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General Studies 3 >> Agriculture

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1. Context
In the pre-Green Revolution era, agricultural production was primarily limited by the extent and quality of land available for cultivation. India’s farm sector, according to a NITI Aayog paper by Ramesh Chand and Jaspal Singh, grew by an average 2.8% a year during 1950-51 to 1961-62
2. Factors of Agriculture Production
  • Before the Green Revolution, agricultural production was primarily constrained by the availability and quality of cultivable land.
  • According to a NITI Aayog report authored by Ramesh Chand and Jaspal Singh, India’s agricultural sector experienced an average annual growth of 2.8% between 1950-51 and 1961-62.
  • The quality of agricultural land relies on factors such as soil fertility and water accessibility. The most fertile lands were found in alluvial soils across regions like the Indo-Gangetic plains and deltas along the eastern coastlines of rivers like Kaveri, Krishna, Godavari, and Mahanadi.
  • Following these were the black cotton soils in areas like the Deccan, Malwa, and Saurashtra plateaus, known for yielding higher crop output per acre compared to less fertile lands such as red, brown, laterite, mountain, and desert soils.
  • The availability of water depended on both rainfall and the access to irrigation from various sources like rivers, lakes, tanks, and ponds. Historical civilizations mostly flourished in river valleys due to their capacity to sustain robust agricultural practices.
  • In traditional farming methods, labor and energy played crucial roles. The productivity of the land was directly linked to the number of farm laborers and bullocks available.
  • Before the introduction of modern machinery like tractors, threshers, harvester combines, and electric or diesel engine-driven tubewells, bullocks were the primary energy source on farms. They were responsible for plowing fields, treading crops for grain separation, and powering Persian wheels to draw water from wells for irrigation
3. Factors of technology
  • Just like the four fundamental elements of production, there exist four elements within agriculture termed as the "factors of technology."
  • These technological factors facilitate a more effective utilization of production elements, resulting in increased yields – generating more output from the same land area or labor force – and optimizing water resources. Additionally, they contribute to the substitution of animal and human power with mechanical and electrical sources.
  • These four "factors of technology" encompass genetics, crop nutrition, crop protection, and agronomic interventions.
  • Genetics primarily revolves around seeds and the science of plant breeding. The Green Revolution owes its success to the development of high-yielding wheat and rice varieties crafted by scientists such as Norman Borlaug, Henry Beachell, and Gurdev Singh Khush. These varieties were engineered with dwarfing genes that reduced plant height.
  • Traditional plant varieties, characterized by tall and slender structures, didn't respond well to fertilizer or water applications. When laden with heavy grains, their ear-heads often bent or fell flat on the ground.
  • In contrast, the new semi-dwarf varieties possessed sturdy stems that supported the grain-bearing panicles even with substantial fertilization, allowing for better nutrient absorption and conversion into grain.
  • Beyond reduced height, plants contain genes responsible for disease and pest resistance, drought and heat tolerance, efficient nutrient utilization, and sturdy stems or compact canopies for mechanical harvesting. These desirable traits are encoded within the seeds of plant varieties developed through crossbreeding and agricultural biotechnology.
  • Traditionally, farmers raised cattle not only for draft power and milk but also for their excreta, which served as essential nutrients for plant growth. Farmyard manure, a decomposed mix of dung, urine, and farm residues, contains approximately 0.5% nitrogen (N), 0.2% phosphorus (P), and 0.5% potassium (K) on average.
  • The revolution in crop nutrition emerged with chemical fertilizers boasting significantly higher NPK content: Urea (46% N), di-ammonium phosphate (18% N and 46% P), and muriate of potash (60% K).
  • Synthetic fertilizers, coupled with varieties responsive to increased nutrient doses, significantly elevated crop yields. Furthermore, farmers reduced labor associated with managing animals and handling their manure as fertilizers now came in ready-to-use bagged forms from factories.
  • Increased yields also necessitated advancements in crop protection technologies, safeguarding plants against pests, pathogens (fungi, bacteria, and viruses), and weeds from planting to harvesting and marketing.
  • Crop protection chemicals not only ensure the realization of yield gains from genetics and nutrition but also offer labor-saving benefits. For instance, herbicides substitute manual weed removal
  • The last factor of technology is mechanisation and other agronomic interventions. Tractors, apart from rendering bullocks redundant, have made it possible to use implements such as rotavators and reversible mould board ploughs that can do deep tillage, mixing and pulverisation of the soils and break their hardpan layers
  • Agronomic interventions also extend to water-saving technologies – drip irrigation and laser land levelers (which help in uniform placement of seed and fertiliser too) – and intercropping or growing more than one crop simultaneously on the same piece of land
  • There are farmers today cultivating pomegranates in Rajasthan’s arid desert soils through drip irrigation and water-soluble/liquid fertilisers. There are similarly those using tractor-drawn machines to make raised beds in fields. They plant sugarcane on the furrows and various short-cycle crops – potato, onion, garlic, vegetables and pulses – on the raised beds
4. Significance of these factors
  • The elements of technology, using economic terms, have essentially "shifted upwards the aggregate production function" within agriculture.
  • Instead of merely increasing output by adding more inputs ("moving along the production function"), advancements in productivity have led to amplified output using the same or sometimes even fewer inputs.
  • Put differently, there's a higher yield per acre, per agricultural worker, and per unit of water. This transformation is evident in India's net sown area, which experienced a modest increase of just 3.3% – from 135.4 lh to 139.9 lh – between 1961-62 and 2019-20, compared to a 14% rise from 1950-51 to 1961-62.
  • The substantial growth in agricultural production over the past 50 years can largely be attributed to technological factors.
5. Way forward
Balancing and optimizing these factors are essential for achieving sustainable agricultural practices and ensuring food security while minimizing environmental impact and promoting the economic well-being of farmers and rural communities
Source: Indianexpress

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