Recently, the Indian Government and Monsanto has had a falling out of sorts. The Indian government would like to impose caps on royalties for genetically modified (GM) seeds to lower their prices for farmers while Monsanto believes this shows blatant disregard towards its Intellectual Property. Monsanto has threatened to exit the Indian market and the government has responded with a 'Be our guest, we will make our own GM seeds'
Regardless of the outcome of the feud, if India is to successfully feed its growing population and bring prosperity to those dependent on agriculture (almost 50% of the population), High-Yield Seeds have to be part of the plan. The other 2 critical components are Irrigation and Mechanization.
So who do you think are the better performing states when it comes to agricultural productivity? And who do you think are the laggards? UP? Bihar? We decided to use foodgrains or cereals as the proxy which are by far the largest type of crops cultivated across India and were somewhat surprised by the results. On top are predictably, Punjab and Haryana with yields of 4,400 and 3,850 kg/hectare respectively. The perception of Punjab as top food grain producer in the country has been reinforced by images of the Punjabi farm worker riding his tractor through a lush wheat field in the media frequently (remember the diversity promoting song 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara' on the National channel Doordarshan?).
What is surprising is that UP and Bihar have a respectable yield of almost 2,500 and 2,000 kg/ hectare. Maharashtra is a shocker at a mere 1,200 kg/ hectare. However, it has the lowest percentage of area that is irrigated at 19%. Which means poor rainfall severely affects farm yields. No surprise then that the state has been reeling from farmer suicides in recent years when the rainfall has been less than satisfactory. The manufacturing and IT sectors get a lot of attention in the media and incentives from the state and central government. However, the dire need for irrigation infrastructure in the state is seldom a topic of discussion when the news of poor rainfall and farmer suicides come to the fore.
All credit to Punjab and Haryana (and the central government to some extent) for leading the way with high crop yields thanks to modern irrigation infrastructure, mechanization, and training. However, at 3,850 kg/hectare, Haryana's yield is still half that of the United States (7,340 kg/hectare) or two-thirds that of China (5,890 kg/hectare) according to the World Bank. Clearly there is a lot of room for improvement. Hopefully the government will do less posturing against Monsanto and more development of high-yield seeds, irrigation facilities, and train farmers. A tall order but certainly not insurmountable. The country is on the right track. According to World Bank data, India's cereal yield per hectare grew almost 24% from 2400 kg to 2960 kg in the decade from 2003-2013.
*Chart renders best on Desktop. We publish a modified version for phone.