Agriculture and Food security


It is a matter of great pleasure for me to be at this historic and beautiful capital, Bhubaneswar, to participate in the Convocation of the Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology.  Orissa has occupied a special place in the cultural and intellectual life of India.  About the people of Orissa C.F. Andrews, one of the early associates of Mahatma Gandhi, had said as follows:-

“If love is the first act of service, then it is easy to begin to serve Orissa, for a more lovable people I have never met with elsewhere in the whole of India.  They win your heart from the first moment that you come among them.  It is not easy to analyse how or why this is.” But I can feel it and I want to thank the Government and  the people of Orissa for the warm welcome they have extended to me.

This University was set up in 1962 to serve Orissa and its people and to be a pioneering institution for the agricultural and educational development of Eastern India.  Modelled after the U.S. land-grant Universities and inter-acting with them in the 1960's, this University evolved as a new kind of educational institution co-ordinating teaching, research and extension, and establishing intimate contact with the people and their problems particularly with the cultivators in the blocks of villages around it.

 The Agricultural University Committee set up by the Government of India in 1960 had observed: "The basic concept of the agricultural university involves a direct responsibility and responsiveness to the needs of the cultivators, as contrasted it with being only a seat of learning and scholarship.   It recognizes a responsibility for the economic development and the improvement of the status of the people of the State."   In a developing country like India with its vast population and immense problems this is a concept that is applicable to every university.  One of the central objectives of agricultural universities is to apply science to the practical needs of society and to address the basic problems of the common man, and not confine themselves merely to basic research and laboratory work.   I am glad that the Orissa University of Science and Technology has been pursuing research, teaching and training along with extension in an integrated manner.  It has produced high yielding varieties of rice, new pesticides and popularised improved methods of farming.  It is one of those institutions which played an important part in India's Green Revolution.  Orissa and India could be proud of its achievements.

Between 1965 and 1972 the production of wheat in India increased from 12 million tonnes to 26 million tonnes.  Dr. Haldore Hanson, Director General of the International Maize and Research Centre, Mexico said :  "India has doubled its production in seven years with little change in the land area.  I have not heard of any other country or region, anywhere or any time, that has managed to double production of so large a food crop in so short a time.  The introduction of hybrid corn in the United States produced no such record."

The achievement of the Green Revolution can be grasped fully if one realizes that India which produced only 50 million tonnes of foodgrains in 1951 now produces over 180 million tonnes of foodgrains.  The Green Revolution has taken India beyond self-sufficiency to a situation of modest surplus for exports and that with a buffer stock of around 30 million tonnes.  In the last decade per capita production in foodgrains jumped by 23% in India surpassing the rate of population growth.  But then for the world as a whole it has increased by 22% and for China the increase in per capita production has been by 39%.  What is, however, noteworthy is that we have achieved this within a democratic system, and without violent upheavals.  And we have since independence warded off famines which in other countries have taken toll of millions of human lives during this period.

If we take into account the whole of India and the nutritional standards of large sections of our vast population the Green Revolution was only a beginning.  The Green Revolution, which was based on development of favoured regions of our country with combined use of high yielding new varieties of seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, and improved farming methods, has now to be extended to less favoured regions.  It is gratifying that it has spread in the last decade to the eastern region of the country which Dr. M.S. Swaminathan has described as the "non-green revolution" green area.  It has been observed that the growth in rice production in the eastern States in the 1980's at 4.6% per annum was equal to the rate of growth of wheat production in north India during the decades of the wheat revolution.  In spite of such welcome development the extension of the green revolution to the whole of India remains a task yet to be accomplished..

As the late Dr. V.K.R.V. Rao has observed: "The growth we have witnessed in Indian agriculture is not growth with equity or social justice and the problem is how to bring about growth along with social justice.  The answer to it probably lies in the diversion of governmental attention to the productivity of small holdings rather than to that of larger holdings."  There is need for developing neglected and backward areas, and also for a comprehensive programme of minor irrigation schemes.  The Green Revolution must embrace the food items of the common people such as coarse grains and pulses.  Above all land reforms which stopped half way more or less in India must be carried forward, and the distribution of excess and wastelands to the people must be completed.

