- By Vivek Kaul
As countries have rapidly urbanized in the past, land has been taken away from agriculture. Take the case of the British industry. As Amartya Sen told The Telegraph newspaper in a 2007 interview: "Prohibiting the use of agricultural land for industries is ultimately self-defeating...The locations of great industry, be it Manchester or Lancashire, these were all on heavily fertile land. Industry has always competed against agriculture because the shared land was convenient for industry for trade and transportation." This has often led to a situation where as land has been taken away from agriculture less food has been produced, leading to countries having to import food in order to feed its citizens.
As Lester R Brown points out in Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures: "As a country industrialises and modernises, cropland is used for industrial and residential development. As automobile ownership spreads, the construction of roads, highways, and parking lots... takes valuable land away from agriculture."
This phenomenon was observed in Japan as well. As Brown puts it: "Japan was essentially self-sufficient in grain when its grain harvested area peaked in 1955. Since then, the grainland area has shrunk by half...With grain consumption climbing and production falling, grain imports soared... A similar analysis for South Korea and Taiwan shows a pattern almost identical with that of Japan."
With the Bhartiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance(NDA) trying to make land acquisition easier by trying to push through the The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, is there a danger of India getting into a similar situation like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have in the past?
First and foremost it needs to be pointed out that India has a large amount of arable land. As Akhilesh Tilotia writes in The Making of India: "India's arable area as a proportion of its land area is at 48 per cent(159 million ha/329 million ha) which places India as the country with the highest arable area in the world."
Hence, even if some amount of this land is taken away from agriculture for urbanization as well as industrialization, it won't create much of a problem, as it has in other countries like Japan and South Korea in the past.
As Tilotia points out: "Even if the most optimistic scenarios of India's urbanization were to play out over the next decade, or so, the total urban land area will be less than 6 per cent of its land mass, compared to the 48 per cent that is currently under agriculture." Given this, in the years to come an adequate amount of land will continue to remain dedicated to agriculture.
Further, despite a little under half of the land area of the country being dedicated to agriculture, India lags behind in the rest of the world when it comes to agricultural productivity.
India has more arable land than China. This, despite the fact its total area is only around one-third of that of China. Nevertheless, China produces more rice and wheat than India does. As a report in The Wall Street Journal points out: "India is the second largest producer of rice and wheat after China, with China producing about 40% more rice and wheat than India. India is also the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world after China, but China's fruit production is three times India's production."
A report in the Mint newspaper using 2013 data from the Food and Agricultural Organization points out: "India produces 106.19 million tonnes of rice a year from 44 million hectares of land. That's a yield rate of 2.4 tonnes per hectare, placing India at 27th place out of 47 countries. China and Brazil have yield rates of 4.7 tonnes per hectare and 3.6 tonnes per hectare, respectively."
The situation is not any different when it comes to wheat. "With 93.51 million tonnes of wheat from 29.65 million hectares, India's yield rate of 3.15 tonnes per hectare places it 19th out of 41 countries. Here, we do better than Brazil's yield rate of 2.73 tonnes per hectare, but lag behind South Africa (3.4 t/ha) and China (4.9 t/ha)," the report points out.
A major reason for low productivity is the decrease in the average size of a farm over the decades. The State of the Indian Agricultural Report for 2012-2013 points out that: "As per Agriculture Census 2010-11, small and marginal holdings of less than 2 hectare account for 85 per cent of the total operational holdings and 44 per cent of the total operated area. The average size of holdings for all operational classes (small & marginal, medium and large) have declined over the years and for all classes put together it has come down to 1.16 hectare in 2010-11 from 2.82 hectare in 1970-71."
What this clearly highlights is the low productivity of Indian agriculture. As Tilotia points out: "In spite of such large land resources being devoted to agriculture, India still does not top the charts in overall production, which reflects poorly on its yield performance. India has significant potential for increasing its yield."
Multi-cropping among Indian farmers has gone up over the years but it still lags China on this front. "In 2013, India produced 500 million tonnes of food stuff for its population of 1.2 billion people, or around 400 kg per person...The half-a-billion tons of production comprised almost equally of food grains and horticulture(fruits and vegetables)...Sharp increase in production over the last decade(4.7% per year volume growth) handsomely beat population growth([around] 1.2 per cent per year)," writes Tilotia.
Nevertheless, a lot of improvement is still needed on the agricultural productivity front. And that remains the biggest challenge for Indian agriculture in the time to come.
Vivek Kaul is the Editor of the Diary and The Vivek Kaul Letter. Vivek is a writer who has worked at senior positions with the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) and The Economic Times, in the past. He is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. The latest book in the trilogy Easy Money: The Greatest Ponzi Scheme Ever and How It Is Set to Destroy the Global Financial System was published in March 2015. The books were bestsellers on Amazon. His writing has also appeared in The Times of India, The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, Business World, Business Today, India Today, Business Standard, Forbes India, Deccan Chronicle, The Asian Age, Mutual Fund Insight, Wealth Insight, Swarajya, Bangalore Mirror among others.