As India crosses half way of the twenty-first century, it would be the most populous country in the world with majority of its population living in urban areas. It would also mark the time, when India like other countries would be facing resource degradation & concomitant decreasing factor productivity and challenges of climate change. With a human count of more than 1.5 billion, India will be called upon to meet the challenge of producing more from lesser land area, as the latter would be subject to competing demands for alternate uses like habitation, infrastructure and industry. There would also be shift of population from agriculture to non-agriculture sector for jobs & income. While the nation would be expected to meet the growing demand for food, fodder & feed, it would also be expected to ensure higher income for a substantive section of the society deriving its principle income from the agriculture sector, besides creating adequate number of productive jobs for those opting for non-farm sector jobs.
Even while the share of agriculture sector in the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country would have come down by then in terms of ratio, it would yet be occupying a prominent place in the Indian economy in terms of its size of agri-GDP, as a generator of jobs, as a source of food, fodder & feed for its human, animal (cattle) and bird (poultry) population and as a provider of raw material for agro-based industries.
It is in this context, that the agriculture sector has to be redesigned as an enterprise, where net return becomes the basis of farming as a profession. This obviously necessitates maximizing per unit gross return at optimal cost and therefore inter-segment (e.g., field crops vs. horticulture vs. dairy vs. poultry vs. fisheries etc) and inter-crop (e.g. paddy vs. cotton vs. sugarcane vs. maize vs. pulses vs. oilseeds etc) gross return and income comparisons will come to occupy centre stage of decision making process at both macro and farmer’s level.
The growth trends of agriculture & allied sector over the last decade show, that while growth of field crops has tended to plateau, the other sector including fruits & vegetables, dairying & fisheries have been clocking more robust growth rates. However, within the field crops, there exist yield gaps that can be bridged, particularly in certain parts of the country – rainfed & hilly areas, as also the Eastern India as a block.
Since the initiation of green revolution in the mid-1960s in India, wheat & paddy have assumed leadership position and the two together contribute 200 million metric tonnes (mmts) of the total cereal output of about 236 mmts. Paddy is a water guzzler, on account of which even well endowed areas like Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh, the major producers of paddy are beginning to face water stress. The same geographies, which are the major wheat growing regions of the country, are beginning to see challenges of climate change. For example, the Rabi 2015 saw late onset of winter, impacting adversely the wheat production which warrants a dip in temperature for grain formation. The Indo-Gangetic belt of the country, suffered on this count, leading to decline in wheat productivity. The phenomenon of global warming emanating from increased output of Green House Gases (GHGs) and its impact on climate parameters like temperature, rainfall etc are a reality. The highest number of diurnal temperatures have been recorded in the new millennium, since the world began to record various parameters in 1888.
Hence, Indian policy makers will need to analyse the crop-matrix and promote those more suited to conservation- agriculture and resilient to climate change. Maize is one such hardy crop that bears scope for promotion in India.
Versatility of maize
The maize in India is cultivated throughout the year in different parts of the country for various purposes including grain, fodder, green cobs, sweet corn, baby corn, pop corn etc. It can be grown round the year in all seasons viz. Kharif (monsoon), post-monsoon, rabi (winter) and spring. It is a versatile crop that can be successfully grown in varied agro-ecologies ranging from sea level to high attitudes of upto 3,000 m. In India, it is cultivated in all the states except Kerala.
Apart from its scope for being raised universally across India and across various seasons, maize is also amenable to adaptation to situations arising from the vagaries of climate since it is a C4 crop. Also, it holds greater potential for higher productivity and sustainability if suitable research interventions are made. It has the highest genetic yield potential among the foodgrain crops.
Global & national status of maize
Globally, maize (Zea mays), also known as corn is raised on nearly 150 million hectares in about 160 countries having wide diversity of soil, climate, biodiversity and management practices and accounts for nearly 37 per cent (782 mmts) of the global grain production. At global level, with its highest productivity & production, it surpasses both wheat and rice.
In India, it is the third most important cereal, after rice and wheat. Both area and production of maize have been steadily increasing. Since the year 1950, area under maize has increased from 3.31 to 9.0 million hectares and production from 1.73 mmts to 24.4 mmts in 2013-14. The increase has been very rapid in the last 10 years owing to increase in productivity and expansion of area in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
It is estimated, that the county will continue to see increased demand for maize because of its diversified uses and growing population. Hence, India will have to meet the challenges of yield enhancements across all the cultivation regions in the face of climate change. This will be possible only by adopting science-based technological intervention like single cross hybrid (SCH) technology and application of novel molecular tools & techniques in maize improvement.
