The Noble Laureate, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug opined that after the revolution in rice and wheat production, the next few decades will be known as “Maize Era”. Maize is the third largest cereal crop in India after rice and wheat and fits well in the current environment where we are having erratic monsoons because of its less water requirement compared to rice and wheat.
Significance of Maize as a source of large number of industrial products besides its uses as human food and animal feed additionally make it an emerging cereal crop of increasing importance.
The feed sector in India is at an inflection point and the demand for feed is growing at a CAGR of 8% outpacing the maize production growth rate. Demand for maize in India is growing faster than ever before. Increasing income levels are causing change in food habits and the trends are shifting towards protein rich diets. Poultry sector which consumes half of the maize is growing at 6-8% CAGR whereas the starch industry is growing at a 10-12% CAGR.
At current production level we are just meeting our domestic demand with some surplus in isolated geographies that we were able to export to neighboring countries. However, in past two years the inadequate and erratic monsoon has hit hard on the production and the latest production forecast by Ministry of Agriculture shows a production shortfall. We are facing an unusual warm winter 2015-16 which will put further pressure on the dry season productivity. These cumulative factors have led to a situation where we are now importing maize once again after 24 years; India had last imported maize in 1991. The Government has allowed duty free import of half million MT maize to meet the demand supply gap.
India has also got a unique advantage of its geographical location where our neighboring countries import maize to meet their domestic demand. Our exports can generate good returns for the farmers and foreign exchange for the country.
In Maize crop, current production and productivity levels of about 23 million tones and 2.5 tones per ha are still far behind the global standards of 5 tons/ha world average. It is thus imperative that an endeavor towards realization of developed production technologies is the immediate need. This increased yield either can come through the introduction of new high yielding hybrids or through saving losses caused by pests. The total annual loss of agricultural produce from various pests in India is alarming, of which weeds account for 45%, insects 30%, diseases 20% and other pests 5%.
Prime Minister Narender Modi’s slogan of “per drop, more crop” has a deeper meaning for Indian Agriculture. Our water table is depleting and the uncertainty of monsoon has caused severe losses to farmers across India. Maize as a crop provides an opportunity for better water use efficiency and better photosynthesis efficiency compared to other crops.
Low usage of pre emergence herbicides and lack of manual labor has led to higher losses due to weeds in maize. Weeds grow vigorously during initial stage of crop and compete for the basis resources moisture, nutrition and light causing severe yield losses when not controlled before knee height stage. Recent launches of selective herbicides will help in better weed control, though an effort would be required to promote the use of herbicide in maize. Similarly with the availability of advanced insecticides for seed treatment, there would be better control of initial pests improving the plant stand and help in minimizing the losses due to insects which cause significant losses.
The post harvest losses in maize are estimated to the tune of 10-12%, which could be lowered with some improvements in the whole chain from production to end consumer delivery. There is ample scope for drier facilities and better grain handling practices which will go a long way in improving the quality of Indian Corn.
There has been advancement in agronomic practices over the years and with the recent availability of the pneumatic planter the yields will get further boost because of the precision planting. These planters help in placing seed at optimal depth with built in sensors along with fertilizer improving the germination and vigor of the seed and thus contributing in the yield enhancement.
Besides traditional ways of improving yield, Biotechnology can play a major role in helping countries become self-sufficient in food. Since the introduction of biotech maize in 1996, yields have increased by an average of 20 percent, and are expected to continue increasing over the next one and a half decade, nearly doubling by 2030.
As far as the feed industry is concerned with the increase in demand for feed and shrinking land resources it would not be possible to increase the output further without using the new technologies including use of genetically modified techniques that are being used successfully across the globe providing higher yields and better quality grain less infested with insects and improved nutritional qualities.
Globally more than half of the produce is being used in feed and there has been multiple studies proving safety. We have best in class Universities and research institutes where we can further validate these findings and can benefit from the new techniques.
Besides traditional ways of improving yield, Biotechnology can play a major role in helping countries become self-sufficient in food. Fourteen years after commercialization of the first biotech crops in 1996, farmers continue to plant more of these biotech crops. According to a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), 18 million farmers planted biotech crops in 2014 in 28 countries planting more than 181 m ha which is a 100 fold increase from 1.7 m ha in 1996.
India is going to be the fastest growing economy in the world and this dream won’t be possible without a healthy growth rate in Agriculture. The improvement in the overall productivity is possible only through the partnership of all stakeholders including Government support and development and adoption of new production technologies by the public private partnership.
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