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Common people left out of India's Green Revolution

India's much-publicized Green Revolution has produced some record crops in the past 15 years. But it has failed to meet the needs of many people.

Fascinated by ''miracle'' wheat and rice, research scientists have neglected the pulses and coarser grains that are a major part of India's food supply.

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What affects the people's nutrition most, in a largely vegetarian country, is pulses - beans, lentils, peas, and similar legumes. Even most of those who are technically meat-eaters cannot afford any kind of animal protein - not even milk and eggs. Thus pulses are the chief source of protein throughout the land.

Because most other countries do not grow pulses for export, they cannot easily be obtained from anywhere else in the world. The government has stopped distributing pulses through fair-price shops, and they are extremely expensive on the open market.

India's current economic plan emphasizes the production of oil seeds and pulses. So does the new 20-point program presented by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as a New Year's gift to the nation. Unstated, but underlying this resolve , is the realization that not enough stress has been laid on the development of either type of food.

Meanwhile, the coarser varieties of cereals popular with the poorer sections of the populace have not been seriously investigated by India's agricultural scientists.

Ragi, for instance, has a high protein content and could greatly improve the quality of diet in large parts of the country if high-yielding strains of this cereal were evolved.

Those in charge of farm research are widely felt to lack awareness of the needs of the common people. In a recent report, the National Commission of Agriculture made some scathing comments about the country's long-established agricultural research system -the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Similarly, many complaints are made about research priorities and working conditions by the younger scientists working for the 39 research institutes within the ICAR network - including the most important center, the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

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But these complaints have not succeeded so far in bringing about much-needed reforms.

''What often passes for fundamental research in agriculture is but a variation of similar study done elsewhere having little or no relevance to our conditions,'' the national commission's report says. ''Sometimes research workers having no connection with the field of specialization conduct work in sheer oblivion of the actual problem.''

Criticizing lack of contact between research scientists and final users of research, the report says that areas of research are mostly selected after ''reading scientific literature of the concerned discipline, either Indian or foreign, and then an attempt is made to fit in with the local conditions. Rarely does the researcher go out in the field and pick up his problems from his own direct observations or those of his colleagues engaged in field work.''

The workings of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research have also been criticized by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament. The last audit committee that looked into the functioning of New Delhi's Indian Agricultural Research Institute was equally unsparing in its remarks regarding the gulf between the farmers' needs and research priorities. It is this neglect that undercuts the promise of the Green Revolution.

India's Green Revolution has been based on wheat, the country's second major crop. Wheat covers roughly half as much area as is devoted to rice - India's principal crop. Athough the growth in wheat production has been spectacular, this is partly due to the additional area devoted to the crop.

Wheat lands increased from 31.5 million acres in 1965-66 to more than 52.5 million acres in 1977-78. Overall production, meanwhile, rose from about 11 million tons to more than 34 million tons. The yield per acre grew from 940 to 1 ,680 pounds.

This is the national average. Considering that only the states of Punjab, Haryana, and parts of Uttar Pradesh were involved in the Green Revolution, the increase in production over a limited area has indeed been phenomenal. New, high-yielding dwarf varieties of wheat and extensive use of fertilizers, as well as better irrigation in the plains of northwest India, have contributed to the success.

With all this, however, it was only between 1978 and 1980 that the country did not have to import cereals. In 1981, it imported 1.7 million tons of wheat as well as oil seeds, of which there is an acute shortage.

In addition, the fertilizers essential for growing high-yielding varieties of grain have had to be imported in large quantities. And recent large price rises have created doubts as to whether small and marginal farmers will be able to afford them at all.

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