Multiple uses of maize
In India, maize is used in multiple ways – as human food (23 per cent), poultry feed (49 per cent), animal feed (12 per cent), industrial (starch) products (15 per cent), beverages and seed (1 per cent). At global level, maize is primarily used for feed (64 per cent) followed by human food (16 per cent), industrial starch & beverages (19 per cent) and seed (1 per cent). As seen, Thus, maize has come to be recognized as an important industrial crop, because 83 per cent of the total produce is used in starch & feed industries. It is also well recognized, that with increasing demand for value added foods & industrial requirements, maize will continue to place itself as an important cereal.
It is estimated, that one quarter of items displayed in a modern grocery store of a developed country contain maize in some or other form. A long list of products including toothpaste, dish detergent, paper, clothing, dyes, explosives and soaps and such other items that contain maize constituents. Key ingredients in convenience food like Xanthan gum, polyols, artificial sweeteners, fructose etc. are all derived from maize. Other products where maize is used are: food containers and plastic food packaging, disposal dishware and gift cards, batteries, deodorants, hand sanitizers, cough drops, baby powder, diapers, matchsticks, medicine and vitamin tablets, textile products, colourings and dyes, glue and other adhesives, candies, yoghurt and many more. Maize based breakfast cereals, cooking oil, snacks, sweetcorn, babycorn, popcorn etc. are already gaining great popularity in India.
As seen thus, maize is a great raw material for industrial use.
Quality Protein Maize (QPM) and Speciality Corn – fillip to corn industry
Other than grain, maize is also cultivated for various purposes like quality protein maize and other special purposes known as speciality corn. The various speciality corn types are QPM, baby corn, sweet corn, pop corn, waxy corn, high oil corn etc.
Quality Protein Maize (QPM): As more than 85 per cent of the maize is used directly for food and feed, the quality is critical from the perspective of food and nutritional security in the country. In this regard, discovery of Opaque-2 (O-2) mutant had opened tremendous possibilities for improvement of protein quality of maize which later led to the development of QPM. QPM which is nutritionally superior to normal maize has assumed importance not only for ensuring food and nutritional security of the human population, but also in respect of quality feed for poultry and animal sectors. The biological value of protein in QPM is double than that of normal maize protein. With its protein biological value of 80 per cent, QPM compares well with milk that possesses a protein biological value of 90 per cent.
QPM hybrids of different grain colours have been developed and released in India for cultivation in different agro-climatic conditions of the country.
Speciality Corn: Baby corn, sweet corn and pop corn have direct food value. Today they are processed and are becoming popular, giving a fillip to corn industry.
Waxy corn with its wax-like appearance has 100 per cent amylopectin starch, while in normal maize, the starch is nearly 30 per cent amylase and the remaining 70 per cent is amylopectin. Waxy corn is mainly used for food and industrial purposes.
The corn oil has low content of saturated fatty acid and is considered to be one of the best quality cooking oil. In India more than 60,000 tonnes of corn oil is made available for various uses.
It is apparent, that QPM & other speciality corns offer immense scope for industrial activities.
Corn as a bio-fuel crop:
With increasing energy consumption both in India and world over, tapping of alternate sources of energy assumes significant importance. In this regard, bio-fuel from maize holds distinct potential. Maize is the most important natural multiplier and an economical source of starch. Starch comprises about 68-74 per cent of maize Kernel weight, which can easily be converted into glucose and subsequently fermented into ethanol.
As of now, United States is already using 30 per cent of its maize for bio-fuel production. Bio-fuel from maize will help in energy security along with high procurement prices. The expanding spectrum of demand would necessitate focussed research tailored for specific segments of the myriad value chains.
Should corn be diverted for ethanol production?
In India, 23 per cent of total production of maize is used as human food.
From net return comparisons, it is clear that use of maize in ethanol production fetches better returns to the farmer. This has the potential of impacting food security, if current level of supply-demand position is taken into account. Based on the following assumptions, net returns that emerge are shown in Tables A and B.
i) Figures used for calculation of net profit for maize as grain production and as ethanol production have been taken as: 25 kg. maize produces 10 litre of ethanol, and by-products, namely 8 kg. of Dry Distillers Grain Soluble (DDGS) & 8 kg. Of CO2. (Reference: ICAR, Directorate of Maize Research, Corn to Ethanol, 2012, pg. No. 20).
ii) The recovery of ethanol has been reported as 22 to 40 per cent from maize depending upon the processing method used. Presuming that latest and efficient technology is being used, the yield expected is 36 per cent ethanol from maize grains.
iii) Income to the farmers from maize is estimated by presuming, that he produces ethanol on his farm (which actually does not happen), and net returns have been calculated and presented in Table B. The net return from maize grains as presented in Table A has been calculated based on an average yield of 25 q/ha. and MSP rate notified for Kharif 2016.
iv) There are many other cost effective sources for ethanol productions such as sugarcane, sorghum, molasses, cassava and potato.
