ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Public Agricultural Science and Yield Barriers in Foodgrains

A Long View on the Indian Experience

A descriptive analysis of the building of a national agricultural research system and its role in increasing yield and production of foodgrains in India between the 1950s and the contemporary period is presented. The changing emphases of the scientific establishment in guiding plant breeding efforts given the refinement of technological tools and the larger policy and socio-economic context are traced. Assessing the long-term outcomes of India’s green revolution, selected contrary views on the subject are responded to. Even in the absence of a transformation of production relations and the recent policy shifts that have fostered a crisis of profitability for small and marginal farmers, the achievements of the NARS facilitated a growth of productive forces in India’s agrarian economy.

The author thanks Baldev Singh Dhillon, Harish Damodaran, Barbara Harriss-White, T Jayaraman and Veena Shatrugna for their comments on an earlier draft and discussions around specific themes. None of them share the burden of the views expressed in this paper.

From the late 19th century, advances in science and technology played a major role in raising agricultural growth and contributing to human well-being. At a fundamental level, these advances facilitated a shift from extensive agricultural growth to intensive agricultural growth. If clearing forests and fragile lands and bringing more land into cultivation—a thoroughly unsustainable pathway—was an inevitability of the past, the new strategy focused on raising productivity. Further, if uncertainty in outcomes was unavoidable in the earlier efforts at crop improvement, the new efforts bore results that were more predictable.

From the 1960s, India has been a site for considerable experimentation in, and refinement of, new agricultural technologies. Its green revolution was driven by these new technologies, supplemented by support measures like administered prices, input subsidies, cheap credit, and marketing support. The green revolution allowed India to overcome its “ship-to-mouth” status of existence prior to the mid-1960s and achieve self-sufficiency in the production of rice and wheat. Self-sufficiency also allowed India to enhance its political sovereignty; it could no longer be arm-twisted by imperialist powers to implement economic or foreign policies of their choice.

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Updated On : 9th Nov, 2023
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