieties of seeds, crops, nutrients, fertilisers and their applications. It sits in judgment on what constitutes a fertiliser, who can certify and permit usage, what should be the distribution channels, and which types should be supported. Thus, several interesting ideas that have the potential for raising yields are languishing for want of approval and institutional supportas one had noticed in the case of foliar fertilisers and agricultural enzymes. Illustratively, the case of a product patented as biofer was cited in a recent paper presented to the government by an inventors body. Biofer belongs to the family of terpenes, which are hydrocarbons extracted from plant lipids. Experiments conducted in different agricultural universities and research centres in India have shown that application of this productsprayed on foliage and rootsmakes plants resilient against diseases and also increases yield significantly. When applied experimentally to cotton, paddy, groundnut, sunflower, chillies, grapes and tomato in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the increase in yield recorded was 17-46%, depending on the crop. Yet, such products will not be allowedeven though a host of dubious medications that promise vigour and vitality can be bought off-the-shelf.
The current situation has been likened to that of Londons Red Flag Law in London which regulated the movement of horseless carriagesno wonder Britain lost out to Germany and the US. It is imperative to address issues of bureaucratic barriers, misdirected incentives, entrenched interests and closed minds alongside new infrastructural initiatives and allocation of funds. The next wave, if at all, can only be driven by innovation, new technologies and diversity in agriculture. It will only come about with wider space and choice for farmers, agriculture universities, research centres, and all other intermediaries to create new energies. It calls for a massive reform of agriculture-related governance.