Every now and then, there are calls for a “second Green Revolution”. After the exhaustion of the land frontier in north-western India, money is being poured in the eastern states to spur production of rice and other crops.
While the results of this push are yet to materialize—for a number of conditions required to meet the success seen in Green Revolution states are missing in eastern India— changes in food consumption may alter the demand landscape. It is now well understood that protein-rich foods—pulses and milk being two items—and vegetables pose bigger supply problems than foodgrains. The recent trend in food inflation clearly points to this. The emphasis on what needs to be done is misplaced, if not wrong.
The story of stagnation in pulses is old. There have been no technological breakthroughs of the kind witnessed in wheat and rice: there are no analogues of high-yielding varieties of pulses. The area under cultivation for pulses has remained constant now for 50 years (23.6 million ha in 1960-61 and 23.4 million ha in 2009-10). The result is that per capita availability has fallen steadily: It was higher in 1951 than it is now.
Milk presents a similar picture. Domestic demand is rising by 6 million tonnes per year while incremental production is rising by only 3.5 million tonnes per year. Although India ranks first in milk production worldwide, the commodity continues to face sustained price pressure due to massive demand.
This is a problem that will only accentuate in the years to come, if it can be solved at all. The challenge is to push production faster than the increase in demand. That is easier said than done. All that is being done is allocate measly sums of money, a strategy that will not work. While the causes of food inflation are varied, the robust demand and poor output points to structural—and not cyclical —factors.
The focus now, however, is on commodities—rice and wheat—that do not suffer from weak production but from bottlenecks due to poor supply chain management and administrative issues. While increasing output is not a bad idea, the focus on enhancing output is required for other stuff and not wheat and rice. If inflation is to be brought to tolerable levels, action based on an understanding of output dynamics of key commodities is necessary.
What needs more emphasis: higher output of foodgrains or protein-rich foods? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org