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How should we feed the world? – By Yogita Kadu

Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, once said, this planet can cater to 4 billion people at the most on its own. Right now, we have 7 billion people.

If science had not come to rescue the situation, many would have starved to death. But, science, like fire, if not used properly can also harm.

The Green Revolution, based on high-yielding varieties, irrigation, chemical fertiliser and pesticides did produce more food than humanity needs today.

Supply is not the problem, storage is. In fact, as per FAO, 30 per cent of the food produced never reaches our stomachs due to high food losses in the journey from harvest to retail and high waste at the consumer end. So, there is no dearth of food supplies, though access to food is an income issue.

To ensure that people do not die of hunger, each country has to devise its own policies. India has the largest food subsidy programme in the world, the PM-Garib Kalyan Yojana, under which 813 million people get free rice/wheat.

Do fertilizer subsidies help?

The issue of harming the planet by inappropriate policies has, however, remained largely unaddressed. For example, the policy of heavily subsidising the use of chemical fertilisers, especially urea, has led to skewed use of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P) and potash (K). The soils have been damaged and are starving for organic carbon.

Do we care about the groundwater?

In most states, ground water is depleting. In Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, the situation is particularly serious, largely because free power for irrigation, minimum support prices and open-ended procurement of paddy (rice) have encouraged rampant groundwater exploitation. All this has led to an ecological disaster in this belt with the water table receding year by year, and paddy fields emitting carbon at the rate of almost 5 tons/ha.

These policies are also leading to the loss of crop diversity. For example, in 1960 in Punjab, only 4.8 per cent of the cropped area was under rice. Today, it is more than 40 per cent, displacing maize, millets, pulses and many oilseeds. Successful high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat also lead to loss of varietal diversity.

India, with only 2.4 per cent of the world’s geographical area, 4 per cent of global freshwater resources, and 18 per cent of the world’s population, is under huge stress, be it its soils, water, air (GHG emissions) or biodiversity.


Some solutions:

  1. Subsidise organic farming: Organic crops if grown, the cost of the end product is high. The benefit of high pricing of the labelled organic products hardly reaches the farmers. The farmers can get incentives to use organic bio fertilizers and biopesticides. PM-PRANAM (PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth) was launched in Union Budget 2023–24 with the aim to promote the balanced use of chemical and alternative fertilisers, generating awareness of regenerative agriculture (RA). However, the scheme has yet to reach farmers on a large scale. There is no separate budget. The plan entails granting 50% of the saved fertilizer subsidy, resulting from decreased chemical fertilizer usage compared to the previous three-year average, to the respective State or Union Territory. This needs to change to availability of bio fertilizer generating centers from the government’s end, from where such products can be purchased by the farmers, or helping farmers set up their own units near their farm land.
  2. The increase in cost of the final products such as alcohol or soyabean oil, must reach farmers producing sugarcane or soyabean respectively. The cost. For eg. Since 10 years, the cost of soyabean per quintal is Rs. 4480/- but the cost of soyabean oil in 2014 was Rs. 605/- per 10 kg, and now it has reached around Rs. 1296/- per 10 kg, almost doubled. (Inflation does not mean growth or income generation for farmers).
  3. Instead of solar pumps for drawing water, incentivizing farmers to set up earthen check dams, canals, earthen water tanks, rainwater harvesting unit near the fields, can help farmers use water in an eco-friendly manner.
  4. Agriculture as a subject can be pursued in practical manner in agriculture universities, with students doing a 4 year project work with an outcome based model. The students can get regular stipend from the government for such projects. These projects can include taking the charge of the farmer’s input, understanding tilling of land, monitoring soil health, enabling farm labourers with the use of advanced technology, helping farmers with meteorological data, and being with that farmer till the goal of target production per acre is achieved.
  5. Increasing the area under cultivation by deforestation is no longer an option for India. Increasing crop intensity is. With the same given area of land, vegetables, fruits grains and pulses are to be cultivated in cyclic manner. Scientific assessment of soil health can be undertaken by gram panchayats through surveys.
  6. This means employment generation of technical experts, scientists, researchers and enthusiastic young gardeners and farm-product growers in agriculture sector. (There are many young people making reels and shorts of their terrace gardening).
  7. Farmers are the ones who have always and will always feed the nation and the world. They toil to put food on our table. Their demand of legal MSP and even a basic regular salary is not wrong. The average age of farmers in India is 60. The day we have farmer scarcity, there will be no one pursuing farming and our so called self-sufficiency will be put in question.



Unless we change our policies that are peasant-positive but also planet-positive, we will be committing a crime towards our children and grandchildren. Time is running out. Climate change is upon us, and extreme weather events are likely to increase causing massive damage to lives and livelihoods. It is time to wake up and make our food systems not only climate resilient but also bring back our health to soils, arrest groundwater depletion, reduce GHG emissions significantly, and reward biodiversity through green credits.


By: Yogita Kadu

Picture of Yogita Kadu

Yogita Kadu

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