Tables A and B bring out, that returns from value addition by ethanol production from maize at Rs.25,300/- ha. is higher than that from grain production at Rs.10,600/- ha. This is likely to incentivize the farmers to prefer use of maize for ethanol production over its use as human food. Considering that food and nutrition security are the first concern in a country with growing population, exploiting the potential of maize as a source of bio-fuel will call for increased foodgrain production. It has to be a cautious approach.
7.0. Increasing productivity and production of maize:
Improvements in maize production in India have evolved since 1950. Till date a total of 212 hybrids and 119 composites of maize have been released and these represent a wide range of maturity, that cater to the need of farmers in different production ecologies of various states. The adoption of improved cultivars and production technology by the farmers have resulted in considerable yield enhancements. Between 1951-55 and 2011-14, the productivity of maize has increased from 700 kgs/ha. to 2600 kgs/ha. Yet, this does not compare well with high productivity levels achieved in other major maize producing countries. The per hectare productivity levels in some such countries are as high has 10,732.6 kgs. in USA, 5,997.9 kgs. in China, 6,472.2 kgs. in Brazil. The world average is as high as 5,572.9 kgs./ha. indicating the yield gap that India needs to bridge.
It is anticipated, that by 2050 maize production will go up by 3.25 times the current achievement of 24.3 mmts, productivity by 2.2 times the current level of 2,600 kgs/ha and area by 1.4 times the current hactarage of 9.0 million.
7.1. Achieving higher productivity:
Considering the potential of maize as a useful human food, animal fodder and poultry feed, besides being a raw material for multiple industrial and bio-fuel products, it would be gainful to achieve higher productivity and meet the multiple demands. Some easy initiatives are:
i. Promoting Rabi maize cultivation – Rabi maize as an alternative is gaining popularity, because of higher yield potential. The success of rabi/winter maize is due to sunny days, long growing season, dry and cool temperatures which are more favourable to the crop growth, while simultaneously being less favourable to the pest.
ii. Adoption of single cross hybrids (SCH) – In comparison to open pollinated varieties (OPVs) and multi-parent crosses, adoption of SCH will yield higher productivity.
Bridging yield gaps and realizing incremental gains by improved management practices may not be enough in the long run. Hence, harnessing the potential of science to realize breakthrough technology is a must. It must also be borne in mind, that agricultural research has long gestation periods and no decision can be postponed, if highly productive but eco-friendly agriculture is to be sustained over the next few decades.
8.0. Abiotic and Biotic constraints – role of new technology
Improving the genetic potential of Indian maize would continue to be a major challenge. Today, hybrids with high yield potential of upto 14 tonnes/ha are available, but it is difficult to achieve even half the potential on account of high incidence of biotic and abiotic stresses at farm level. Hence, the major challenge in germplasm enhancement lies in introducing stress tolerance traits. While development of high yielding cultivars with built-in resistance against stresses is itself daunting, it becomes all the more challenging due to unpredictability of plant-pest-natural enemies interaction in the context of changing climate. Maize seed, grain and processed maize products are highly vulnerable to stored grain pests. Protection in field and in godowns in sync with maize agro-ecosystem is yet another challenge.
Hence, traditional methods of crop improvement alone are not sufficient and the recent advances in molecular breeding and genomics have to be integrated with conventional approaches for substantive gain.
When compared with other major grain crops, maize has benefitted to a great extent by new technological opportunities. Among all crops, maize has the highest number of transgenic events (96) approved for cultivation outside India. Today, hybrids with transgenic traits are planted in 17 countries over an area of 57.3 million ha, which accounts for 33 per cent of global maize acreage. More than 80 per cent of the area under maize in the USA, Canada, South Africa and Brazil is under transgenic cultivars. In India, cotton is the only genetically modified (GM) crop that has been approved for commercial production. So far as maize is concerned, herbicide tolerant transgenic corn is undergoing confined field trials as approved by Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) and Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
It is expected, that over the next few decades, the area under transgenic cultivars would expand manifold both in India and world over. Further, it is expected that number of transgenes and transgenic traits in one cultivar would multiply, necessitating a shift from the present day genetic engineering to the futuristic ‘genomic engineering’.
Science and technology, therefore, hold great potential in the world’s ability to achieve high productivity on a sustainable basis by negotiating both biotic and abiotic stresses. India too can take full advantage of such frontier technology in increasing the production of maize and make it available to the industrial and bio-fuel sector after meeting the demand from food, fodder and feed sectors.
Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, 2006, Handbook of Agriculture
Indian Institute of Maize Research, ICAR, Vision 2050
India Maize Summit 2016, Background Paper
by Ashok Dalwai, Additional Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers’ Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare