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Q76- Commodities such as rice and sugar account for a large portion of India's agricultural exports; but, due to their water-intensive nature and production subsidies, they must be evaluated from a sustainability standpoint. Discuss the associated challen

Paper & Topic: GS II à Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal rearing.

 

  • Model Answer:

 

  • Introduction:

 

  • In the fiscal year 2020-21, agri-exports totaled $41.8 billion, up 18% from the previous year.
  • This has provided some relief and aided in the improvement of domestic agriculture prices.
  • Even these exports, however, fall far short of the $60 billion objective set by the current government for 2022.
  • As a result, from a strategic standpoint, it is vital to assess whether the current growth rate can be sustained over time, as well as the implications for Indian agriculture.

 

  • Body:

 

  • Agri-exports are made up of the following components:

 

  • Rice is the most exported crop, with 17.7 million tonnes (mt) worth $8.8 billion.
  • Marine products ($6 billion), spices ($4 billion), bovine (buffalo) meat ($3.2 billion), sugar ($2.8 billion), and other items follow.
  • Rice and sugar are water guzzlers that are substantially subsidised through cheap/free power for irrigation and fertilisers, raising worries about competition and environmental sustainability.
  • On top of that, sugar exports have been subsidised even more in order to reduce domestic stockpiles.
  • As a result, many sugar-exporting countries, including Australia, Brazil, Thailand, and others, have filed a WTO complaint against India.

 

  • Water-intensive crops raise the following concerns:

 

  • India is experiencing a severe water deficit.
  • India's cropping pattern is heavily skewed towards water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane, which take over 60% of the country's irrigation water, lowering water availability for other crops.
  • Our biggest concern with rising rice and sugar exports is their long-term viability.
  • India is a water-stressed country, with per capita water availability of 1,544 cubic metres in 2011 and projected to drop to 1,140 cubic metres by 2050.
  • One kilogramme of sugar necessitates a virtual water intake of 2,000 litres.
  • Exporting 7.5 million tonnes of sugar necessitates the export of at least 15 billion cubic metres of water.
  • The irrigation requirements for one kilogramme of rice vary from 3,000 to 5,000 gallons, depending on terrain.
  • If we take an average of 4,000 litres per person and assume that half of that is recycled back into groundwater, shipping 17.7 mt of rice equates to a virtual export of 35.4 billion cubic metres of water.
  • India exported almost 50 billion cubic metres of water when rice and sugar were combined.

 

  • Marathwada case study:

 

  • Maharashtra is at the heart of India's farm crisis, and the state's landlocked Marathwada region is in shambles.
  • It has been hit hard by water shortages, having seen three disastrous monsoons in a row, though this year's rains have brought farmers some relief.
  • Farmers attracted to the region by government incentives have started growing sugarcane, a water-intensive crop that is unsuited to the semi-arid climate of Marathwada.
  • During its 14-month growing cycle, sugarcane needs roughly 22.5 million litres of water per hectare, compared to just four million litres over four months for chickpeas, often known as gramme in India.
  • Sugarcane cultivation in drought-prone locations is a surefire way to run out of water.
  • Despite this, Maharashtra's sugarcane growing area has increased from 1,67,000 hectares in 1970-71 to 1,022,000 ha in 2011-12.
  • Despite being one of India's driest states, Maharashtra is the country's second-largest producer of this water-intensive crop.
  • Despite accounting for only 4% of farmed area, sugarcane now consumes 70% of Marathwada's irrigation water.
  • In Punjab and Haryana, a similar tale is unfolding, except instead of sugarcane, rice is being used.
  • Rice now covers 62 percent of Punjab's cultivated land, up from 10% in 1970.
  • Rice expansion has been similar in Haryana, a nearby state.
  •  Despite the fact that all crops have been affected by the droughts, India still produces more rice, wheat, and sugar than it consumes.
  • When both power and water are nearly free, it is natural for farmers to plant rice and cane.

 

  • Measures that must be taken:

 

  • Changes in policy:

 

  • According to an NITI Aayog report, farmers should be rewarded for switching from sugarcane to less water-intensive crops by offering a fair incentive.
  • The task group, led by NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand, has advised transferring sugarcane farmers to other crops on at least three lakh hectares for a payment of Rs 6,000 per hectare.
  • The task force advised that the new method be piloted for three years before being fully implemented.
  • The task committee, which includes secretaries from several ministries, has advised that just 85% of the sale slip (sugarcane purchase) be used to ensure that farmers plant alternative crops on at least 15% of their land.

