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Commenting on the key findings of India’s first set (1950s) of Studies of the Economics of Farm Management, Amartya Sen (1964) highlighted the inverse relationship between farm size and productivity. Collective farming was deemed inappropriate for India, and the importance of land reforms - on efficiency grounds - was recognized. However, Green-Revolution technologies seemed to change this relationship under some circumstances (Saini, 1971). Nonetheless, this current analysis (of most of the household-level data-sets on costs of farm production for the 1980s and 1990s) suggests that small-holder farmers are perhaps the more-productive. Their vital contribution to India’s food and agricultural economy and to its national food security results from the small-holders’ responsiveness to public policies and to national investments in agricultural research and development and in public infrastructure. Thus, the current declines in public investment in these critical public goods raises much concern for future agricultural growth. There are strong and urgent needs for policy interventions to reverse these declining trends of public investment in agriculture and its infrastructures.

During fifty years and more, India made immense progress towards security of food and livelihoods. Since 1950, population almost tripled, but food-grain production more than quadrupled: there was thus substantial increase in available food-grain per caput. India is now among the largest producers of rice, wheat, pulses, fruits, vegetables, and milk. This agricultural transformation - and the associated broad-based economic growth - have helped double income per person and life expectancy, lessen poverty incidence by nearly one-half, and render the country self-sufficient in food. Famine and mass starvation belong to the past.

But all this notwithstanding, India is home to one-fourth (208 million) of the world’s total (800 million) of under-nourished people. Moreover, the intensity of the hunger among those undernourished is also high. Child malnutrition is here the world’s highest: one in four Indian children is seriously under-nourished. Anaemia affects more than half of the pre-school children and more than half of the pregnant women.

Furthermore, the extent and intensity of hunger matches closely the extent, intensity, and nature of poverty: India’s total of poor persons (250 million) is comparable to its total (208 million) of under-nourished. Thus, one-fifth of the world’s poor live in India - the largest total for any single country. Nationally, the country is self-sufficient in food production and availability; however, many poor households lack the resources wherewith to purchase the available food.

Since 1950, agriculture’s share of GDP declined substantially; but there was minimal decrease in the numbers of persons dependent on agriculture. Consequently, agriculture contributes only 26 per cent of national GDP, but employs 60 per cent of the workforce. Since it has been agriculture-led broad-based economic growth that lessened poverty - particularly rural poverty - recent (and undesirable) trends in agricultural growth and in associated rural developments raise great concerns. The massive increase in national population (notwithstanding a recent decrease in its rate of growth), and the substantial increase in incomes and purchasing power, together increase the annual requirement for food-grains by four million tonnes; there are corresponding increases in the requirements for livestock, fish, and horticultural products. These requirements shall further stress the decreasing and degrading resources of land and water.

Notwithstanding these requirements, investments and capital formation in agriculture are declining. Growth in total factor productivity has slackened. Similarly, and despite India’s relatively-low average yields for many crops and commodities - with implication that there is substantial scope to raise those yields - current yield growth is less than heretofore, and there are suspicions that some production systems “may be fatigued”. Worrisomely, the pace of poverty reduction may also be slackening.

In the mid-1990s, Lester Brown assessed China’s accelerating demand for food- and feed-grains from its diminishing arable-land area, and posed the question: “who shall feed China?” To which the Chinese leadership responded “ the farmers of China will feed China”. Similarly, at the current juncture of India’s agriculture, poverty, and hunger, one may ask: “who shall feed India?” India may perhaps draw strength from the mantra of “Jai Kisan” (hail the farmer) enunciated by the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, and thus assert that “the farmers of India will feed India”. It must additionally be asserted that the task of feeding India shall reside with its cohort of small-holder farmers who constitute the overwhelming majority of the country’s farmers.

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