But the CEA self-censors himself: No mention of genetic modification technology to cope with weather-related stresses in the Economic Survey, unlike last year, when it said GM technology was important for more-from-less agriculture.
India has broadly two different kinds of agriculture so there cannot be one, common, policy for them, says Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) Arvind Subramanian in a very readable chapter in the Economic Survey on agriculture in the time of climate change. The well-irrigated, “input-addled,” and price-and-procurement-supported, rice and wheat growing farmer in northern India should be weaned from wasteful subsidies in kind to transfers to bank accounts.
For another kind of agriculture which is rain dependent, inadequately insured with irrigation against vagaries of the weather, and poorly backed by technology and procurement, another set of policies are needed. Since agriculture is a state subject, the centre and the states must come together in a spirit of cooperative federalism like they do in the GST Council, the CEA advises.
Indian agriculture has been romanticised. The CEA quotes a song in Manoj Kumar’s Upkaar, “Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle ugle heerey moti,” and cites Tulsidas to illustrate his point. The farmer is seen as “innocent, unsullied, hard-working, in harmony with nature; and yet poor, vulnerable, and the victim, first of the imperial masters and then of indigenous landlords and middlemen.” Subramanian clearly does not share this view. Agriculture can be paying only if fewer numbers engage in it. The displaced will have to migrate to manufacturing or services. Those left behind will have to produce enough for all. This requires a jump in productivity and less volatility in prices.
The Economic Survey says the impact of climate change is felt only in the extreme, that is, when temperature is much higher, rainfall much lower and the number of dry days greater than normal.
The brunt is felt more by rain-dependent areas which account for 52 percent or 73.2 million hectares of the country’s sown area of 141.4 million hectares.
Applying temperatures predicted by IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) and India’s recent trend in rainfall, and assuming business as usual, farm income losses are estimated at 15-18 percent on average rising to 20-25 percent for unirrigated areas. This translates into a loss of Rs 3,600 a year for the median farm household, the Survey says.
Irrigation is the best insurance against climate change. But rising water scarcity and depleting groundwater makes this a challenging option. Area under irrigation has increased from 20 percent in the 1960s to over 40 percent now. The Indo-Gangetic Plains and parts of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are well irrigated. The rest will have to ensure that they produce more per drop with drip and sprinkler irrigation.
Disincentives will have to be created to halt groundwater depletion in north-west India which pumps out twice as much as China and the United States. In this region, there has been a 13 percent decline in water table over the past 30 years.
The Survey recognises the importance of research and development for climate-resilient agriculture. Genetic modification (GM) technology is an important tool to cope with stresses caused by weather and pests. But the RSS, the mentor of the ruling party, is opposed to it. The CEA seems to have self-censored himself. There is no mention of GM technology in this chapter. Last year he had cited it in the Survey. And his endorsement of B R Ambedkar’s view that villages are “a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism,” challenges the idyllic RSS view of them