 

  • New agricultural methods:

 

  • Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD): Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) is a water-saving technique that farmers can use in rice fields to reduce irrigation water use without lowering yield.
  • In AWD, irrigation water is given a few days after the ponded water has vanished.
  • As a result, the field alternates between being flooded and not being inundated.
  • The time between irrigations when the land is not inundated can range from 1 to more than 10 days, depending on a variety of factors such as soil type, weather, and crop growth stage.
  • Rice Direct Seeding: Direct seeded rice (DSR), the most ancient form of crop establishment, is gaining favour because to its low input requirements.
  • It has several advantages, including labour savings, reduced water use, reduced drudgery, early crop maturity, lower production costs, improved soil physical conditions for subsequent crops, and reduced methane emissions.
  • It also provides a better option for being the best fit in various cropping systems.

 

  • Redesigning the cropping pattern:
  • Cropping patterns in states should be redesigned to correspond to the agroclimatic zones.
  • Crop productivity and irrigation efficiency are both affected by improper cropping patterns.
  • It is critical for the Centre to develop a policy that provides farmers with constructive guidance on the best agricultural mix and assists them in achieving the cost-plus-50 percent margin.
  • During the dry season, grow fewer water-intensive crops and migrate away from irrigation-intensive systems where there is limited water.
  • For example, instead of Maharashtra, rice agriculture might be moved to water-scarce areas such as Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam, and sugarcane cultivation to traditional sub-tropical regions such as UP and Bihar.
  • Adopt drought-resistant crop types, as certain sections of Odisha have done with the support of the International Rice Research Institute for paddy/rice.
  • This would help farmers retain their productivity and income while also ensuring price stability for consumers.

 

  • Micro-irrigation:
  • Farmers are being encouraged to use micro-irrigation techniques like drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers.
  • According to the CWMI analysis, micro-irrigation techniques can save around 20% of the groundwater utilised for irrigation in India each year.
  • Micro-irrigation systems should be used as soon as possible in water-scarce areas.
  • In comparison to flood irrigation approaches, these techniques are substantially more efficient.

 

  • Lowering power subsidies:
  • An examination of panel data from 370 Indian districts indicated that lowering energy subsidies was linked to lower groundwater exploitation.
  • The majority of empirical studies support charging for power based on actual consumption.
  • They demonstrate that the energy costs at which farmers begin to respond to tariff changes in terms of reducing water and electricity usage are socio-economically viable.

 

  • Watershed Management:
  • Rainwater harvesting, an age-old technique for capturing monsoon run-off, can provide the country with consistent water year-round.
  • Groundwater levels will be improved by constructing check dams on riverbeds.
  • Farm ponds, percolation tanks, water reservoirs, and small and medium-sized dams can all aid in the retention of surface water while also enhancing groundwater recharge.
  • The crisis can be alleviated by restoring and improving groundwater recharge regions, preventing dirty water from recharging groundwater, rainwater and roof-top gathering, and rehabilitating ponds, lakes, and other river systems.

 

  • Raising awareness:
  • Creating long-term change would necessitate a bottom-up approach that involves engaging the local people to become active participants in groundwater management.

 

  • Instead than focusing on marginal increases in yields with unbounded water consumption, behavioural economics and other new approaches can be used to maximise agricultural production with minimal water use.

 

  • Conclusion:

 

  • It is past time for policymakers to examine the entire rice and sugar systems, from MSP/FRP to production and procurement, in order to ensure that 'more crop per drop' is achieved.
  • Procurement of rice will have to be confined to the needs of PDS, and it is long past time to provide the option of direct cash transfers within PDS.
  • All of this will go a long way toward promoting better diversification of our agri-systems, better use of our limited water supplies, lower GHG emissions, and less waste of financial resources tied up in increasing grains holdings with the FCI.
  • All of these savings can be put toward tripling agri-R&D efforts to boost production on a long-term basis and improve farming techniques to reduce carbon emissions.
  • An export-led strategy must also invest in improving infrastructure and logistics to reduce transportation costs.
  • Only then can the gains on these investments be shared with farmers, providing them with a better bargain in terms of higher and more consistent earnings.
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