When we embarked upon our policy of planned development almost the whole of India was a vast undeveloped area.  Therefore national concentration was upon general development.  Only after the country as a whole began to develop and a minimum of economic and technological infrastructure was built up that attention could be devoted to regional and sectional disparities.  Only in the middle sixties with the Fourth Five Year Plan onwards that special programmes were drawn up for dry farming, for desert areas, for small farmers and for agricultural labourers.  In the Seventies planning devoted special attention to regional disparities and backward areas, and was followed by massive anti-poverty and rural development programmes.

All these shook up our agricultural sector and our rural society, but did not affect substantially our agrarian structure or our social system.  We had understood long ago, even before independence, that land reforms were at the root of productive and progressive agriculture, but we have failed to carry out in practice these basic reforms.  Historical experience tells that the foundation of the miraculous economic advance made by Japan was the far-reaching land reforms carried out soon after the end of the war.  The new Asian tigers like Taiwan and Korea had also implemented land reforms which enabled them to move forward as successful economies.  In China too agrarian reforms started off their new liberalization policy.  In India too I believe it would be changes in the agrarian structure that would provide a solid basis as well as momentum to our ambitious liberalization programme and also invest it with the indispensable element of social justice. 

The fact that the agrarian structure in India has not changed materially is shown by the fact that the percentage of population engaged in agriculture as a proportion of the total work force in the country has come down only marginally from 70.7% in 1975 to 66.5% in 1990.  In China this proportion has come down to 49% from 77.2%. As for Orissa it has the capacity of achieving significant agricultural successes provided necessary inputs and incentives are given.  Studies conducted by the Planning Commission and the Reserve Bank of India have found that Orissa has the highest intensity of land use in irrigated area and the highest number of private wells energised per 1000 hectare of net area sown.  That shows that with the right kind of inputs and extension services the agricultural scenario in Orissa can be substantially changed.  This University has an important role to play in bringing about such a transformation.

Lord Linlithgow, one of the Viceroys of India, once observed that "the cow and the working bullock bear on their patient back the whole structure of Indian agriculture."  I would add to them the poor peasant and the agricultural labourer.  In the modern age one could add agricultural scientists and agricultural universities to those who shoulder the burden of Indian agriculture.  To-day along with social change in the rural sector, scientific and technological inputs are the most critical elements in our agricultural development.  That is why we should attach particular attention to extension education and extension work among the farmers.  The essence of extension is the dissemination of new knowledge and scientific methods of cultivation among the farmers.  That should include research into and study of environment-friendly fertilizers and pesticides as well as in the development of new varieties of seeds and plants which are not only high yielding but resistant to drought and pests.  The new biology and bio-technology have presented before us incredible prospects of genetic engineering to produce new varieties of plants and animals.  Tissue culture is being propagated for sugarcane, turmeric, ginger, rubber, cardamum, banana and some medicinal and aromatic plants.  Transgenic plants are visualized which are resistant to pests, weeds, weather, salt, drought, and which produce even their own fertilizers.  One day deserts and wastelands could be made to bloom.  Indeed if  some of the reckless experiments of biotechnologists would not tamper with and upset the balance of nature and the divine order, one could see a vision of plenty as sung by the poet : -

                                " Where there is neither death nor age
                                  And the poor have all the money;
                                  The wells are full of wine,
                                  New bread grows on trees.
                                  And roasted pigs run about
                                  Crying `Eat me, if you please'.  "

Without dreaming of such a biotechnological paradise - in any case neither wells full of wine nor roasted pigs running about may appeal to our policies and our tastes -- we can do some good research in our agricultural universities to develop new seeds and plants which would meet the needs of our people for food, nutrition and a good life.  The flower of our youth who are in educational institutions like this have the opportunity of trying to realize their dreams and aspirations by serving the people of this beautiful State, of our  motherland, and by serving humanity. 

It is important  that educated youth with the new knowledge that they have acquired should meet and mingle with people of the villages, create awareness among them and help in organizing them for social action.  I was glad to read recently in the newspapers that in one of the districts of Orissa groups of young students have been engaged in such activities in the villages.  I hope that such voluntary youth action will spread like wild fire in the country as a whole.  The students of this University can perhaps give a lead to such a constructive youth movement.

                                May I now congratulate all the students who have taken their degrees to-day and their prizes and are standing tip-toe with expectation at the door-step of a new life.  I wish them all a Happy New Year, and success and self-fulfilment in life.

Thank you.